To Achieve: successfully bring about or reach a desired objective by effort, skill, or courage.
I am a hypocrite—but working on it.
I’m a good teacher but a pretty bad student, a good writing facilitator but a self-critical writer (as are most of us).
When it comes to teaching and nurturing growth, I’m hands on, evaluating, adapting, and problem solving so my learners and writers feel supported.
In my own practices, I don’t automatically look after myself in this way but I’m learning to.
This post is intended to offer reflections and maybe guidance on how to achieve your intentions (whatever they may be). These thoughts apply to both learning and creating as they are connected in many ways.
It’s important to know why you are embarking on a journey.
At school it’s obvious; we need good results. But anything after that isn’t so simple and our adult motivations can be unclear.
Joy, fun, and a pure desire to explore, for example, are great reasons to start doing something new but they’re not often recognised as valid enough reasons to invest time and maybe money in.
I want to start by saying that those reasons (the fluffy, indulgent, romantic kind) are totally enough to start something new and that we should 100% let them walk us down the path of personal growth!
It’s not selfish to seek more outlets for the mind; what’s more, it’s not necessary to have a tangible, practical reason, like a promotion or exams, in order to begin.
But we do often have a practical reason for beginning something and it’s good to break this down and work with it. When practical goals are mixed with personal ones, around general skill building, opening doors for new opportunities, challenging the brain for the fun of it, a more true and helpful motivation forms.
When teaching in London, setting SMART goals was something I prioritised. I believe broad goals make us more resilient and confident because if we just say, 'I want the best grade possible,' we’re not considering what that actually means.
It’s just a number.
But what skills are behind that number?
Where will that number get us?
How will we feel if we get it?
What’s at stake if we don’t?
So I had students think about the places they wanted to get to (not related to grades) and, most importantly, I had them consider the things they wanted to be able to say about their reading and experience of the world.
In the UK, exam season is a month-long onslaught. For most, it’s incredibly draining, energetically and mentally, so it helps to imagine what you are creating for yourself on the other side: a voice, skills that will enable you to structure writing, the ability to consider and measure different points of view.
If we step away from the school setting, our goals might seem less loaded but the journey is not automatically more simple. We started this new thing for a reason (to get somewhere or to learn how to say something specific) and there’s always a chance we'll fall short of our expectations. If the reason for starting isn’t clear, it’s going to be hard to stay on track.
So I encourage being introspective and setting personal goals. If you know why you want to set sail, you’re likely to go in the right direction and stay motivated. If you’re not sure, you can find yourself travelling in circles and getting very dizzy.
Fear and Support
I’ve lived in Slovenia for four years now. After my second year, I decided to stay and embarked on the journey of learning Slovene to integrate and become independent. Sounds simple, but when you think about it, there’s a lot riding on these kinds of motivations: being able to act for oneself, setting roots, being happy, homebuilding, nurturing friendships, survival. It’s scary to think about not having a voice and not being able to manifest these things.
It took me two years of learning the language to realise I was really scared to make mistakes. That fear blocked my progress and stopped me trying. In many ways, it prevented me from settling in and feeling at home.
The fear created a little voice in my head that said, “Don’t bother. You’ll never be able to keep up with the conversation anyway. You’re always going to be an outsider. You can’t do this.” It was a pretty mean voice.
After some helpful and much appreciated chats with friends, I understood that I needed to lower the stakes. I wanted to live here, so I might as well make the journey fun and less self-critical.
As soon as I gave myself permission to make mistakes and let my friends and family correct (and support) me, I made loads of progress and I did it with a smile.
So acknowledge the reason for starting your new thing and then break it down. De-escalate it. Knead it and soften it like a ball of dough so the fear doesn’t block you and is more manageable. Also, regularly remind yourself that you started this thing in order to grow; we need to make mistakes to achieve growth.
We’re not trees.
Before writing this, I hadn’t considered my writing practice as something I’m ‘learning’ because we often talk about creativity being innate. But, of course, it is also learnt! Knowing this will be helpful on days when I feel unsuccessful.
I attended university to learn how writing works. I turn up to workshops to explore more approaches. I facilitate others’ writing and ask for feedback on my own in order to continue growing. When I read, I’m observing others. Every time I write, I get a feeling of success or failure from it. It’s all learning.
Creativity and learning are linked and so both are vulnerable to pesky, demotivating thoughts and misdirection.
Like with language learning, I initially set the stakes too high for my writing and didn’t look after myself. I thought I wrote in order to get published one day, a common idea amongst my uni peers—after all, we were all studying creative writing! But after uni, when I was on my own, like when you’re let loose on the world after school, I worried about not achieving this goal. So I stopped writing.
But I loved writing! It was and still is my favourite thing and the truest way I grow.
Two years ago, I got back to writing (I guess I’d had enough time away from the fear to step towards the edge again) and took part in one iteration of Red Sky Sessions (they’re amazing—you can find out more here).
One workshop made me magically aware of my true motivation as a writer. It was run by Vanessa Kisuule (above). We were given two minutes to list all the reasons we write. We then crossed through everything that wasn’t totally true, ideas we might have inadvertently stolen from other people, institutions or films.
After crossing through my list, I was left with Joy.
I write because it makes me happy.
Once I realised publishing was not my motivation, I was free to enjoy writing again, unapologetically and light as a feather. My writing got better over time because practice does that, and my facilitating became more joyful too because I was no longer scared of being an unpublished imposter: I love writing; I can get others writing because they also love it: I can make them feel good in our sessions: this is enough: I am enough.
The truth was out! And it still helps me achieve and do the things I love.
So, try listing your motivations for learning or creating for two minutes.
Then look at them really hard and uncover what’s true to you and what you’re taking from others.
It’s so simple but enlightening.
Listen and Take Advice
Penultimately, I’m going to steal from an Insta post and a person that are helping me achieve my intentions.
One message is from the Lazy Report and it has brought me so much comfort and confidence: 'A rested mind will lead to our greatest creative work,' and that, 'Creative genius is often a few lazy days away.'
(Click the image to read the Lazy Report)
So rest and be lazy! Not all the time, but feel free to let yourself take space in between all the work you’re putting in to achieve your goals.
Along this same track, I regularly participate in Laurie Bolger’s Creative Writing Breakfast Club, and at the end of almost every session she says, ‘Well done for turning up. Close your notebook and go do something nice for yourself now.’
So rest and look after yourself. It helps along the path to achieving your goals!
To achieve: to successfully bring about or reach a desired objective by effort, skill, or courage : )