The Big Three
At the end of a final gluttonous Chinese food feed, which also marked the end of the last visit I had with my father in 2018, my best friend and I cracked open our fortune cookies in unison. Before I could unfurl mine to read it, she smirked knowingly and handed me hers. "This belongs to you," she said.
The little scroll read, "A goal is just a dream with a deadline". Indeed, this one was meant for me.
I handed my unread fortune to her. I don't remember what it said. It doesn't matter, she's not into that kind of thing anyway. Did Confucius really say that "A goal is just a dream with a deadline"? Dubious, I looked it up and, lo and behold, No, he didn't. Unless Napoleon Hill paraphrased the snippet from some sacred text. Mr. Hill was one of the earliest American Self-Help authors. I've heard about his books but haven't read one myself. The idea of self-help seems to make people queasy, maybe that's why the genre changes title every decade or so. Self Help. Personal Development. Personal Mastery. No matter how you phrase it, there will always be some eye-rolling. What's so embarrassing about wanting to help yourself?
I am one who sets yearly objectives and checks in on my progress every three months. I map it out on a poster paper and come up with titles and subtitles, preferably heavy on the alliteration. I make sure the key goals stand out by drawing free-hand stars and arrows. It is what works for me, to steer myself forward toward anything personal or professional I might want to achieve. Dreaming does not suffice. I like action.
I have been known to bite off a bit more than I can chew. The problem with this is not only the frenetic pace of trying to get things done but the mental self-flagellation I tend to perform when I don't achieve set goals each year. At the start of 2020, I decided to take a different approach before setting down my annual goal map. As per the ritual, first I studied the maps from the previous few years. There were still too many items on each list, too many incomplete ideas, projects, and skills to acquire. I had attempted to cut down in 2019 by calling my map 'The Big 5'. This was an improvement. The only problem was the map had a second page with bullet upon bullet upon checklist under each of the five main goals. I was chatting with another goal-oriented friend about this, we had a good laugh at my expense when she blurted, "Sounds like The Big 51 ". I was finally starting to accept that I wasn't meeting all of my objectives not because I wasn't disciplined or dedicated enough, but because there was just too much bloody stuff on my to-do list. I decided that if Personal Mastery was equivalent to being enslaved by one's own insurmountable expectations, I might just be happier being a novice. I set out to be kinder to myself in 2020.
I put the highlighters and poster paper aside, grabbed a mini sketchbook and a stump of a pencil, and went for a long walk up the mountainside behind my house. After about forty minutes I sat on a rock to listen to the sheep bleat. I removed my sunglasses and received the warm sun rays for a while.
I opened a page of the sketchbook and wrote The Big 3 on the top. Then three words glided out in graphite: Relationships, Creativity, and Service.
I was warmed by a sense of satisfaction like the January sun that lit me up on that outcropping of rock. This was simple and perfect. These categories cover all other intentions and pursuits, concrete or transcendent. I went on to add three subcategories under each. These were guiding principles, written as verbs ending in -ing. The details could come later. They did, but this past year the 'whats' and 'hows' added to the map have been purpose-driven, not exigent for the sake of proving myself to myself.
What is most beautiful about this triad is that, in pruning a tangled bush back to its verdant stalk, I set goals that are perennial. I don't need to make one this January.
Happy New Year, everyone.