Have you ever made a to-do list based on the person you aspire to become?
Do you ever do things or set goals for yourself because of what you *think* you should be doing rather than what you *actually* want to do?
That’s how I feel about my goals list sometimes.
Because I’m young and I live in a big, beautiful city, everyone thinks my life should be glamorous.
They sometimes don’t understand the reality: life anywhere is often just “Metro, boulot, dodo” (Metro, work, and sleep in French – and the “t” at the end of boulot is silent, so it rhymes).
Even though I quit my job, I still have to work. I work on my website, on writing my book, on other people’s websites, on marketing. And even though a big part of my job is creating a Paris student guidebook, it’s not like I can go gallivanting around town all the time. I still spend most of my days in front of a computer screen.
The difference is that I can do it in my pyjamas and that I don’t have obnoxious coworkers. (Sometimes my cat is obnoxious. But it’s OK because he’s cute.)
The problem I run into often is that I create my daily and weekly to-do lists based on my ideals.
If I used the Pomodoro technique to perfection, I probably could write 4 fabulous blog posts per day, and work on my memoir, and do one client website per week.
The problem is, I still suck at productivity for productivity’s sake.
And the other problem is, I don’t actually want to *do* some of the things on my to-do list. And then I get productivity block.
Take, for example, my laudable goals of reading a bunch of books, which includes a goal of reading 25 biographies/autobiographies/memoirs.
I *want* to be the kind of person who improves herself by reading about awesome people. But I started reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain, and I’m stuck.
Maybe it’s a problem of expectations: I thought it would be filled with great Mark Twain quips, like “I never let my schooling interfere with my education,” and stuff about his philosophy of life. Maybe I didn’t expect it to be like 700 pages long. (I bought it on Kindle. When I saw the French translation in the bookstore the other day, it was 800 pages and it shocked me. Since the French version is generally about 20% longer than the English version, I assume the English version is about 650-700 pages.)
It’s actually pretty boring.
It takes me forever to go up by 1%.
I’ve been reading it for more than 2 weeks and I’m only at 20%.
And because I don’t want to read it, I’ve stopped reading.
A similar thing happened with another one of my goals, which is to go out more and attend cultural events in the city, like the “Journées du Patrimoine,” “Nuit Blanche”, and “Fête de la Musique.”
These are cultural events are organized all over Europe. During the “Journées du Patrimoine,” or heritage days, there’s free entry to French museums and special exhibits. Nuit Blanche (it means “all-nighter” in English) has open air art exhibitions all over the city, and musical performances. And Fête de la Musique is on the first day of summer, with free indoor and outdoor concerts all over the Paris area.
I’ve gone to these events before (except the Journées du Patrimoine), and I put them on my list because I aspire to be the type of person who goes out and takes advantage of the opportunity to have new cultural experiences. I want to want to go out and see new musical groups or appreciate experimental outdoor art installations.
The problem is that I don’t actually want to go.
It’s not that I don’t want to see the exhibits or concerts – I do. But what I don’t want is to go out on the same night as every single French person and his brother, squeeze into a crowded metro car, wait in line for 3-4 hours, and then be pushed around in a museum where I can barely see anything because everybody in the world is taller than me. It doesn’t matter how exciting the exhibit sounds. I will not like it here or there. I will not like it anywhere.
I’d much rather go to the Louvre on a Thursday afternoon when everyone’s at work and I’m not. I’d get way more out of the experience of seeing a permanent collection in detail than I would get out of crowding around an exhibit I’ll never see again because it was created especially for this one event before being dissembled or closed forever.
So now, the question becomes: What do you do when you decide *not* to do what you said you’d do?
1. You have the right to change your mind.
No client is relying on me to read Mark Twain’s autobiography or go out for Nuit Blanche. The only person I made a promise to is to myself. And the spirit of the promise is to experience more culture and read more good books.
My list exists not so much to get me to do the specific things that are on it, but to guide me in choosing how I spend my time and in deciding who I want to become. When you make choices about what to start, you’re taking an active role in exposing yourself to new things. It’s OK not to like everything you try.
2. You gave it the old college try.
Before deciding I wanted to stop reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, I’d read 20%, or more than 100 pages. It’s not like I didn’t give the book a chance.
I’ve given the cultural outings a shot, too. I’ve sung in a concert for Fête de la Musique. I’ve gone out to the Nuit des Musées (where all the museums are open free until midnight) twice, and tried Nuit Blanche once. I’ll probably go to all of them again at some point; I’m just deciding that I don’t have to force myself to go to everything every year.
3. Staying stuck prevents you from accomplishing anything new.
Since I started reading Mark Twain, I haven’t been reading anything else. And since I’ve been dreading reading it, I haven’t really been reading at all.
In other words, staying stuck on the idea that I have to finish what I start is keeping me from doing other things I want to do and reading other great books.
So for the Mark Twain biography, I’m going to count it towards my list of autobiographies read. Even though I didn’t finish it, I read a significant number of pages – 100+ – and still managed to learn something from it. Mostly that all great books by great authors aren’t necessarily that great.
And as for going out, I’m going to modify the terms of that goal. Instead of forcing myself to go to each event each year, I’m going to allow myself to go to each event once in the three year period. Not all of the events will happen three times in that time frame, anyway.
Letting go of some of my ideals about always finishing a book or about forcing myself to be cultured will hopefully help me refine my goals and aspirations and help me to enjoy what I *do* do more.