“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau
So where have I been for the last few weeks? I was set on a task to reach a goal that I have been working towards for several years. And by several, I mean several, several. In order to complete the final steps, learn all I could from it and set new goals, I had to give this one my full focus. I started a project to write a fictional novel before my son was diagnosed with cancer. I spent late nights tapping away at the computer, getting my ideas on paper and dreaming of a bestselling novel. This all took a back burner on March, 26th when I learned my youngest son had leukemia.
Fast-forward a year and I find myself in the throes of grieving my child, trying to make sense of a world without him in it and still my goals sat in cold pots on cold back burners. I had all but given up on the idea, forgotten about it as my heart ached and sorrow consumed my thoughts. Creativity was out the window.
Grieving a significant loss, at times, can be all consuming. It will somehow find its way into everything, defining some and completely discounting others. It is a slippery slope and not a good practice to get into. So fast-forward again 2 more years and I had found myself a foreigner in my own life, setting aside my own pursuits in lieu of grieving and only grieving. But to what avail? Is this what my son would have wanted? Was I betraying his memory by make new owns without him; reaching goals I had once set for myself and taking pride in that?
We all know the answer to this question is a distinct and loud NO. Our loved one most certainly would not what us to sulk miserably the rest of our days. So why is it so easy to do this to ourselves? I remember clearly feeling that in no way, shape or form would I want to feel “okay” about the loss of my son. I felt like getting on with my life meant I was in some way discounting his. Somehow making me “okay” with it. How can that be? After all, he fought harder than anyone one I had seen to continue living his, he saw value in life and living. Would he really want mine to stop because his physically did? My living would not make his dying “okay” but not living was making his fight in vain. I simply needed to start remembering and applying this to my life.
The first step in doing this was to get back to myself. The me that was still there. Albeit, I felt like every bit of me pre-cancer had somehow vaporized, it hadn’t. I was still in there; I just had to do some digging. I still counted, my past goals still had value and I still was just as capable of reaching them again. Granted like a marathoner that had taken a hiatus from training, I had to recondition myself and I am not going to say that is easy, just that it is possible.
To do this I took an inventory of my goals, what changes my life experiences had taken on my views and desires, what made me happy, what I wanted to achieve and what I was willing to give up to do so. Naturally, some things that once seemed so important revealed themselves to actually have no value in my life. Just busyness. Scratch them from the list, narrow it down to the core things that will enhance my life and discard those that will bog me down.
It is okay to take a hard line in this. If one thing I know to be true is that your ability to multitask takes a hit while grieving. Finding yourself should not become a distracting balancing act with too many balls in the air. Do one thing and put your focus into that, then do another. Spreading yourself thin trying to accomplish everything in an effort to feel nothing will do damage not good. Setting and reaching goals is not about leaving grief behind, it is about learning how to take it with you.
For me, I found peace and understanding writing while my son was sick. It was something I enjoyed before his diagnosis and something I still did after his death to work through my thoughts and feelings. And here was this cold back burner just waiting for my attention, so I flipped it back on to simmer and decided to finish what I once had started. Having this project to finish and focus on started to put something positive back into my future. Giving me a direction to head into where the horizon held manifest destiny rather than emptiness.
So what is the best way to set goals in a way that will positively affect your emotional well-being? While goal setting can give you a positive direction when life gets confusing, not taking care while doing so can quickly become a burden.
- Keep your goal setting in constructive light and positive by avoiding negative qualifications like “Stop” or “Don’t”. Your goals should be encouraging you now not bring about restrictions. If you want to change a bad habit find a way to set that goal with a positive approach.
- Set reasonable, reachable timelines and expectations. Be specific about what you want to accomplish and when. Generalizing your goals will make them harder to reach.
- Take large projects in small bite-size pieces to reward your progress rather than wait until a far off finale to celebrate your accomplishments. It is much simpler to do this, then that and then the next step rather than do it all at once. Simplifying the goal into smaller steps will ease you back into the process.
- Write down your goal and don’t feel bad about taking some off the list. Prioritizing will help you discover what is most important to you. This often isn’t a one step process. It is good to reevaluate. Putting pen to paper will give you a path to follow towards reaching your goal and help eliminate the things that will hinder your efforts.
- Reward your baby steps. Don’t belittle anything you accomplish to lead you closer to your goal by not making a big deal about it. Even if just quietly to yourself. Be proud of yourself and tell yourself that. Each step is a victory and should be celebrated not just checked off the to do list.
- Find a mentor to help you along the way. This person will be a sounding board, cheerleader, help hold you accountable and stay on course to reach your goal. Going it alone does not make you better for it. The guidance of a mentor will provide much needed relief as you learn and try new things. Stepping out of your comfort zone to reach your goals is uncomfortable and confusing at times. No matter how good of a climber you are, you wouldn’t attempt Mt. Everest on your own and reaching for your goals can seem like facing a mountain when grieving. Take a guide with you.
- Take a break when you need to. This isn’t a race to the finish. Sometimes in order to reach a goal you must find a place to rest, gather strength, refresh and start again. Breaks are a necessary part of the process and will prevent you from burning out. Use this time to redefine your path if you feel you have taken a bit of a tangent. You may find you need to take a break from one thing or another in order to focus on a particular goal. Just don’t turn off your burners and get back to them as soon as you are refreshed.
Reaching goals, first the little ones and then the bigger ones, improves self-esteem and confidence both necessary in warding off depression. Depression is a loss of oneself to sorrow and easy to do while it is constantly present in grieving. Goal setting can be part of the process of finding yourself again.
With this in mind and on a quest to re-introduce myself to me again, I set a goal to finish and publish the novel I had started before my life found itself in chaos, cancer and grief. Re-discovering my right-brain and the joy I once found in the creative process. Allowing myself to feel good about each step that led to the completing of this project. Knowing that my son would be proud of me. Taking note of what I still could accomplish, that I still could put my mind to something and create something new. That I was and still am capable even though I am and will always be grieving the loss of my son.
Happily I published, Oak Harbor, on the 4th anniversary of my son’s death. I chose this day on purpose in his memory and as a reminder to still strive to live, even on the days that seem to take every reason to do so, away. That life is a collection of experiences, good and bad, and yes, that they can coexist. If fact, they must in order to have balance.
To honor him and his valiant fight, I am donating $1 from each sale for the first 90-day-release to childhood cancer research. Tucker may not have lived to reach all his goals but by reaching mine, I can be a part of helping other children win this battle to reach theirs. Yet another reward for seeing this goal through to the end.
What goals are on your back burners? What baby steps could you be making? Let me know in the comments.