The Formula for Achieving Your Goals: Persistence Plus Time, Minus Perfection
Note: I’m using writing as an example here because that is what I do, but this advice applies to any passion.
In our society there is a growing tendency to expect instant gratification. And no wonder, it is being sold to us constantly. Silicon Valley built a myth of near instant riches, a myth any entrepreneur will tell you is exactly that: a myth. But there is now a whole eco-system of people pushing similar myths to desperate people.
It is based around formulaic schema like: gain followers, become an influencer, sell courses, make lots of moola. This kind of grift has been around since the beginning of time but it has never been so easy, and so cheap, to give it a shot.
So people buy into it, try for a while, and then become disappointed and disillusioned when they find out sticking with it is hard work with no guarantees. I want you to think about something when you are enticed by these get rich formulas:
Do you really want to put your all into it?
If you are going to commit a significant amount of your life, and time and energy, into something, it should be something you really love. Because if you really love it, to the point of passion, you won’t be measuring it by the cash you hope it generates. Or the fame.
As my title suggests, there is a formula for success but it is a formula that will only work if you have this passion. Why?
Because there are going to be many points where it isn’t working, you just don’t feel like sticking with it, or you’re questioning why you’re doing it. You’re going to need that passion to plow through them.
Setting goals is easy, setting the right goals is hard
Anyone can write down a dream list of achievements. And that is the problem. Writing out a list can actually set expectations too high. First of all, the desire for things is not a goal. If you dream of a big black Mercedes, that’s great, and you can probably get it. But it’s what you do to get it that is the goal, not the end result.
When I started out writing here, I had no expectation of money or thousands of followers. I still don’t. But as a freelance writer and marketer, most of my work goes out there and I have no idea how well it did its job. The only feedback I get is a satisfied client and a check. Which is fine, but that is not my goal.
My goal has been to somehow resonate with readers and add something to your lives, because that adds immeasurably to mine. Fortunately Medium gives me that (and some money too!) in real time. Understanding that changed my life in the past year.
Persistence is hard work, but satisfying work
The past year was a game changer. I’d been writing steadily before that but I doubled down because I had time and I found writing here a fascinating process. And I reset my goal to getting good, mostly positive feedback from readers. That is my primary goal here and once I understood it, I wanted to do the work.
You’ll hear a lot of successful writers here tell that story, how they kept plugging away without getting immediate gratification but instead because they had a strong desire to be a writer. Being a writer was not my goal because I have been a fairly successful one for most of my life (by writer standards!).
Whatever your core goal is, make sure it is not materialistic but an internal improvement to the quality of your life. That big Mercedes will be a used car the day you drive it off the lot. It is what is known as a wasting asset, a thing that gradually loses its value. Materialistic goals fade. And you have two responses: Pick a new object of desire or find your passion. They are not the same thing.
It takes time
Perhaps the most dangerous thing that can happen when you start out with a life goal is rapid success. Why? Because you don’t actually know what you did to get there, other than be lucky. If this happens, it is likely that it will be difficult to sustain.
I know it’s hard to think about how much time and work it might take. It’s also easy to dream of bypassing that. But here is a secret: if it truly is your passion, you won’t notice the passage of time, nor will you think of it as work.
As I write a piece like this, I don’t think ‘this one’s a winner’. In fact, my most successful pieces were ones I considered not publishing because I thought they were too abstract or too personal. You simply can’t be thinking there is a formula or a secret while you are pursuing your passion. It will lend a layer of calculation into your work that looks labored upon.
The right kind of goal is hard to find. In fact you may only find it while pursuing something else and pivoting because you found something a lot more interesting to do. That’s a good indicator you’re on the right path. Now apply that persistence and take the time to explore it thoroughly, at your own pace.
One day you’ll lift your head up and realize that you are in a different place, a place you built yourself. That’s an incredible feeling.
Subtracting perfection is critical
The final action in my equation is a tough one for many people. One of the reasons I stuck it out here is that I didn’t feel, initially, that my stuff had to be perfect. This was a reaction to my freelance work where there were very specific requirements for every aspect of a piece, including SEO elements, voice, length, etc. I didn’t set those parameters for my work here. I just wrote and published.
This turned out to be liberating. I intentionally stopped pursuing perfection because I didn’t need to. That is not to say I got sloppy, I’m too much of a pro for that. But I definitely did not want to be trapped into a formula or second guess my work here. I wanted it to be fun.
Eventually I realized that my writing here was much more important than my paid work and I began to focus a little more on it. That is the point where my voice became more fine-tuned and I started to gain traction with more readers.
So don’t limit yourself, find something you really want to do, and stick to it. Finally get it out there. It’s time worn advice but there is a reason for that. It works.