It is axiomatic that January means goal-setting for a lot of people. For a lot of years, I’ve given myself a list of things I’d like to accomplish in a given year, some personal and some professional, but as time passed, I’ve realized the list of goals has gotten shorter and shorter, partly because I am blessed to have few wants and partly because as I get older, fewer things seem as important to me as they did in my twenties and thirties and forties. I’ve come to realize that for maximum effect, I need to give myself one big goal a year—a BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
For many years, my writing goals were quite specific: so many words a day, so many hours at the desk, numbers of submissions, agent queries, number of books read, and yes, blog posts. I met some of them, some of them I didn’t, but I always had to wonder if the ones I met were too easy and the ones I didn’t, I had failed at either because of some deep inability or a misjudgment of what was important to me.
Choice spreads us too thin sometimes, and even if our minor goals aren’t mutually exclusive, they can fight with each other. The BHAG narrows choice for us, which some will see as a limit and some will see as an aid. Think Robert Frost’s comment about free verse being like playing tennis without a net.
The benefit of the BHAG is that it gives me one thing to focus on all year long, one measure of whether what I’m doing is contributing or not. It simplifies things remarkably because when I ask myself that question you usually have an obvious answer.
The idea of a BHAG might seem counterintuitive, since we’re conditioned to believe that individual and everyday efforts, small steps and wins, are what build our long term achievements. But losing weight, if the goal is solely to lose weight, only helps you lose the weight. If your BHAG instead is to be as healthy as you can, then the weight loss is only one contributing factor. If you don’t lose weight, achieving the BHAG isn’t a lost cause. Maybe you can exercise more, eat better food, take up meditation, square dancing or snowshoeing.
The essence of the BHAG is that you’re not sure what success looks like, that it is not as specific as a weight or a page count goal. In fact, a BHAG requires a whiff of the arrogant and audacious, the belief you are capable of achieving it, even if the success is not clearly defined.
Whatever your goal(s) is/are for the year, I wish you success in defining meaningful ones, things that are within your reach but require at least a mild stretch, some expansion of your self. For me, I do have a BHAG this year and that is, simply, to write a great book. Sound arrogant? Audacious? Good. I’ll need the pressure. If you’re made a little uneasy about saying something like that out loud, read this appreciation of Sue Grafton by Laura Lippman.
Counting my blessings and wishing you more! Happy New Year.
Thanks for the valuable perspective, particularly for creative writing and the pursuit of publication, with all their chaotic, moving pieces.
My problem may be partly too many BHAGs on my plate consciously or unconsciously, or at least they feel like BHAGs.
Or as my grandfather used to say: “You can’t ride two horses with one ass.”
Good ‘un, I says. Mine is to avoid readin’ my obituary. I figger if I can do that for 365 days, I’m doin’ good.
I find this idea a little scary. I’ve always been a brick-by-brick sort of person. But then I’ve had a brick-by-brick sort of life, which may be the result!
I like this idea conceptually, Dick. But I need to meditate on it a bit before I can decide if I like it realistically, for myself. But maybe that’s just your point. Perhaps I should jump in with both feet and stop with the over-thinking.
Now see what you’ve done?