Friday, May 14, 2010

Goals and Idolatry

I’ve been thinking a great deal about goals after seeing “Big Mike” (Michael Lynche) voted off Idol this week. And no, I’m not ashamed to admit I love Idol. How brave and devoted and inspiring are these kids? Most of them have been catapulted from fairly ordinary lives onto a stage before bajillions of people. Working their posteriors off in the days between performances. Dealing with the psychological, physical, and emotional stress of such massive change, success, and knockbacks in such a short period of time — all in hopes of reaching their BIG goal.

Could you have done it at their age? Would you have had the guts and focus and stamina? Do you have it now? Guts and focus and stamina — just the things authors and illustrators (aspiring or otherwise) need in limitless supply. It’s also a good lesson in dealing with rejection, which I’ll talk more about at a later date. A contestant’s journey on Idol is, for me, something akin to the serious writer’s journey.

But there was something about big Mike’s speech after his performance that really got me thinking. He said, more than once during the night, it was his goal to make the top three so that he could do the Hometown visit. I could see that, even in the practice session, he was unsure, faltering, second guessing himself. He was on the very brink of making that goal and aware of that fact —so hyper aware, that he seemed to be quickly psyching himself out. And once you psych yourself out, if you cannot recover quickly, non-success is almost guaranteed. Based on this context, I find it hard to think that he was just having an off week. Indeed, Ellen DeGeneres’s comment was, “Your goal should be to win this thing.”

If Big Mike’s goal had been to win — if that had been his focus instead of making the top three— mightn’t he have more easily achieved the lesser of these two goals? Mightn’t he have chosen a song that allowed him to achieve what he did with This Woman’s Work? All psyching out aside, if he’d been focused farther into the distance, might he still be on that journey? If he’d had a different goal— a different and greater intent — might he still be reaching for it?

It made me wonder how often we hamstring ourselves by setting our ultimate goals too low, by not intending what we really want in fear of not even making a smaller goal.

I know I have some pretty huge goals. I also know I may never reach them, if I am realistic, but I do intend wholeheartedly to try. In setting the bar very high, I believe I may reach greater heights than I would had I not had the guts to reach higher. That way of thinking has already worked for me on numerous occasions.

We all know this, but I think it’s very easy from day to day to get caught up in the idea that one’s worth might not be as much as it should be, to psyche oneself out or to focus on little goals, rather than keeping the big one clearly in mind. Smaller, short term goals are important, don’t get me wrong. But I think even the short term goals tend to come more easily if one’s eyes are focused far into the distance, aware and somewhat detached from the outcome and enjoying the journey along the way —easy to say, not as easy to do.

If your main or sole focus is on getting from your home to the end of the street, how likely is it that you’ll ever stand on the Great Wall of China or peer into the Grand Canyon or even make Everest Base Camp, let alone scale the mountain herself?

What about you. Do you engage in active goal setting? Do you have goals you consider unrealistic or unattainable? Do you have them anyway? Or do you avoid making big goals for fear of never achieving them? How important are goals to you?


  1. You just totally changed my perception of my goals. That is awesome. THX.

  2. I used to have huge goals. Ridiculous big goals. People would roll their eyes. I now see that they really did carry me in the right direction. Sometimes, as you get older your goals change. Sometimes when you fall really short of your goals it's hard to set new ones or recommit to the old ones. Perhaps I need to imagine myself newly born.

  3. Lori, I think that's very interesting, isn't it...with hindsight, of course. I think it's necessary (healthy) that one's goals change as one ages. But when you fall really short of your goals, I think you first have to address why that happened.

    Sometimes, the answer will be that you didn't apply yourself, or you let something else (that seemed all-encompassing at the time) get in the way ... waylay you, so to speak. But sometimes, sometimes, it's because the thing we were really looking for was not that thing in front of us that we put so much store in, but the thing beside us. And if we had not been turned from that thing against our will, we might not have really SEEN the other.