The more I consider how to create and pursue personal goals and interests the more I consider the idea of failure a toxic concept. Before I had kids, I would plan goals of all sorts, daily goals and short 3 week goals and longer 6 week goals into what I thought would be the steps needed to get a certain level closer to the big SMART goal that I had written down. But that program constantly left me discontent and constantly irritated at myself and those around me, frustrated with my circumstances. I do agree with the adage of deliberate process in pursuing goals but to some degree I am trying to find the ideal balance for a life that is centered first on God and family and at some stages I have not been able to consider anything outside of these two things and my day job.
I think what it comes down to is how can I tap back into the joy that I remember of creating and learning? For years I pursued learning music without thinking about anything other than how cool it would be to ‘play the guitar well’. Then once I was a guitarist I thought about how cool it would be to ‘have a band and perform’. When it happened, then I thought about how cool it would be to ‘start a band with my brothers and record an album’. In the back of my mind for many years I thought it would be cool to be a full time musician and create music and perform for a living but continued to pursue daily practice and take small steps toward that. I always wondered whether I would enjoy constant traveling and performing as a musician but I finally experienced when traveling with my brothers and dad in a band on weekends and some weeks through the summer for several years. At each level of my music progress, I set my sights on small dreams and the big dream of becoming a ‘musician’ and focused on the daily discipline of getting good at my craft and opportunities happened on their own. I look back at that example and wonder where I lost that pure interest in simply enjoying my craft and replaced it for a set of rigorous and constant goal setting and evaluation that mainly distracted from how I would benefit from the most? Daily practice and exploration.
In the process of setting short intermediary goals that were unrelated to daily practice I simply lost the joy of creating and instead put expectations in its place. I recently saw an article of someone talking about ‘all of their failures’ as if it is a good thing to fail because you’re trying new things. But how can we reframe the discussion to try new things and not consider the many tangents to where God has us end up, a failure. No one really knows where they are going or how their specific bent will direct them along the way. The Lord also may use a specific skill for a specific season to connect you to people or circumstances to have an impact in a specific way that is unique to you. Maybe that is the success in your pursuit? I think failure finds itself in my vocabulary and thought process too often in a similar way to how it is so easy to identify with weaknesses instead of strengths. I don’t really have to try too hard to compare myself to someone else and realize that I come up short all too often. I wonder what it would look like to simply remove the concept of failure from my mental thought process altogether?
I came across this article about a novelist, John Freeman Gill, who wrote consistently for 5 years and his struggle with thinking about writing vs actually writing. He set up a daily process and his goal was to write for 3 hours a day. John said specifically, “by logging the number of hours I write, rather than the number of words, I free myself from the tyranny of quantity”. I find this to be a great insight. John has shunned looking at the wrong outcome of his writing. The only failure is to not log time writing. It is a lot easier to get back into the process and not set up false expectations for yourself this way. He simply prioritized for himself the daily process of writing and tracked his progress, he made time to write and kept focused on only that knowing that he would make progress toward his big goal if he focused on that.
I usually only understand the complex matrix of steps that I came through and can only marvel at how the Lord has directed me to where I am today after the fact. What I had learned and the people I had come in contact with through each stage is what really matters about that stage. When we define these as failures, when I do not ‘become a full time musician’ we are forgetting the impact, the blessing, and the way it translated our movement into a new dream that was born out of that stage of life.
Let’s forget successes and failures and just consider what it means to ‘participate’. Let’s schedule daily practice for ourselves and focus on showing up to play. I’ve struggled with what it means to set goals and have big visions for my future and I’ve slowly come to realize that 3 month goals and one year goals and three your goals are quite impractical. Instead, I want to dream about who I want to be 6 to 10 years from now and what are the 3 or 4 roles I want to be really good at in my life at any one time? In this I can determine what deliberate practice looks like to help span the knowledge gap of experience and education to get to that point. Then as God takes me through the learning process I can simply shift my dream according to His continual guidance. Life is not about where we are going on this earth but what we are doing with the time that matters. The eternal or far reaching perspective is most important, the daily process is what turns our hearts and minds to the disciplines that I should pursue. Not hitting an intermediary goal should not be seen as failure but more as the evolution of our ideas and interests. As we take those steps God reveals to us why were were drawn to something in the first place and that gives us further motivation to continue stepping out in faith. As we see God’s hand and how our hearts and minds have grown and connected with other people, we continue to take steps in pursuit of a new and greater dream than we ever had before.
By not defining failures and successes as black and white outcomes, I look forward to enjoying the process of creating a little more and anxiously anticipating how God will use my practice and re-route my course to become not just the man I think I want to be but what He prefers that I step into.