When You Don’t Meet Your Goals, Rationalize

SwimAt 16, I set a goal.  I wanted to be an All State Swimmer.  I was the South Carolina state champion in the 100 and 200 yd breaststroke.  You’d think that would be enough to qualify, right?  No!  To be an All State Swimmer you had to post a time within 10% of the state record in 2 events.  I had it in the 100 yd breaststroke.  But a swimmer (whose name I swore I would never forget but apparently have) had set a ridiculously low record in the 200.  My brother was an All State Swimmer (in like 12 events or something).  All of my friends were All State Swimmers.  They all used to joke that I was only a half A.S.S.ed swimmer.  And, in spite of trophies and medals and ribbons galore, I felt like a failure.

That is when I learned to HATE goals.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that “rationalization of the failure to meet a goal” (a phrase I coined because it sounds very psychological and official) can be good.  It’s not the cop-out it sounds.  In fact, because of rationalization, I will actual set more goals.  And you can’t ever reach goals if you don’t set them.

Let me back up for a moment.  My problem with goal setting stems from the fact that I never know how to create some thing that is both ambitious and attainable.  So I make it unbelievably hard – setting me up for failure.  Or so easy that I don’t have to break a sweat.  I have no idea how to determine a realistic time frame.  And I frequently set goals that are not entirely within my control.  Like the All State Swimmer thing.  I had no control over the time set by the female Michael Phelps of my generation (shut up, this is my memory) so even if I worked really hard and knocked like 5 seconds off my time, I wasn’t going to meet that goal.  So if I do set goals, I usually fail at them and then feel like . . . well . . . a failure.

Years ago I took a 30 day submission challenge – 30 submissions within 30 days . . .  I failed.  I did have a lot of work produced from those submissions.  And I kept thinking that would be a good thing to do again.  I even planned it for last Feb (only 29 days!) but about a week in I had some family issues and then eye surgery and . . . I failed.

So in November when several of my writer friends did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) I decided to create my own SuMo (Submission Month).  I decided this on Oct 31.  So I was not in the slightest bit prepared.  Plus I chose a month in which I had a 5 day holiday and my mother was getting ready to move from a house about 300 miles away from me to one about 100 feet away.  But by the time I realized all that – you could say, by the time I had thought it through – I had already said I was doing this.  On my Facebook page, no less.  A page which has been “Liked” by theatres and theatre professionals.  In other words, I had more riding on this goal than just not liking the feeling of failing.

The first few days weren’t too bad.  I did a lot of administrative work and set things in motion so I would have some easy submissions on those hectic days or during vacation.  I missed a day here and there – but I made them up.  I was very proud I was staying on track.  When I left town on the 28th I had every intention of getting those last two submissions in.  But I didn’t.

Still when I got back to town on December 2, I figured I could make up those two missing submissions.  Sure, it was a few days late, but I could still feel reasonably good about the process.  Then I did the final tally.  Somehow I was eight – 8! – submissions behind.  Turned out it was only five but by then I was already beating myself up.  Less than 75% completion.  A C!!  And that was counting two contacts that weren’t really submissions so I was actually in D range.  And just as I was feeling the failure bug starting to bite me, I stopped.  And looked at it from a different perspective.

In November I submitted 7 different plays to 25 different theaters, added 6 future submission opportunities to my calendar, made 2 good contacts with folks interested in my work.

Suddenly I felt good about SuMo.  It wasn’t a failure.  I wasn’t a failure.  Had I achieved my goal?  Nope.  But I had achieved something positive.  Twenty theatres heard my name for the first time.   Seven different plays were being read by theatre people.  Even more, I realized if had I stopped and pondered the idea of SuMo for more than five minutes, I never would have taken it on in such a hectic month.  And, if I had realized how far behind I was mid-month, I would have given up.

Rationalization is “an attempt to explain or justify one’s behavior with logical, plausible reasons, even if they are not true.”  Did I do that?  Yep.  But take a closer look at the word rationalization.  What do you see?  That’s right – rational.  A word that means “based on reason or logic.”   So whether or not I completed the exact task I started out to accomplish, logic dictates that I am a whole lot closer to my overall goal – productions – than when I started.

And that makes it okay for me to set goals.  It doesn’t mean I won’t strive to reach those goals, but it does mean if I don’t hit the exact landing site, it’s okay.

So what are my goals for 2013?  I have broken them into three categories.

     1. Within my control:

          A completed first draft of the full-length version of “Who’s Margaret?”

          A version of my latest play Ms Nobody that is ready for submission

     2. Sort of within my control:

          Workshop “Blink of an Eye”

     3. Out of my control but I am still doing everything I can to make it happen:

          A production.  I have had a production of some sort every year since my first play was produced in 2001.  So I don’t want to break that now.  That means more submitting and kissing up . . . errr keeping in touch with the theatre folks with whom I have a relationship.


And what happens if I don’t meet those goals?  Some (but hopefully minor) beating up on myself, a few tears and a healthy dose of rationalization.   And you know what they said in The Big Chill . . .

Michael:  I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael:  Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

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  1. #1 by wordimprovisor177 on December 14, 2012 - 10:29 am

    Great post, Linda! My goal as a pre-teen was to be an Olympic rider, never mind I hadn’t yet sat on a horse! Talk about unrealistic. Also, I tend to make a goal and never follow up. When I was a student at The School of Visual Arts, I had to take a required basic photography course in foundation year. I loved it, and promised myself to take the next level class. Well, the next two semesters flew by. Still I hadn’t enrolled. But in my junior year, I did it. I was so incredibly proud of just signing up, whether or not the work I did was brilliant. It wasn’t, but I loved the class and enjoy photography to this day. And now I don’t even have to develop film in my mother’s hall closet! Another positive outcome of my taking that second class: it inspired my sister to try it. Now, she’s a professional photog. Sometimes our actions or inactions have a great effect on people other than ourselves. Good luck with your plays! Hope some of the productions are local! I’ll be there!

  2. #2 by priceswrite on December 14, 2012 - 10:54 am

    So true that our actions can inspire others. I tend to forget that! But I’m sure your sister – and her clients! – are very glad you finally followed through on your goal even if it wasn’t as timely as you would have liked. As for productions, I’m actually talking to two theatres in your area . . .

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