As I was maladroitly fumbling with a picnic blanket last year, Grace Rodriguez asked me, “What’s your goal?” That question, “What’s Your Goal?” became an important one for me over the past year. It’s become a mantra of sorts, a question I repeat to myself internally and a query I pose aloud to others. As far as mantras go, it hasn’t done me wrong. In fact, it’s helped me to think through my actions and guide others to focus theirs. I’ve found that vocalizing or codifying my intentions to myself and others has clarified the steps towards success for a particular project and allowed other people to contribute in some way.
In some cases, asking “What’s my goal?” made me realize I didn’t have one. That’s a scary thing. Not having a goal. Aimless. Not having a goal can result in missteps, miscommunication, dead ends and failure. And this is just because of acting without a clear direction with deliverables for the end of your steps. It’s like Martin Atkins said at last night’s free talk about touring for musicians: “Never start a war without first knowing the outcome. Touring is warfare.”
While at that talk I looked around Avant Garden and saw how few people were there from the Houston Music Community and it embarrassed me. To have a career expert give a free talk on how to improve someone’s career and have no one show up…it was shameful. It finally drove home for me something I recognized early in the decade when I first started spending time with the Houston Music Community. The reason why Houston bands are so stereotypically unsuccessful: they lack a goal. They continue to overplay their audience, few, if any tour outside of Houston, many are resistant to adopting new technologies.
As I compare my actions on projects where I had a goal vs. where I had none the differences are clear. In cases where I had no goal in mind, sometimes I stumbled upon success, sometimes I stumbled and fell hard. Sometimes there was nothing at stake but sometimes there were many valuable things at stake, money, relationships, opportunities. Situations where I had a clear goal in mind though, a path solidified, success and failure were measurable, risks and assets were minimized and leveraged. Even in cases where the stated goal was so irrationally grandiose, such as cofounding one of the largest coworking spaces in the nation in a city not known for its freelance community, actionable steps presented themselves and people banded together to offer support and guidance.
It scares me now to think about acting without a clear goal in mind. How many times have I done something just because it’s cool or fun, not thinking about the time committment or what the effect would be or what I would contribute to it or what the exit strategy was or who would be affected. And that line of thought has to do with everybody, not just me, in their own lives, in their own careers.
Another thing Martin said last night that stuck with me: “The Great Wall of China started with a few bricks. Could I tell you how to play in front of 20,000 fans? No, but I could tell you how to pick up two more tomorrow and sell a t-shirt on Saturday and get five more people on your email list on Sunday… Each live show is not one brick, it could be 50. ”
So, the question for you is, what’s your Great Wall of China? What’s your goal?