I have always set goals for myself. When I was a freshman in high school, my guidance counselor suggested I become someone's secretary or a stewardess (back then they weren't called flight attendants). Ironic because I'm an absolute control freak and terrified of flying. She said I wasn't smart enough to realize my dream and become a veterinarian or doctor or something, somebody else. She gave me an aptitude test which revealed I had a facility with conceptualizing space management but was below average in verbal skills. Even then I found it odd because I was always hopelessly lost in even the most familiar surroundings (I still can't find my way around town or the local mall) and I'd always loved to read. I've kept that test, never forgot her expectations of me, and I resolved to prove her wrong by going to college and becoming my own person.
When I was a young woman working on Capitol Hill, I resolved not to date anyone who didn't meet certain criteria. You can probably guess I kissed a lot of toads. I even made a list of certain characteristics a man had to have from the most superficial (he must be taller than I am) to very sensible (he must be employed and making strides toward a career) to the sublime (he must have a good relationshiop with his mother). My co-workers laughed at my list, but within the year I found my husband.
When I was home with three young children, I resolved not to waste the opportunities life had afforded me: I was born to a wonderful family, in good health, and with all the freedoms given to American citizens. I decided writing would allow me to stay home with my children while carving out a life of my own. So I would write. I told my husband of my intention to get a column in the Boston Globe and he scoffed. He's a newspaper man, he knows that's impossible terrain. Luckily, I didn't know and wasn't hemmed in by someone else's rules and dictates. Within a year and a half, I was freelancing regularly for the Globe and even had a monthly column.
When I resolved to write a book, virtually no one believed I could. For years, even I resisted; only smart people write books, I thought. The day I knew I could, the moment I knew I would, was the first time I sat at my computer and tried. Everything about it just felt right. I started going to conferences, lectures, took classes. Time and again, those in the know would say getting a book published was difficult, nearly impossible. I remember one lecture in particular where the author said to the room filled with nearly 200 of us aspiring writers, "If you're lucky, two of you in this room will get your book published -- but probably none of you will." I resolved to be one of the two.
I'm not one to make resolutions on New Year's Day, I don't like artificial prompts. I am one to resolve to live my life to my expectations, to be resolute in achieving my goals. The New York Times had a fascinating story in which it was stated, "the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience." The more we know about what we should and shouldn't do, what is and isn't expected of us, the more likely we are to meet others' expectations of ourselves. But, really, who knows you best?
Now that I've achieved my latest goal, it's time to set new ones. I won't share them all here, they're mine and some of you might scoff. Instead, I challenge you to set some of your own, to do the impossible and believe in them, don't box yourself in by too much knowledge or too many rules. Those limitations are for others. Write a book, get that agent you want, sell it for a magnificent deal, envision it as a bestseller, a backlist title, write a better book. Resolve to be who you want to be, the person you are meant to become.
**UPDATE** Speaking of setting goals and realizing them, send your huge congratulations to our friend Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of Booksense Notable Pick for January 2008, FACE TIME! It couldn't have happened to a more deserving writer.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008