Tis the season...for Goalsetting
Monday, September 08, 2014 12:00 AM

It’s September (how did this happen!?). The beginning of fall means that a lot of you are coming back into the rehearsal room after a quiet summer. The mythical quiet summer was utterly lost on me this year, as I started this new job at A.R.T./New York in August, just in time to miss any chance for relaxation. I suspect that’s how many of us feel, ever year. Summer isn’t quiet. There is always work to be done. 

Echo Lake Park NJ tree in early autumn in afternoon sunlight.JPG
Photo by Tomwsulcer
Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.

However, I must admit that in my mind September always signals the new year, much more so than January. Perhaps I am an academic at heart? I’m no good at New Year’s Resolutions anyway. During staff meeting the other day, we took the opportunity to articulate some personal and professional goals for the ’season,’ an exercise that I undertook with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism, as I always do. I have set goals for many years. I used to write my goals down on a piece of paper and carry it around in my wallet until it was so dirty and degraded that I was tempted to throw it away. On that piece of dirty scrap paper, Goal #2 was to go to Paris before the end of the year. 

Goals are hard. When they are well-conceived, they challenge us deeply. On some level, they a mini-mission statement that help to keep us focused and on-point. At A.R.T./New York we encourage strategic, creative thinking among all our member theatres that can involve absolving ourselves of old ways of thinking. But goal-setting is evergreen because it is a methodology—the goals change, but the practice stays the same. Goals can be used by individuals and teams, for personal and professional reasons. 

One way that I like to focus my goals is to use SMART goals. These guidelines help me to stay focused, be precise, and not to let myself get too wishy-washy. This version is helpful to me, but there are a lot of different acronyms you can use. SMART stands for:

  • Specific – is the goal precise?
    Paris is a pretty specific place. I suppose I could have written, Paris, France, just to be clear. 
  • Measurable – can the goal be quantified and is it falsifiable?
    I would definitely know if I have been to Paris or if I have not been to Paris. Another way of thinking about this is to have specific measurements and numbers attached to a goal, such as stating “I will save $5,000 towards my goal of going to Paris on holiday.” 
  • Achievable – Is the goal truly something I can accomplish, give my resources?
    Paris is a real place where I am permitted to travel, because I have a passport and no real fear of flying.
     I knew that I needed to spend money more wisely (and spend much less on takeout food), and saving for a vacation was going to help me make that lifestyle change. 
  • Relevant – does the goal fit in with my other goal, and with my larger mission? 
    I love to travel, and I had not been abroad in some time. I felt at the time that taking what I felt was going to be a “real vacation” was extremely important for my mental and physical health. 
  • Time-bound – is there a specific time frame?
    The goal needed to be achieved by end of the year. On December 31, I would know if I had achieved it. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that you needn’t set goals for one year. Goals can be more immediate and more long-term. A year is just a good rule of thumb. In fact, there should be no element of the goal setting process that makes it feel restrictive. Here are a few ways to make the experience easier. 

That year, I did not go to Paris, but in December I bought myself a tote bag with a map of the Paris Metro on it as a consolation (from Maptotes). I could have charged a plane ticket to my credit card and spent two years paying it off, a la Gret Gerwig in Frances Ha, but I didn’t. Not achieving a goal is not necessarily a failure, but it is a measure how far you’ve come and how far you have left to go. 

Paris is still on my list, which is now kept safe on my phone.