Let me tell you a little story. There was once a young actress, who on December 31st, sat down with her brand new journal, and visualized the sort of actress she wanted to be. The actress then went on to write down her plans and goals for the year. She beautifully decorated a page full of goals for herself for the next year and confidently titled it ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Midnight struck, and immediately her entire life changed. January 1st started with yoga and a run, then a green smoothie. She learned an entire monologue, practiced her audition songs, and applied for auditions. She journaled, saved money, paid off her debt, went zero-waste, started a YouTube channel, published a blog, read every book she owned, called her parents regularly, remembered everyone’s birthday, kept all her houseplants alive, learned Spanish, and got a promotion in her side-job. By the end of January she was signing a contract for her first big feature film.
Sound familiar? At what point did I lose you? If you’re anything like me, when February arrives your New Year’s Resolutions are something of the distant past. I don’t know what it is about January, but by the end of it I have forgotten all of my good intentions and settled back into how I’ve always been.
Now, many influential people would tell you that the reason your goals didn’t work out is because they were too ambitious, and weren’t something practical you could accomplish in the time you gave yourself. Or they might tell you that your goals needed to be written down and stuck somewhere to see them everyday. Or some advice might be that you need to quantify and allocate time schedules to work on every single goal. Many people believe in visualization techniques, morning pages, journaling, and everything else. I am certainly no expert in this area (although I’ve watched a LOT of YouTube videos on goal setting, being productive, building great habits … and I mean … a LOT), but what I do have to share with you are my strategies that not only saw me successfully accomplish my 5 year plan I made back in 2015 by the end of 2020, but also helped me to adapt to a changing situation.
Hopefully, this will give you some ideas and strategies to pick up those goals and resolutions you made, re-frame your plans, and get motivated to start February, and every month, fresh.
You don’t need to change
Controversial advice for a blog post on goal setting? Maybe, but hear me out.
Firstly, let me tell you a little bit more about me. I am certainly not one of those super-motivated people who gets up at 5am for a green smoothie and a workout. I have worked for myself since 2010, and probably 4 days a year voluntarily got up before 8am. My husband has worked from home the whole fifteen years I have known him, and we’ve been staying in our PJs for most of the workday long before a pandemic made it fashionable. We love our coffee in the morning, we love desserts, and I love to play Xbox in bed. I also love watching all those videos of super-motivated, super-busy, super-successful people going around bossing their day and living to their strict regimes, while I’m in my PJs, eating dessert, in front of the Xbox.
Nevertheless, when I looked back at my goals list for the last year, I was able to tick off all of my goals except one. How did I manage that?
Primarily it was by learning this truth: I don’t need to change. So many of our New Year’s Resolutions are rooted in the concept that ‘we are not good enough’, and that we need to change ourselves on a fundamental level. Here is that radical advice again – you don’t. You, just exactly as you are, are capable of achieving the goals you wish to achieve, living the life you want, and having the career you want, without forcing yourself to get out of bed at 5am. You never have to eat kale if you don’t like it, and you certainly don’t have to use a block schedule.
There is nothing wrong with loving those things and having those things as part of your life, if that is what works for you, but you cannot live someone else’s life. As an artist, it is the uniqueness of you and your voice which will get you where you want to be, not how much you look like someone else (unless you’re aiming for a career as an impersonator, I guess!). Why should your everyday life be mapped on someone else’s patterns and plans?
Take a look back at your New Year’s Resolutions from this year, if you can find them, or jot some of them down while you’re reading this. How many of them were about changing yourself fundamentally? How many of them do you read now and know you absolutely hate? Don’t like getting up early? Cross it off. Hate kale? There are better vegetables. Can’t stick to working 10 hours a day? No problem.
When you’ve done this, you’ll have a little list of actual goals that are practical and productive things that are external to yourself. They probably say things like ‘audition for X company’, ‘learn Spanish’, ‘keep the plants alive’, ‘talk to Nan more often’. They might even say ‘workout more often’, because you love to workout.
These are goals that are achievable right now, by you, exactly as you are. You do not need to change yourself on a fundamental level to be successful and accomplished at all of these things.
I know this because, in the past 5 years, every time I have tried a new plan or a new strategy for achieving my goals, it starts with the feeling that I am wrong. I am led to believe that the way my body likes to work, and the way I like to go through my day and my week is inherently wrong. These plans usually start from a feeling of not being enough. Yet time and time again, I fail at these plans, and go back to everything I used to do. Of course, what happens is my self-esteem and confidence takes a hit; I feel awful about myself, I feel like I am never going to be good enough.
My secret was the moment I started accepting that I am already enough. For me, this took the form of a quiet moment, in front of my five-year plan, with a coffee in hand. It turned out that I was already achieving my plans, and working towards my goals. I had done more than I thought.
You have probably done more than you think
Take a look at those New Year’s Resolutions again, the ones you have left. Now, next to each one I want you to make a note of all the things you have done towards that particular resolution. No matter how small it is, write it down.
For example; if one of your resolutions was to learn Spanish, you might have downloaded Duolingo, or bought a Teach Yourself Spanish book, or watched a few Spanish YouTube videos. If one resolution was to work on your audition pieces every day, write down how many days this month you worked on them, including days where you researched new pieces, watched online seminars about techniques, or maybe took in a blog post like this recent one: Self-Tape Tips for Auditions.
If there are any Resolutions on there that you didn’t accomplish anything, that’s okay too. Remember, they are Year Resolutions, not Month Resolutions, you’ve got time.
What you’ll hopefully end up with is a nice little list of things you’ve achieved this month. Even when you felt completely unmotivated, and unaccomplished, you still did all of those things. Even facing more lock-downs, quarantines, and restrictions, and the daily stress of this pandemic, you did all of those things. You, exactly as you are, achieved more than you thought.
This is what happened for me. In 2015, five years into my self-employed, working-from-home, ambition to be an opera singer, I wrote myself a five year plan. It was nothing fancy, just a table in OneNote, with columns for each of the next five years, and rows underneath for ‘Career’, ‘Money’, ‘Life’. Across the years from 2015-2020, I planned out a vague path for myself, including getting a Masters degree, gaining experience in my career, buying a house, basically anything I wanted to achieve. I kept returning to this list, about once a month, and feeling really unmotivated as I hadn’t achieved anything.
Sometime in late 2015, I added a row for ‘Achievements’. I listed every role I had played that year – and ticked off the goal to ‘gain experience’. I wrote down the number of students I had in my teaching studio – and ticked off ‘private teaching’. I wrote down all the other things I had achieved that were somehow related to my goals. My ‘Achievements’ box had far more in it than in any other box. I had done far more than I thought I had, and I hadn’t needed to change myself on a fundamental level.
I continued this, and every few months I would go back to my planner table, and write down what I had achieved. Based on my achievements, often my goals would shift, and that was absolutely okay – it was my plan, so I could do it exactly as I wanted.
Goal-shifting and dealing with a pandemic
So, everything shut down, the theatre world is devastated, and it looks unlikely to be back to ‘normal’ for a considerable time. How are we, as a community, supposed to continue with our careers and our goals?
This was exactly my thought in March 2020 as theatre after theatre closed, and every day I got cancellation notices from gigs I had booked. I wallowed for some time, understandably. Then I sat back at my computer, looked at my five year plan, and realized the things I was not going to be able to accomplish in 2020.
But, this wasn’t my failure. I had not failed at achieving these goals. Those big goals might be pushed into 2021, and that’s still absolutely okay. What I could do was take stock of the things I could control right now.
So I set myself a bullet list of new goals, which were all things I could do during a pandemic. I took the opportunities available to me online, which were mostly free or donation-based, and I worked on those things a little every day. There were still many days where the hopelessness and stress set in, and I didn’t manage to get away from the Xbox for very long. I just made sure every week I wrote down what I had achieved, in spite of all the time I spent being unproductive. At the end of 2020, I went back to my list, and ticked off nearly every goal.
My situation is different to many, I realise that, as I was already set-up for working from home. I can’t imagine the stress that many of you have gone through this year with having everything turned upside-down. If your situation feels too difficult for you right now, then that is where you need to start with your goals. Perhaps for the next few months, your Resolutions should be about finding ways to cope with what is happening. Maybe your goals are based more on practical things that you need right now. That is understandable, and completely appropriate.
At heart, though, you’re an artist, and it is hard to be away from your art for a long time. So consider if there are any ways you can work some of your art into any of the things you’re already doing? Drama lessons with your kids, maybe, or using your self-care time to learn a few lines of a monologue? Maybe it’s committing to learning about as many shows as you can, using a resource like the guides on StageAgent.com such as these:
Make yourself a list of small things you can do right now, which will keep your artist brain ticking and give you that bit of fulfillment. If you need to do those in your PJs, with your coffee and a dessert, then just remember that somewhere in the world, I’ll be doing that too!
We don’t know when we’ll be out of this, but when we are the world is going to need live theatre to process the emotional load of what has happened. They are going to need us, and we are going to be ready, even if we have to take it one line at a time right now.
Action points to take away
Here are the main points in short for you, feel free to stick these on your fridge, or copy them wherever you keep your five-year plan, if you find them useful.
- You are enough, just as you are, you do not need to change on a fundamental level.
- You have already done more than you think, record your achievements as you go along, no matter how small.
- Keep working on your art in any small way you can, right now you need it, and soon the world will need you.