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On Goals vs. Aspirations

By 4:00 AM

I'm going to lay out a hypothetical for you.

You're an artist. You love comic books. Your favorite comic book writer ever is Biff McWriter (I'm tired, just work with me), creator of the Super Buddies series. You've gone to art school, you're an up-and-coming comic book artist yourself, and your one goal. Like your one big goal. Is to illustrate a comic by Biff McWriter. That's your giant glowing target in the distance.

Let's also assume for the sake of this exercise that you are hard-working, talented, and in a position to eventually climb the ladder to be enough in Biff McWriter's sights that he could hire you if he saw you.

Now, bearing in mind that this is your one absolute goal ever that you've been working toward, tell me what you do when one of the following happens:

Biff McWriter retires.

You discover that Biff McWriter is, within his industry, notorious for not hiring people of your gender/race/sexuality.

Biff McWriter dies.

Biff McWriter's recent works begin reflecting a belief system you find reprehensible, and working with him would mean helping to elevate that belief system.


You get your portfolio in front of Biff McWriter, he looks over it, and he turns you down.

Now what.

At first flush, this all looks like a heavy dose of cynicism or pessimism. And, let's be real. It sort of is. But it's also a heavy dose of potential fact.

We as creators are inspired by the people we admire. And it's natural to want to work with these people. Really, there's nothing wrong with that. I have a short list of people I'd give my left arm to just spend one day interning with. There are studios, companies, and businesses I would love to work with or for. And for much of my adult life, I considered these goals. That someday I would get good enough, known enough, to work for such-and-such group doing such-and-such project.

Imagine my recent dismay when I discovered they "have issues" hiring women. It seems like a very medieval issue these days, but it does still happen. And the minute I heard that a company I admire, that I've been working to get "good enough" for, is currently in the process of being called out for just not really wanting any women working for them, my heart sank. I felt like a great deal of my hard work had been for nothing.

Now, of course, that's not true. Every article I write, every page of fiction I slap together, is a step on the road to improvement. And it doesn't really matter why I improve, or for whom. Even if I discover at the end of the day that one of my major goals is now an impossibility because of something outside my area of influence, my work isn't undone.

There is that. But. It did make me back up and start reconsidering a good number of my goals.

I have a spreadsheet covering several areas of my life, each with a list of monthly goals for the next six months. I look at it daily, tweak it, update it, go to it to see how I'm doing or if there's something I've fallen behind on. And up until about a month ago, there were a lot of proper nouns on my list. Names of people, names of companies, names of studios. "Get a job with ______" or "Write one thing for ______" were common formats.

After this most recent boot to the head, I had to stand back and think. Because seeing a good chunk of my spreadsheet trashed by the actions (or inactions) of other people seemed wrong.

So I tweaked it.

And now I separate out my Goals and my Aspirations.

I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to work for or with someone, to be published under such-and-such brand, to contribute to such-and-such title. But goals should be separate. Goals should be things that, at least to a degree, you can achieve without the whims or failings of one individual out of 7 billion toppling them. A goal is getting a certain type of thing published with "a notable publisher" -- not the same as wanting to work for a specific one.

It's painful to make myself let go of specific goals, because by doing so you're admitting that the people and places you wanted to associate with may not want you back when the time comes, for reasons other than your talent. Or, when the time comes, you may discover you want nothing to do with them.

There are certainly still people I want to collaborate with, places I want to work, people whose voices I would love to hear read my words. But those may have to be a separate list from the things I put my whole heart into. At least for now.

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