Thursday, June 18, 2020

Traveling Light and Going Goal-Free

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Here we are: June already, and the time of year I usually do a goals check-in, asking myself how it's all going, what's working, what isn't . . . Oh, boy.  

What can I say? As much as I'd love to tell you that my cumulative efforts toward goal-completion are moving with rocket speed, the truth is, they are not. In fact, a few weeks ago I actually got rid of my goals journal, and I feel a lot better for it.

As we are all probably sick of hearing (and knowing), 2020 hasn't been much of a joy ride. So many plans have had to be changed, put aside, or dropped altogether. For me personally this has involved abandoning plans to take new art and language classes, as well as giving up on even thinking about overseas travel. What I can do, however is keep working, as in:
  • Keep writing, which means continuing with my WIP.
  • Keep submitting my work for publication.
  • Keep learning and practicing to improve my drawing and painting skills.
  • Keep beading and building inventory for an eventual business, one that was supposed to start this summer, but now is, well, getting ready for NEXT summer!
My "modified goals" are simple, doable, and fit into my new 2020 routines and schedules. To make things even more streamlined, I've been doing some packing, putting away art supplies I'm not using at this exact moment; placing various unfinished works-in-progress into plastic storage containers; discarding old writing exercises that I know for sure I don't want to edit or publish, ever. 

I feel a lot lighter and a lot happier. With only a small amount of projects on my plate I feel as if I'm on a kind of creative vacation, the kind that only requires a small overnight bag and plenty of sunshine and rest.

Traveling light suits me and has always been my preferred way to see the world, whether it's a quick trip to Santa Fe, or a longer journey to Taiwan. Not only is a small suitcase easier to carry, but I never have to pay for any unwanted baggage fees. Most importantly, a small case makes me focus: What do I really need to have with me every day? What items will only create clutter, take up too much room, and will probably never be used anyway?

I weighed these same types of concerns to evaluate what it was I truly wanted to have with me for the rest of the year, if not beyond. As I was packing up my old first drafts and unused sketchbooks, it got me thinking about what else I could let go of, things that might be causing more trouble than joy in my life. You might recognize some of these in your own life and feel the need to let go of them too: 
  • Emotions revolving around creative work. Something I've learned about creativity is that it's never going to be free of anxiety and stress. Stress that something isn't "right." Stress that a project or manuscript will never be "good enough." Heck, I can even stress over finding a typo in an old blog post! So often our expectations are light years beyond what is required to achieve or complete any given project. The sooner you can let go of worry and just create without expectation, the better your work will naturally become. Ironic, isn't it?
  • Over-achieving. For me this means the need to work on too many projects at once. I fell into this bad habit when I read--and believed--a very stupid book that claimed multi-tasking was what highly-motivated professional writers and artists did: spin plates while walking on high wires and jumping through hoops with paintbrushes in both hands and a manuscript in their teeth. All day long! After hard experience and a lot of burn-out, I now know: tackling one project from start to finish is a far more productive, and satisfying, way to work. It's also a whole lot less to carry around in my brain.
  • TBR pile. I love to read, more than anything else on earth! But sometimes I can have such a huge pile of books to get through it feels like I'm in some never-ending high school English class: read those books, write those reports! Better to have just one book that I really want to read than a stack of homework assignments.
  • Too big of a to-do list. Another of my really bad habits: sitting down to write a daily to-do list that should only include: "buy milk, check post office box, pick up dry cleaning." Okay--that makes sense, one round trip should do it all. But then I start adding things like: Finish novel (which requires at least another six months). Practice drawing faces (well, maybe I have time for that over the weekend). Gesture drawings--twenty of them (which would take probably three hours). And it doesn't end there. Usually I need to get a second piece of paper to write down everything I want to do for the rest of my life. And it's all so counter-productive! Believing that I can accomplish all of this while going to my day job and buying the milk is a good guarantee that I end up wanting to do nothing but read one of those books from my TBR pile. From now on, my to-do list is going to be the size of a post-it or I won't even bother writing it.
  • Too many ideas. Although I've done a good job of packing up my various projects in order to concentrate on finishing one manuscript in the form of my current novel, I still keep getting IDEAS. I don't want to ignore them completely and I don't want to lose them, but really, there are days I wish they'd go visit someone else. In order to semi-solve the situation, I've taken to simply writing them down and putting them away in a folder. I want to add "never to be seen again" but who knows, there might come a day when I'll be glad of them. The one thing I'm certain of, though, is I'm not going to a) dwell on them, b) drop everything else I'm doing to pursue them, and I'm especially not going to c) purchase anything they might cry out for such as new paint sets or special supplies. No, no, no!
  • Too many online obligations and interactions. This is a difficult one, I know. But there's been something special about having this extra alone time to befriend myself, getting to know what I really want from life, and what types of goals will suit me best when I do come out of isolation. None of us need a thousand "likes" to know our work has value, just a strong inner voice reminding us to show up and do whatever we can at any given time.
To me traveling light means the ability to travel well and to travel easily. It means going where your heart calls you, not where the guidebook says you must. It means being able to stop and smell the roses right in front of you rather than  rushing off to find and paint acres of magic orchids just because it sounds so grand and accomplished. For now simplicity is truly the key. Happy Trails!
Tip of the Day: What's weighing you down right now? There's no reason to carry anything other than what you love, but even those things might need to be re-examined in order to navigate our current world with greater ease and a lighter step. Take some time to consider what to keep, what to get rid of, and what you might want for later but don't want to discard completely. Pack it up and save it for next year!