My read on today’s society is that it is no longer “cool” to set New Year’s resolutions. Not helping the resolutions’ case is that we rarely keep them; there’s a reason gyms require you to buy a year-long membership rather than pay month-to-month. For me, I’ve never felt moved by the random change of an arbitrary calendar to commit to specific acts of self-improvement. Instead, as I told Nina Badzin the other day in response to her Brain, Child article on resolutions, I am more of a goal-setter. Some of those goals can be quite ambitious.
The beginning of 2014 marks the midway point of my Ten-Year Plan to completely remake my professional life.
Anyone can do five-year plans; the Soviets did them all the time, and look how well that worked out for them. When I decided in early 2009 that I needed to completely rethink how I earned a living, I decided five years wasn’t enough time. I was in a job that many envied–the CEO of a successful trade association–but surprisingly I had very little actual control over my work, answering as I was to a Board of Directors and dozens of institutional members. One spring afternoon my wife and I took a long walk, and she asked me to identify what I enjoyed doing and what my dream job would be. By the end of our sojourn I had a vision of where I wanted to be:
I love writing, editing, teaching and public speaking. I will position myself such that I can engage in all of those activities on my own terms, and each pursuit will provide synergies both professionally and financially for the others.
That first year I didn’t do much more than polish and hone this rather open-ended vision. Year Two, 2010, was more significant. Longtime readers know that a cross-country U.S. road trip in which I interviewed artists triggered a need to return to an art-committed life; that made me realize that the writing and editing and teaching in my vision needed to significantly involve creative writing. As my job would permit neither the publication of personal writing nor the pursuit of an MFA, I left that job late in 2010.
Year Three saw me begin writing personal essays and a memoir as well as start an MFA, all while providing one-on-one writing instruction to individual students. Year Four saw some of the essays written in Year Three published, with one winning a significant award. I also became a formal instructor with a local literary center. I shifted my writing focus almost exclusively to the memoir while commencing a new full-time job that tolerated my personal writing and higher-education pursuits. Year Five–2013–was significant in that I completed both the MFA and the memoir. I did so at the expense of writing more essays and submitting them for publication. I also began teaching with a second literary center.
So where do I stand at the start of Year Six of my Ten-Year plan?
- Through professional training I have grown significantly as a creative writer, which I am applying both in my personal writing and in my day job.
- I have grown as an editor of both professional and creative writing, which I also am applying in my teaching and in my day job.
- I have taught writing in one-on-one, in-classroom, and online settings, the 21st Century trifecta.
- My public speaking has been limited to the occasional literary reading or classroom presentation, but a big part of my day job is speechwriting.
The New Year is the time when we look ahead to where we’d like to be. As I look ahead to the conclusion of Year Ten, and the realization of my synergistic goal of writing, editing, teaching and public speaking, I naturally ask myself what I need to do this year to advance further toward that goal. What’s important to understand is that I bring to each year’s execution list significant flexibility. I didn’t know when I created this goal that I would be pursuing an MFA, or writing a memoir, or teaching online. But I stayed open to possibility, and made adjustments accordingly.
So here are my goals for Year Six:
- I will find a publisher for my memoir.
- I will return to writing personal essays and will seek publication of same.
- I will explore the next phase of my teaching career, not with the goal of leaving The Loft Literary Center but rather by seeking additional experiences, perhaps with one of the many universities in my area.
The beginning of Year Nine will be interesting for me. Why? Because as a Presidential appointee, my current job ends on January 20th, 2017. It’s actually quite empowering to know that your job has an expiration date. It means that as I continue to set in motion my goal for the conclusion of Year Ten, I am cognizant of that major change. I do not rule out the possibility of another full-time job–Walter Isaacson finds time to write remarkable biographies while running the Aspen Institute, for example–but it’s possible I will return to a path I have voluntarily followed three times before in my career, the life of a freelancer.
When I am asked how I have managed to stay on the path of an art-committed life for more than three years, I give a lot of credit to the readers of The Artist’s Road. By putting myself on the record with all of you, I am held accountable. Now I am doing that with you, sharing the Ten Year Plan, which has previously only been known by my wife and children.
I don’t suspect you are crafting ten-year plans, but what is your approach to goal-setting?