Yesterday, a familiar topic got presented in my membership group: goal setting. I don’t really set goals, I mused. I don’t find goals to be supportive of the way I like to work. In fact, I find the opposite. They serve as a distraction.
The fact that I don’t set goals can come as surprise to people. In my line of work, there’s often an unconsciously harbored hidden expectation that I’m a voracious goal setter. That I chomp at the bit at the thought of a good goal and rub my hands together in the face of carefully reverse engineered plan. A few years ago, you might have been right. Goal setting has most certainly been a part of my history. But it’s not a part of my present and, dare I say, unlikely to be part of my future.
I was asked then to explain, how I plan my days and get things done as the goal-less heathen that I am. Sharing my thought process around this saw me venture far away from horses and arenas and into the creative, bounding waters of poetry and the arts.
As you may or may not know, I love to write. Poetry in particular. When I sit down to write a poem, I only have the idea that I want to write about. A point of inspiration. From there, I am at the mercy of the experience of writing. It is THROUGH the experience of writing the poem, that the words and lines and the shape of the poem itself known.
It’s often a surprise to me what comes out. That’s part of the delight. I have no idea what imaginings swirl beneath the surface of my skin until the moment my pen hits the page. I might start with the feeling of sharing what I know, but something much more magical occurs. It’s the experience of writing that allows me to know myself, and to unknow the parts of myself that are holding me back.
When your write, you must allow room for the mystical and magical. For the words to reveal themselves, a process that cannot be forced. If your writing is only conscious, it is dead. The conscious can only ever contain the things that we know. It is the unconscious that is an infinitely vaster and more interesting world, and it is that which makes every good piece of art a process of curiosity, experimentation, and patience.
What I definitely don’t know when I start to write is what the last line of the poem will be. Even as the writer, the conduit of the poem, the last line only ever reveals itself once the process of the poem has been worked through. Up until that point, it remains unknowable entity. It requires the constellation of words and universes of thought to combine and then it presents itself as something entirely new. Your own, uniquely created starburst.
When you create art, you begin to recognize that your experience with the formless- of the energy, of thoughts, of inspiration, of observing the seen and unseen- are vital to the tangible, final result. In the act of the writing experience, the formless takes shape and makes itself known. But there are countless scribbled pages, mashed up words and failed sentences that come before the words that you have been seeking find their way to the tip of your pen.
You can’t decide your way to a great last line. You can’t force it to be revealed. And it can only reveal itself once the conditions have been created that allow it to be so.
To me, my horses and working together with them is much like writing a poem. In the purest sense, it is a creative process. It is art. I have a general idea of where I want to take things. I understand the possibility available, and like every good artist, I do everything I can to be better at my craft. I study, I observe, I learn, and I upskill.
But ultimately, the process that we follow is not one that has clear definitions and solid outlines. It is the process that allows for the knowing; it is the process that teaches me what I need to know, which is something I could never have defined before starting.
Not setting goals does not mean wandering around in a directionless fog, or that you lack ambition. Instead, it’s a process of surrender to the bigger forces that be that will allow the path to unravel before you, if only you let go of any fixed ideas of what it needs to look like. A letting go of control.
In the place that I stood ten years ago, I could never have imagined the place that I stand now. The path in between, with horses, with work, with life has been one of following what I love and my curiosities and saying yes (or no) to the things in front of me with no clear idea of where that would lead or where that might take me.
I’ve never known what the last line is going to be, and I don’t want to. Letting the last line find me is the magical part. Even if the middle part has been somewhat of a necessary mess.
So, in parting, if you are a happy goal setter, good for you. You’ll hear nothing from me except the melodic chant of “power to the people, you do you!” as I support you on your merry way.
But if you’re not, welcome to the club. We can join hands at the table excitedly, maybe anxiously and definitely messily waiting for the last line to come. And we’ll do our best to have a good time while we’re doing it.