“I’m an aspiring author.”
I hear those words a lot. I read them a lot in tweets and emails. And we’re going to talk about them this morning.
Good morning, welcome to Friday, good job getting through another week. Got any good weekend plans? I’ll be playing video games and editing manuscripts, which is a pretty good time. Oh, and I might treat myself to a steak.
Today we’re going to talk about aspiring, and why that word isn’t doing what you think it does. Because I don’t want you to be aspiring, I want you to be doing. Doing what? Doing whatever it is you do creatively.
So many people talk about aspiring, so let’s look at the definition first. Here:
Aspiring, from what I get in these 3 definitions, is wanting to do a thing or having a plan to do a thing. I don’t see in these definitions the actual effort, just the preparations.
There’s nothing wrong with preparation, it’s how we improve and effort towards success. But preparing to do X isn’t actually doing X, and that’s the important point.
I want to take a second to point out that moving forward from aspiring to doing can bring a lot of people and their opinions into whatever you’re doing. They may say things like “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” or “Are you sure you want to do X that way?” or they become some sort of oracle when previously they had just been critical. Take their feedback with a few handfuls of salt. Critics are not the boss of you. It’s okay to move forward and do the best job you can, even if that job requires time, patience or learning some new stuff. You’re allowed to make mistakes, and you’re allowed to get better. Okay, sidebar over.
We use aspiring to talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, but we’d really like it to happen. As if we’ve placed the order with a server, and we’re waiting on our entrees. This suggests that what we want is subject to external forces, and while that is partially true depending on circumstance (selling a million books means a million books need to be produced), the bulk of what we aspire to do is within our ability.
Maybe it’s not automatic. Maybe we’ll need to raise money, get training, change a habit, start a new habit, talk to some people, take a risk, fill out a form, get on a plane, write an email, or whatever. But we can still do those things. We’re not wholly incapable of performing the task, it’s that we’ve mentally resigned ourselves to a position where we think we can’t accomplish the task.
It would be expensive to travel. Equipment to do that thing is expensive. Getting something done takes time. You don’t know who to talk to. What if people laugh at you? What if other people, society, the universe, determines you’re awful? Note: It’s been pointed out to me that awful people can run for President and get their party’s endorsement, so don’t give up hope.
We imprison ourselves in a little comfortable low-risk cage, with shackles made of fear and excuses and projection. We could be doing stuff, but “our place” is over here where we don’t let ourselves take whatever steps necessary, or even take the steps beyond those. Because we might fail. Because we might be rejected. Because we might find out we’ve wasted time or money.
Who’s going to laugh at you for taking that vacation? Who’s going to think you’re a failure because you’re taking noticeable steps towards your goal? How is making an effort the same as failing?
It’s time to stop aspiring, and start doing. This is how we got to the moon, landed a dishwasher on a comet and know what DNA looks like. This is how we created national parks, got a black guy elected, and learned that graham crackers get even better with chocolate and marshmallow.
But how? How can we excise this word and this idea out of our heads when we see it repeated over and over?
We prove it wrong. We prove it to be an inadequate descriptor of what we’re doing.
We’re not just people staring out the window, diddling around, with big hopes and blank spaces. We’re creatives. We make stuff. We tell stories. We make art out of cheese. We shake our moneymakers. We hammer metal into shapes. We do stuff, sometimes with pants on.
Every day, every chance you get, not just when convenient, not just when you remember to, do something substantive that gets you towards your goal.
A writer? Get more than 1 word on the page. Aim for multiple sentences. Not revising them. Fresh ones.
A maker of stuff? Sketch, prototype, develop.
What I’m saying is do more than just think about it. Do more than fire up the imagination and wouldn’t-it-be-nice engines. You can make this stuff happen.
No, not right away, nothing happens right away. It’ll take time. But you have time, more than you realize. And you’ll accomplish the goal, you’ll get where you want to be, you just need to make progress.
No, it won’t always be easy. Some days you’re not gonna wanna do anything. Some days you’ll feel like you haven’t done nearly enough. The goal is going to look a million billion miles away.
But that’s when you look at the work you’ve done. The actual work, not just the time spent thinking or staring out the window watching the neighborhood pass you by. See the words on the page? They weren’t there before. See the sketches? They didn’t poof into existence. You did that. You took a step forward. Good job.
And celebrate when you take that step forward. I know, it’s not the goal, but if goals were only one step away, you probably wouldn’t be lamenting them not happening, would you?
This is all predicated though on taking your goal and breaking it into reasonable steps. And the key there is “reasonable.” Reasonable means not only a manageable size given the current time frame and all the other stuff you have going on, but it also doesn’t require extraordinary intervention. Winning the lottery so you can pay off your crushing student debt is not as reasonable as say, having 2 and not 3 drinks when you go out, so that eleven dollars doesn’t leave your checking account is reasonable.
Your goal shouldn’t always means an end to your life as you know it. Sometimes, yes, it can, if you wanted to become a monk and live in a cave, you probably don’t want to living in downtown Seattle going out to microbreweries every night. But on the whole, you can develop incremental steps towards your goal (those steps are goals themselves, don’t forget), where the rest of your life doesn’t detour.
My point is, you don’t have to keep aspiring. You can go do it. One step at a time. Set up your own steps, and make your goal happen. I believe in you, even if I’m just a guy on the internet blogging three times a week and tweeting a lot.
Have a great weekend, happy writing, I’ll see you back here Monday.