Have you ever set what seemed like a reasonable goal, failed to meet it, beat yourself up, then realized what you did accomplish mattered more than your goal and had to undo the damage you caused yourself in the throes of disappointment? Yeah, me too.
This last weekend I attended the 2017 HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers. It’s the lovechild of Hippocampus Magazine, so named for the area of the brain that forms long-term memories. Writers from the U.S. and abroad converged on the lovely city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to nerd out on literary memoir, personal essay writing, and other forms of nonfiction craft.
I set a goal of talking with 50 fellow writers during the three-day event.
I think I talked with 22 people total. That’s counting the front desk staff of the Marriott, two concierges, a couple members of the housekeeping team, and the employees of the two restaurants where I ate. Wait … 23! I also spoke with a gentleman sharing the elevator with me. It was his wedding day.
On top of that, with one notable exception of a lovely lady from Chicago, I mostly listened to others.
That’s a pretty clear fail. I’ve been feeling crappy for not pushing harder out of my comfort zone, being more assertive, and talking about Dog and Dojo more.
I’m not the only one to ever feel this way, so after a few days to reflect, I thought I’d offer a few lessons learned.
- There are many variables to consider when setting goals, but the most important one is YOU. I set my “50 people” goal in excitement over the conference — the number of days I’d be there, the different sessions I’d attend with different people, and the sheer number of people attending overall. But I took me out of the equation. I have a bit of social anxiety. I love conversation; I hate crowds. I also don’t like to be talked at by people who could literally be talking to a wall and they wouldn’t notice. Does that sound like someone who can comfortably speak with 50 strangers at a large event?
- Meeting goals and achieving victories may not be the same thing. So I didn’t make my goal. But going to this conference at all was a victory. So was leaving Rico and Whiskey for three days. This was the first time I’ve left Rico for more than a few hours since struggling with the decision to leave him and his sister Roxy, who had cancer at the time. Even though I had a mini panic attack the night before I left, I did it anyway. That’s a huge win.
- Reframing is nothing to be ashamed of. Halfway through Saturday, it became clear 50 wasn’t an achievable goal. With a splitting headache, the shakes, and a constant second-guessing of the outfits I chose, the compassionate thing to do would have been to see each individual conversation as a victory because they were. But self-compassion is another struggle.
- Feeling disappointed and being a disappointment are two different things. I mistook feeling disappointed for being a disappointment. Funny, because I’ve never mistook a sense of accomplishment for meaning I am accomplished. I can’t believe one without the other. It’s just not logical. So both must be false.
- Beating yourself up accomplishes literally nothing. At all. Falling down the rabbit hole of social media is a better use of time than beating yourself up over woulda, shoulda, coulda. I can spend this moment sad that I didn’t do better, and then spend the next moment sad that I wasted this moment being sad and not being productive. It’s a stupid, infinite cycle. Don’t fall for it.
After all is said and done, I don’t know where I stand on goal setting versus flying by the seat of your pants. I guess it’s whatever works for you. Figuring that out may be a lifelong process. Glad I have some fun-loving friends to do it with.
Thanks for visiting.
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