Category Archives: Goals

So What

“My photos suck.”  “My blog posts are boring and obvious.”  “My short stories are trash.”  “I can’t dribble for love or money and my jump shot’s no better.”

So what.

If the rent check’s not riding on it, “I’m not good enough” is never an excuse for not doing something.  Do what you want anyway.  That you want to is reason enough.

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Shawshanking Your Great Escape

Many a working stiff dreams of a Great Escape – a way out of the daily grind and into the life he or she spends all day fantasizing and surreptitiously Googling about. But how does one bridge the gap between daydreams and reality? As in all things substantive, Shawshank has the answer.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Sodomy, institutional cruelty, male bonding (unrelated to sodomy), good works, and throat-lump-inducing-old-man-suicides ensue. I refuse to give any more exposition than that because you should have seen Shawshank by now. Which is why I won’t bother with a spoiler alert before telling you that Andy escapes in the end.

And what a glorious escape it is. See, Andy had an Evil Plan. Over the course of two decades, Andy tunnels his way through his cell wall using only a tiny rock hammer. He deposits the debris from his labors in the prison yard every day and hides the hole in his wall behind posters. Using his plum position in the warden’s office, he steals bank account numbers and clothes and everything else he’ll need on the outside. When the time finally comes, Andy doesn’t hesitate – he does exactly as he’s planned, climbs through his tunnel and 500 yards of human waste and finds himself celebrating his freedom under a roaring stormy sky. Behold.

Andy’s escape is informative. Learn from him in planning your own.

1. Andy had a plan. Don’t just sell everything and head out West with the idea that you’ll figure it out when you get there. Winging it in 21st-century America is not the move.  While you’ve got the security of your current job you should be doing as much homework as you can on the career you want to move into: who the players are, how they’ve gotten where they are, how people make money doing what you want to do, all that nitty-gritty stuff. Do as much work in the field as you can squeeze into your schedule to develop the skill set that will let you hit the ground running when you make the transition. If that means doing it for free (which it very well might), then so be it. And you need to network in your soon-to-be-new field. And get your money up. The point here is to have as much infrastructure in place as possible before you make the jump to minimize transition friction.

2. Andy was patient. Andy waited twenty years to make a break for it. Twenty years of hard time. Twenty. Years. Why? Because he wanted to get it right. He knew he only had once chance to get away so he took his time and put all the pieces in place so that when it came time for the actual escape all he had to do was follow through. If fictional Andy Dufresne can do twenty years in a sweaty fictional jail, patiently executing his Evil Plan, then you can handle a few months more of filling out TPS reports for Bill Lumbergh while you get some practice doing whatever your thing is. Because you don’t want to go out half-cocked and end up having to crawl back to the hamster wheel. That’s just soul-crushing. Be patient, do it right the first time, and then never again.

3. Andy was willing to get dirty. The man climbed through 500 yards of convict poop. You ever seen convict poop? All the bad cafeteria food those guys eat? Turds like muddy roadkill. I draw that simile to illustrate for you that, even with the infrastructure in place, things will probably be hard. If you’re starting a business or going back to school or carving some other new life path for yourself, it will be disruptive and difficult in ways both imagined and unforeseeable. You will have to work hard, you will have to adjust your lifestyle, and you might fail a few times. Expect to be surprised. And when you are, stay the course. You planned for it. You prepared for it. Now live it. Find the fortitude to live it. Because the truth is that what often separates the winners from the washouts is nothing more than pain threshold – who’s willing to crawl through the smelliest poop the longest.

I won’t promise you’ll get to Zihuatanejo. You can do everything right and still fall flat on your face. But if you plan well and crawl long enough, even if you do fall flat you might stand up and realize you like where you ended up.

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Filed under Career, Choices, Goals, Movies, The Great Escape

General Theory #52

Life gets better – not necessarily easier, but less confusing and more fulfilling – when you stop pursuing things that everyone wants and start going after what only you could have.  Applies to careers, audiences, significant others, etc.  

In a world where love and long attention spans are scarce, it’s just good business.

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Find Your Stutter

When I was a kid I had a stutter. A bad one: the kind that’s hard not to laugh at even if you’re not the type who laughs at that sort of thing. But I don’t remember people laughing very much. I was lucky enough to have good family and friends who didn’t make it an issue. A pre-kindergarten teacher told me once that if I couldn’t talk right I shouldn’t talk at all, but I don’t remember being particularly bummed out about it, and that’s probably the worst of the treatment I received. And despite that teacher’s suggestion, I kept talking.

Still, though nobody ever really teased me about it (to my face), it was embarrassing. I was a kid with a stutter. It would come up at the worst times, when I was excited or under pressure or trying to respond quickly, and it frustrated the hell out of me. So my parents tried to fix it. During elementary school a speech therapy teacher – a sweet, endlessly patient woman to whom I will be forever grateful – would come and pull me out of class once a week and take me to a little classroom to do corrective exercises. She would have me read out loud and talk to her for about an hour at a time, all the while gently coaching me to slow down, form my mouth this way, breathe that way, helping me get over those tricky letters (M, B, P, S) without straining until I was red in the face.

And it worked. Between her lessons and just growing up, eventually the stutter receded. By the time I got to high school it was basically gone, though even now it’ll still resurface in slight hiccups from time to time. Nothing like it used to be, though. Having a simple conversation is no longer something to be planned for, rehearsed, or dreaded. I just talk.

Fast forward a few years. I’m in my first year of law school. There’s a competition to get on this thing called the Moot Court Board. The competition involves writing a brief about a fictional case and then defending your position in front of a panel of judges, many of whom are practicing lawyers and maybe even a real judge or two. For fifteen minutes or so, it’s just you standing up at a podium trying to argue your case while the judges take turns cutting you off and asking you whatever they want about any aspect of the case that grabs them at the moment. Talking. Out loud. Under pressure. Oh man, I have to do this.

I prepared hard. I studied the case until I knew the facts and the law cold. I wrote every word of what I wanted to say and wrote out answers to potential questions. I practiced in the mirror by myself, to my girlfriend, to my roommate. I worked harder for that competition than I did for any class that year. And it paid off. I went through I-forget-how-many rounds of argument over the course of two days and when they posted the names of the people who made the Board, mine was among them. The stutterer made the Board for people who stand up and talk good. And I didn’t even have Sandra Bullock there to Southern-accent-sassy talk me through it (unless you count my speech therapist, who I guess kind of does count now that I think about it, even though she wasn’t southern, and I never slept at her house).

As far as the world is concerned, my making the Moot Court Board wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t make a lot of money or get famous when my name went up on the announcement board in the student lounge. But for me, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Using my strengths – organization skills, discipline, the ability to synthesize information and turn it into narrative – I conquered something that had dogged me since I was a kid. I proved I could do it for myself.

And this, I think, is illustrative of the kinds of goals that are worth setting. The personal goals. The goals that force you to confront your weaknesses and figure out how to overcome them with your strengths. The goals that test your will to make yourself the person you want to be, not for applause and awards from the great faceless crowd, but for the look of respect in the eye of the person that stares out at you from the mirror every day. Those, I think, are the goals worth setting and striving for. Those are why we’re here.

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