On Progress, Goals, and Control

Note: this content originally appeared on rrcampbellwrites.com on March 31, 2019. I’m reposting it here as it includes information relevant to the EMPATHY series.


It’s been… an interesting weekend.

My in-laws invited my wife and I to visit, but I elected to stay home to make a sizable dent in my revisions for Event Horizon, the third book in my EMPATHY series. With the place to myself (aside from my cats), I figured I’d have no problem doing all the things, as they say, but boy oh boy, was I wrong.

I’d set a goal of getting through 18 chapters, but after three or four, I realized I had a problem—I had way more to do for this round of revisions than I remembered.

No big deal, right?

Except it was.

I’d set expectations so high that anything less than getting through all 18 chapters was going to feel like I came up short. Never mind that 18 chapters represented half of the book’s total volume. Never mind that I did end up actually getting five chapters revised. Never mind that in the course of those revisions, I added a number of quality scenes to fill in gaps that desperately needed filling.

Despite all of that progress, it still felt like failure.

Naturally, I got crabby. A three dollar bottle of wine and some cuddles with the cats later, the funk still lingered. All the same, I went to bed on Saturday night sure I’d wake up tomorrow and be ready to take on every last one of the chapters I had left.

But when I woke up, I wasn’t ready for that. Not at all.

What I was ready for, however, was one chapter. One. I knew if I started with one paragraph, one page, one scene of revisions, I might be able to press on from there.

When I finished my first chapter, I felt good. Great. Grand. Wonderful.

Of course that meant I still had more than a dozen to go if I was going to achieve the goal I’d set for myself going into the weekend. So what did I do?

Nothing. I didn’t do a ding-dang thing. Why?

Because what I’d done was already good enough. I was good enough. Both my work and I had been good enough all along; I’d just blinded myself by clinging to a goal I created, a goal that was destined to set me up for failure.

Earlier I mentioned I thought I’d have no problem doing all the things, and that, in the end, I was wrong.

Upon further reflection, though, I don’t think that’s the case. I did do all the things. I did all the things I could manage, all the things I was capable of while taking my own happiness into account.

Could I be working on revisions right now instead of writing this post? Could I have been working on them all afternoon instead of watching the Bucks, playing Wii baseball, and reading or napping on the couch? Yeah.

But I didn’t, and I’m better for it.

That’s a mentality I know I need to get better about embracing. I can’t tie my value to my productivity, and I’d encourage you to avoid falling into that trap yourself.

So should you set goals? I encourage you to.

Should they be challenging? The best ones are.

Should failure to achieve them leave you so frustrated you lose track of all the good you’ve done or the world beyond your work? Absolutely not.

So when setting goals, remember the following. Make them challenging but achievable. Make them quantifiable if you can. Make them about things within your control.

But don’t let them control you. 

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