Setting goals was my thing. In some respects, goals are still my thing. But lately, I’ve come to realize that a goal is just a thing. And that what might be even more important than reaching the goals we set for ourselves, is the journey to get there.
You could say that I made my living writing goals. As a teacher, I sat through training after training on how to write SMART goals. If you haven’t heard of the term SMART goals, the acronym stands for goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound. I set SMART goals for my year, with my students and for my students. I worked with teachers and teams to analyze data to measure progress. I lived, breathed and sometimes lost sleep over SMART goals.
In many respects, I value the process behind creating a SMART goal. Or any goal really.You spend time reflecting on the variables, on the indicators of success and on all the big and little benchmarks that will get you to the overall goal. I recently spent an entire morning outlining steps toward my wildly improbable goal (WIG) of creating and leading a life coaching and yoga retreat in Patagonia on colored post-it notes that cover a door in my office. The process involves visualization and through the simple act of putting the idea out there in the universe, through one series of synchronicities after another, no longer seems all that wildly improbable.
But more often than not, in life, in SMART and WIG goals, obstacles obscure our path. Sometimes these barriers are physical. Sometimes they exist only in our mind. And sometimes, they are invitations – to change our perspective and try something new.
Facing an obstacle offers us two choices: to push against the obstruction or find a way to move beyond whatever blocks the path. Sometimes it is only a matter of a small shift – so small that it is barely noticeable to anyone else – in thinking, in direction, that makes all the difference.
And that moment…that itty bitty shift is where the magic happens.
Because it is in that moment that we fly. We soar. We grow.
“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” Joseph Campbell
This notion of being present and small shifts played out inside me recently when I had the chance to go sailing on a sight-seeing cruise during a getaway weekend in Annapolis. I jumped at the chance to raise the sails of the beautiful 74-foot schooner as we made our way out of the harbor under a crisp blue sky dotted with white puffy clouds. Since I had been first to raise my hand, I was first on the line to pull as our collective effort hoisted the main sail, with two more teammates to join the effort behind me.
At first, the line moved easily. I even smiled to myself thinking “I’ve got this.” Up, up and up went the sail – until the captain gave the command to pause because we’d been a tad too exuberant with our effort and gone too quickly and the boat hadn’t caught up with our strength. A few seconds later, the all-clear came to resume, but as the pulling began again, I noticed the tension of the rope against me – taunting me with its force. With each new “put my whole body behind each pull”, the line moved less and less and leaving the sail bunched when it should have been taut. I knew that there was a winch that would make this whole process easier, but we didn’t have the luxury of using said winch. So I tried to pull every extra centimeter that my body would allow with my hand over hand gestures. I rallied with the two other women. I’m not sure we’d ever be msitaken for official crew, but somehow – one little pull after another – the head of the sail reached the top of the mast and the green telltales (little ribbons that help tell you which direction the wind is moving) danced in the air.
Small pulls that needed to be timed just right got us to the top. Muscle engaging effort from my head to my toes and determination made it possible to gain traction on the line, even if each movement was minuscule. It wasn’t about sheer strength. It was about timing. Togetherness. A delicate maneuver that needed to be exact so that the mainsail could fill with wind to propel us forward.
And then, as if that hadn’t been enough of a reminder of the importance of the little shifts – I had the chance to take the helm and steer. For anyone that hasn’t had the chance to play pretend captain on a sailboat big or small, the movements of steering a vessel into the wind are deliberate, gentle…and in most cases – small. Move it too much in any one direction and you’ll lose the wind (and go off course). Standing there, at the helm of the Woodwind I realized that a delicate was at play. Each gesture of movement would cause us to shift ever so slightly – not at once – but over a few minutes as the rudder angled its way against and through the water, causing shifts in the sails overhead.
The same could be said of goal setting. Or dream chasing. Or life list pursuing. On a yoga mat, a hiking trail or in a boat. Each moment – offers us a chance to experiment and ultimately find the delicate balance of things that move us forward. Sometimes we even get pulled back a step or two, as I almost did while trying to hoist the sail and definitely did when I turned the wheel too much to one side.
I celebrate small steps. But this delicate balance is something even more precise and worthy of gratitude. Think about it…you’ve probably done something physical – maybe hiking, maybe yoga, maybe sailing – where you felt that push/pull of balance. Maybe you’ve shifted your weight too much and fallen. Or maybe you didn’t shift enough. But then, in a moment, it came together with a subtle movement or thought.
Because it isn’t always about sailing in the right direction with the sail pulled to the perfect tightness. Or achieving your SMART goal or even your wildly improbable goal. Sometimes growth comes from the simple awareness of the delicate balance.