It’s easy to imagine that a goal is like a mountain. Solid. Intimidating. Adventurous. With two points: The bottom and the the top.
Maybe there are some camps set up here and there along the trail, but they’re just resting stops or check-in points, maybe. They don’t matter. You either reach the summit or you fail.
But what if a goal is more like one of those Lego contraptions you used to make when you were a kid? Each little brick a distinct thing. Malleable. Not only easy to change, but fun to change.
Your Lego house isn’t turning out right? Turn it into a space ship. Or a robot. Or just some kind of abstract work of art.
A goal is not a single thing. It’s a collection of much smaller goals. And every one of those much smaller goals is a wonderful, singular thing all by itself.
Let’s say you want to write a novel.
First: that’s probably not really your end goal. Probably, you want to be a published novelist. Or, if you’re being really, really honest, you want to be a bestselling author.
Can you see that we’ve already identified a couple of Legos?
Write a novel. Publish a novel.
So, let’s try again.
Let’s say you want to be a bestselling author.
Being a bestselling author, first of all, isn’t a fantastic end goal. It depends too much on things that are outside your control. No one can control whether or not readers will respond to their work.
But still, let’s roll with it.
The Lego contraption called “be a bestselling author” is made up of a bunch of parts called “write a novel.”
Not one. Not for most people. Many.
And each of those are actually made up of hundreds of tiny, distinct parts. Your daily writing goals. Every single time you hit your daily writing goal, you win.
All those wins add up to a bigger win: writing a book.
And then you do it again. And again. Until those bigger wins add up to an even bigger goal: Publishing a book.
Which, of course is made up of parts that are distinct, like finding an agent.
Which, of course is made up of parts that are distinct, like sending out query letters.
See what I’m saying?
And then you do all of that again. And again. Until your collection of published books coalesces into something that really is out of your control: enough people buying your books to make you a bestseller.
The same thing goes for any goal.
Getting out of debt is made up of a mountain of smaller goals called “make good money choice.” Each one looks a little different, but they all amount to the same thing.
Getting a better job is actually a collection of job applications and training and education and networking and working shit jobs.
Learning to play the piano or speak Spanish or cook is made up of hundreds (thousands?) of smaller blocks of practice.
All the parts matter.
All of the little pieces that represent small daily goals and habits are uniquely important. If you can start to think of them as distinct, you’ll have a much greater chance of collecting a bunch of them.
Maybe your collection of “write a novel” contraptions won’t add up to being a bestselling author. Like I said, that’s something that’s pretty far outside your control. But your work will add up to something.
The exciting part is not knowing what, isn’t it?
Maybe it will be bigger than you imagine. Maybe it’ll be entirely different than you are capable of imagining when you’re just gathering those first bricks.
And maybe all you’ll do is figure out that this isn’t your mountain. That’s okay, too. Know why? Because the individual bricks still matter. And they can be put together as the base for something else.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.