that’s a lot to live up to

I’ve been reading quite a lot about Paris recently. I finished Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends and have moved on to the follow-up, Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends through the Great War. (Both are by Mary McAuliffe.)

I give you their full titles to bring home the point that I’m reading about a lot gifted people who worked hard and succeeded in fields about which they were passionate.

Which is partly inspiring, and partly depressing.

I feel as though I should be working harder. But before I can even do that I need to work out where my passion lies. What is it that I have to say? What is it that I want to shout from the rooftops? I’m pretty sure that ‘I don’t know’ is not an acceptable answer.

And it folds back into earlier thoughts. When I tried to put together ideas about where I want to be five years from now, I didn’t have any kind of concrete goal for my writing. Other than just… getting better. I feel I should have a passion project. I should want to write a novel, or a travelogue, or something.

But I haven’t worked out what that is yet. And I’m not sure where to start.

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numbers, numbers…

I made the mistake of picking up a book called 5 and flipping through it in the bookstore. And this is, basically, what has triggered my most recent bout of navel gazing.

5 is a bright, colourful picture book for adults that asks the question ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ It encourages you to think about that span of time in different ways, and to look at all the different aspects of your life, not just career or financial or relationships.

I did the math, and I will be 42 in five years. 42 is, of course, the answer to life, the universe, and everything, so it feels like a good target to be aiming for. And in five years it will be 2020, which is kind of a magical number, too. So I’m starting to think about the big questions.

Do I want to adopt a child? If I do, I should start thinking about it seriously now and making plans, because adoption is not a fast process and I’m not getting any younger.

Do I want to buy a house? If so, where? The city where I live in the off season or the city where I work in the summer? In Canada at all or overseas?

I need to get serious about learning money management, now that I have the career I worked so hard for.

I want to learn to sail. And plant a vegetable garden. And continue to travel.

What does 42 look like for me? What can I do right now to set the wheels in motion? I don’t need to have all the answers right this second, but I do need to start thinking seriously about the questions. Maybe I need to sit and write about it a little, maybe creating the story of it will help.

And once I have done the research, and made the choices, I want to write my goals down. Make them concrete. Something I can refer back to. The book, 5, also encouraged readers to write a mission statement for their lives. What is the big ideal, the driving force?

It sounds a little hokey, and it’s all pure navel gazing, but I think it’s a useful exercise. I just need to follow through.

setting goals

This morning I had the TED radio hour podcast on while I washed the dishes. It was last week’s episode (I think) about Champions, and in a way it became a meditation on the mentality and habits of successful people. Athletes, in this case.

I’ve been thinking about life goals over the last couple of weeks, and this podcast kind of ran with that theme. Athletes have concrete goals. They know what they want, and they have a training schedule to get them there.

So I stood there with soapy hands thinking, what does my goal look like? Smell like? Taste like? Because if I can’t picture it in glowing technicolour, in all five senses, how am I ever going to know it when I meet it?

And, I realize, the goal can’t be “getting published,” because I have no control over that. The goal can’t be external validation, it has to be internal.

So, what does this mean in a concrete sense? I’m not sure yet. ‘Become a better travel writer’ is valid, but vague. Maybe it needs to be ‘finish these five pieces you’re in the middle of, even if all you ever do with them is post them on this blog.’ Maybe it’s ‘learn from what you didn’t get right last time.’ Maybe it’s ‘travel for two months out of every year.’ Maybe it’s ‘stop going back to the same damn places over and over so you can stretch a little.’ Maybe it’s ‘keep going back to that one place until you’ve said everything you want to say about it.’

I’m beginning to understand that it might be time to sit down and actually think through what the big goal is. What do I want to achieve? What does that end point feel like? And what little goals will lead me down the path to that big one?

I need to do some research, and a lot of thinking.