Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Is There Gas In the Car? by Jim Hart

My wife and I would love to drive to Alaska. Anchorage is only about 4,000 miles from Pittsburgh. I looked it up on Google maps. It will take 57 steps to complete the trip. Wow.  The first step is traveling only 121 feet. The final step in the journey is just 177 feet. The longest leg of the journey is 968 miles. That’s step number 49. The first step is really easy.  Just pull out of my driveway and drive 121 feet to Garden Hill Dr. One step down, 56 more to go.  

For us, the journey is also the point, as well as the destination. We like to go through places we’ve never been to, or even thought about going to. We won’t be able to get to Alaska without traveling down an unfamiliar stretch of road. But, since I printed out all of the directions, we’ll know which road to travel, and for how long, if I faithfully follow those pre-determined steps.

For some reason writing down goals makes them more likely to be reached. Goals are like a map. You look at where you are now, and then where you want to be. And then you start plotting all the steps it takes to get there. All the stops, left turns, dinner breaks, re-fueling, stopping to see the largest ball of string, etc.

The goal of getting your book published is a long trip. A really long trip. And you’re going to go to, and through, places you’ve never really wanted. What does creating a Twitter account have to do with writing a book, anyway? But I follow a map because the person who created it knows how to get there, and they can tell me how to reach my destination.

Goals are destinations.  And you have to pull out of the driveway to get there. Here’s a tangible exercise in goal writing. Write out your goal. If you’re not already familiar with the term SMART goal, let me introduce you.  SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Tangible (or Time-bound)  I won’t go into detail about each of these – you can Google ‘smart goal’ and gain some more insight into the subject. But the point is - write down your goal. And then write down every step that you need to take to reach that goal. Some steps will be brief:  ‘write synopsis’.  Some will be agonizing: ‘find literary agent’.  Remember to organize your goal steps so that you’re building momentum and moving closer to your objective.

I imagine that the single largest goal for those reading this post may be ‘get my book published’, and I hope you reach that goal. But consider other life goals as well. One of our goals at home is to ‘clean out our basement’. According to my wife, the first step should be: get a dumpster. There’s something empowering about reaching a goal. It provides a sense of accomplishment that tells you that you can accomplish even more.

As you write down your goal, and all the steps needed to reach it, remember that it’s ok to leave room in the schedule for those unplanned events – like seeing the world’s largest pistachio. (Which is in New Mexico, by the way.)

But If I want to make it to Alaska, I can’t do it without enduring that 968 mile stretch of pavement. Eventually I’ve got to tackle that long and tedious portion of the journey. But because I’ve endured (and even enjoyed) the 48 previous steps, I know that I will eventually reach my destination.

One of my favorite rock song lyrics is from the 1976 Steely Dan tune “Kid Charlemagne”.  The part of the song that involves running from the law finds the character asking the poignant question:  “Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car.”

So what’s your biggest destination for 2014? And....
is there gas in the car?


Diana said...

Writing down goals and the steps needed to get there have always helped me in the past. Thank you Jim for this reminder and the S.M.A.R.T. acronym.

David B. Smith said...

I like the SMART acronym too. Really a great post, Jim. I am trying to enjoy and appreciate each step of the trip - the writing itself is an awesome thrill and landing that deal is a sweet bonus. As long as we're exchanging rock-and-roll lyrics, I have to cite (I Want to Be a) "Paperback Writer," by the Beatles, of course. And then, from the Abbey Road album (this is for all those publishers out there), "You Never Give Me Your Money."