This is my last post before the end of 2015, and I’ve spent a good chunk of this year trying to verbalize, write down, codify, and explain what I’ve learned from seeing hundreds if not thousands of artists building (or not building) their careers. As Marc & I have been preparing all the material to take our Bootcamps online, and as we’ve been writing material for the classes and the book, and answering questions on Dear AD, I have found some pretty obvious trends emerge. And one perfectly coincides with the end of the year, when we all get super introspective and think about all our new year resolutions.
It’s going to be another one of those things that sounds too simple, but believe me, it’s not as easy as it seems.
As you’ve already gathered from the title of this post, the number one difference I’ve seen between artists who move forward in their career (and keep growing) and those that flounder and stall and don’t push forward is…goals. Specific goals. They take the time to really define what it is they want, and what their priorities are.
What? We all have goals, you say. I want to be a better artist! I want to make more money! I want to have a big fanbase! I want to do more personal projects! I want bigger commissions! I want to spend more time with my family! I want to live in New York City!
These are not goals you can really work on, they’re too vague, too big. These are more like…side effects. You can’t put “Be more famous” on a to-do list.
Get more specific. What technique do you want to be better at? Where do you want that money to come from? Commissions or direct sales? Is that fan base you want to build at conventions or on social media?
This isn’t just about artists – it’s about everyone. People who get more specific about their goals, who define them and cut them up into manageable visualizable pieces, who really know what they want more specifically tend to achieve those goals. There’s something about defining specific goals that makes them real, and more achievable.
So I have an assignment for you.
Sometime on New Years Eve, take out 3 sheets of paper. And a pen you really like to write with. Maybe it’s a fountain pen. Maybe it’s a marker Maybe it’s green ink (just a suggestion). No pencils. If you mess up, keep going. No erasing, no white-out.
On the first sheet of paper list all your big goals. The vague ones. More money, more fans, more exposure, etc. Just get them all out of your system. Fill up the whole page. Take your time. Order doesn’t matter now. Then put that sheet to the side.
On the second page list the same goals but in specific forms. Think about all the hows. All the specific ways you’re going to achieve those side effects. You want a bigger social media following? How? Say….by starting a really focused instagram for your art. That’s a more specific goal. Or by setting aside an hour every morning to interact with movers and shakers in your industry on twitter. This page is all about actionable goals. You don’t have to be too wordy, you only have one page, but make sure they’re all things that could be put on a to-do list. When it’s full, set that page aside too.
Now look back at Page 1 (big goals: money power fame time love etc) and number them in priority of what is most important to you. Just write little numbers next to them. This is hard. If you freeze, don’t worry, you’re not stuck with this list for all time, you’re using it as a way to organize your feelings. You can re-order it any time.
Now using the order on Page 1, number the more specific goals on Page 2 the same way, in priority order.
Then use Page 3 to write out the specific actionable goals in the numbered order. You now have a priority chain and to-do list for the whole year.
And now you’re on your way to Knowing What You Want. You can do this over and over again, further refining your priorities and goals on more pieces of paper. You can rewrite & swap out a page anytime you want. But each list can only be one piece of paper – more than that and it becomes too unwieldy.
There’s something about writing these lists down on paper that changes things. Some people say it’s magic. Some people say it’s the power of suggestion. You can follow that thread down to chaos magic and sigils and Oprah and some pretty wild stuff. But I think the real magic is just having defined intentions. Once you have a shortlist of solid specific goals in your head things just kind of happen into your path to help you meet those goals. Your subconscious recognizes opportunities before your conscious mind sees the connections. Knowing What You Want very often syncs up with Saying Yes to push you down your chosen path.
And that’s it. Put the papers somewhere safe, where you can look at them often. Now go celebrate New Years however you choose. Kiss someone, have a toast, count down to midnight. And in a year, let’s see how many of those goals you achieved.