Setting goals

What you can control, and what you will make yourself ill trying to control

I'm off to Ireland tonight, for a friend's wedding and a little touristing in advance of Worldcon. Check out my instagram ( ) for photos along the way.

In the meantime, here's some words on how to set achievable goals that won't make you miserable.

Sometimes, it’s good to sit down and make yourself a list of things you can actually control. This applies to everything, not just art, of course. But since I’m more or less here to talk about art, I’m going to use art as an example, and have confidence in your ability to extrapolate.

Too many of our goals in life are things we can’t actually control: selling a novel by such and such a date, winning the love of somebody we think will make us happy, getting nominated for a major award. There is nothing wrong with wanting things, or in working towards them, of course (Write the best novel you possibly can! Ask that person out on a date as long as it’s socially responsible and non-predatory to do so!) and I can guarantee that they will never happen if you don’t try.

But also remember that you can’t control them. You basically can’t control anything in life except your own choices, actions, and reactions—and sometimes not even then. And it’s unhealthy to hitch one’s self-esteem and happiness to things that one cannot control.

Because those are accomplishments that depend on your own perseverance, hard work, and effort… and because of that, you have a measure of control over your success or failure. Sometimes succeeded at them may require making sacrifices or setting boundaries with attention-seeking family members or all-consuming day jobs, but the result is something you have far more influence over than whether or not you get a major award nomination.

My lists of such goals, when I make them, usually include things like “Work on this story for three hours a day,” “Send out a story a week,” “Finish a book proposal by such-and-such a date,” and so on. It’s like when you are working on your relationship with somebody: “fix all your problems at once” is not a realistic goal, but “Spend an hour a day together without being on our phones” is.

So what’s your list of goals?