Apr 092013
 

Backgrounder: I’m a big goal setter. I’m also not always realistic about these goals. Life happens. Ordure occurs. My ambitious plan to write 1,500 words a day is sometimes hit or miss. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I miss a day (or even a week) with this blog. I’m a little behind on my current ebook project. I still haven’t mastered all the chord changes to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Sometimes I have a bad day and forget all these goals. So what to do? Let’s explore this idea this week.

So I blew a goal yesterday. Two goals, actually. I didn’t send off some important mail like I planned, and I didn’t get my 1,500 words in.

OK. One of these goals is more time-sensitive and urgent than the other. But both are important enough that they needed to get done. It’s so easy to kick myself in the tail and tell myself what a slacker I am. I wasn’t raised to slack off, so it’s easy to take this way too seriously.

The cool thing is that there’s always today, and tomorrow. Forget where I screwed up. Maybe it’s important, but nothing’s so important that I need to carry the weight of it tomorrow. Just forget about that stuff, put it on today’s to-do list, reload and try again.

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Dec 282012
 

No animals were harmed in the making of my 2013 plan. Just don’t ask how many trees were massacred. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

Well, kids, it’s that time when you nuts-and-bolts the entire year, note what went right and determine when the wheels came off.

Or something.

It’s revisitation time, and perhaps some goal setting to boot. Great time to do this. There’s something about ripping that old calendar off your wall and nailing a new one up that just creates hope. Say hey, it’s a whole new year. Fresh start, clean slate, all that good stuff, even if it’s the same old life.

Please tell me you don’t do resolutions any more. Please. That’s so phony. Everyone promises to be a better person, lose weight, quit a habit. You know most of those resolutions are written after a night of too many tequila skullsplitters and way too much time spent dangling headfirst over the toilet bowl. (Resolution #1: I’ll never drink again …) Please tell me you’re past that.

Making a plan is a different animal entirely. But even the best-laid plans are carved in baloney instead of in granite. Such plans/goals are equal parts clear-eyed projection, wishful thinking, and pure fantasy. But still, setting goals is still a good cut above the usual resolutions garbage.

Hanging a new calendar brings a sense of hope and renewal. Well, in most cases it does.

I’m gonna get personal here. For my own plans I’ve concentrated on my (fledgling) freelance writing business and on the (fledgling) creative & dangerous brand. In a sense, a business plan. Now, to me, the best business plans are the ones you can write on a cocktail napkin, but I’m not quite there yet.

I’ve also built a list of books to read for the year, and that one is short enough to write on an index card. Keying on no more than six books (starting early with Michael Hyatt’s Platform), and will spend significant time studying and applying them. Reading to learn instead of reading for its own sake.

Also listed my personal/professional priorities, a step that can’t be sloughed off. Priorities are everything; all the plans and reading lists and all the junk revolve around the priorities. Those need to be established or reinforced first. Priorities are the thing that make your plans personal instead of something you just cribbed from the Internet somewhere.

To do all this, I sat down with my legal pad and did some serious brainstorming. Touched on everything. Daily scheduling. Business and personal budget (with scenarios ranging from Yugo to Cadillac). Social media efforts. Ebooks to write. Stories to pitch. Potential clients to bug. An IRA to load up. Big-ticket things to buy.

Ran through a whole lot of paper while doing this. While I can honestly claim no animals were hurt in the making of my plans, a whole lot of trees were massacred for the cause.

Started this process a week before Christmas, so I had time to think about stuff. And closer to New Year’s Eve I’ll make my traditional year-end journal entry that recaps 2012 and gives a sneak preview of 2013. Well, almost traditional. Some years I missed doing that, and it seems those are the years when everything seemed to go south on me. I could say that’s pure coincidence, but there’s no such animal.

(Talk to me … what’s your year-end planning process? Does it help? How many trees do you normally kill in the process?)

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A quick change you’ll probably see right away if you’re an email subscriber: I’ll have a newsletter coming out starting over the next week or so, and it’ll be a weekly one. That’s ’cause email subscribers now get my posts as they show up here, and I’ve noticed a couple of problems with that.

While I’ve slowed it down over the holidays, I usually have something coming on this blog every weekday. For the subscriber, that’s an awful lot of email coming in. Shoot, I’m slap overwhelmed by the volume of email I get from my own self, and I subscribe to several other blogs that way too.

Instead, subscribers will get some options. Either the weekly newsletter with all-new material and links to the posts, or the really hardcore types that still want to get everything. Any freebies attached to subscriptions will continue to be offered regardless of the option you choose.

So what’ll be in the newsletter? Several things. Maybe a little bit on what I’ve posted for the week. Maybe some applications for what I’ve been writing. Maybe some rough drafts of ebook chapters I’m working on. Always, links to posts. But a whole lot less in-box clutter.

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Nov 012012
 

You wouldn’t think of creativity as a team effort, but who you surround yourself with makes a big difference in the process and in the results.

If your closest friends are on the same page as you, this makes the process easier. If your friends have similar goals, even if they’re friendly rivals, they’ll keep you centered. Friends that encourage and challenge one another, that hold one another accountable, will put an amazing amount of fuel to the creative fire.

Although most creativity is a solo act, you’re actually doing it with and for others.

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Oct 262012
 

There’s something about that trail that attracts hardy souls and adventurous types.

I heard her long before I saw her, mostly because sound — especially when it’s a war cry — carries well in the mountains.

But as I talked to the 60-ish black lady with the tattoo on her forearm and a headband around her close-cropped white hair, I began to realize what I was doing up there on Sassafrass Mountain.

Sure, it was a time of refreshing, some bonding with my two friends who are closer than brothers, of good clean manly fun, of testing our mettle against some seriously uncompromising terrain.

But it turns out my reason for being on that Appalachian Trail hike was to hear the war cry near the summit of Sassafrass Mountain.

To talk to people like the two Canadians we ran across near Three Forks, about five miles into our trek. They were heading due south, just a sniff away from the trail’s end — and from the culmination of a longtime dream. They started hiking the AT in 1993, when I was still in Arizona and my two hiking buddies were still in their 20s.

Among hiking circles, everyone knows what the AT is. The big’un. The mother of all hikes. Stretching from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia, this trail takes 2,184 miles. Little of it is on flat ground.

Check this. If your idea of training for the AT is to walk along some hiking trail near you, even with a full pack on, it may not be enough to get you through this hike. Even a 10-mile trip over the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston isn’t enough. Sure there’s incline, but all the pavement is there. It’s relatively smooth. There are no switchbacks on the bridge.

A mile is a mile on the bridge, but it’s a whole different animal on the trail. We usually logged a mile in about 15-20 minutes fully loaded in training, but on the trail that same mile took closer to an hour.

If you think you’re pretty big stuff, take about 10 miles or so on the AT. Start anywhere, but just do 10. It’ll humble you quickly.

Maybe it’s the scenery or the challenge, but The Trail sees plenty of visitors anyway. Some just make it a day hike along part of it. Others will section-hike, starting at one end and finishing at the other, a few days at a time. Other real hardy (and independently wealthy) souls will do the whole thing at one whack, “through-hiking” the trail. If that’s your goal, expect to take at least six months off for this.

Starters and finishers

The three of us — me, Derek, and John — started our first section hike at the southern terminus. When will we finish? No one knows. I may be on a walker when we hit Maine, but we do plan to finish this thing somehow. But there’s no rush.

Derek takes a precarious rest stop.

Our new Canadian friends took 19 years to complete their hike. When we talked to them, they were going at a goodish clip of 15 miles per day and planned to hit the Springer Mountain summit in time for lunch.

“We’ll probably open that bottle of wine we packed,” said one of the hikers, patting his backpack.

Since starting their adventure as younger men, they continued to meet once or twice a year at whatever point they left the trail, strap on their backpacks, grab their trekking poles, and go cut some trail. Most of the time anyway. For about a four-year stretch, they didn’t make it to the trail. Family matters, work, that little thing we call life kept getting in the way. Which, I’m sure, will make that wine extra heady at trail’s end.

“We’re thinking about through-hiking it next,” one Canadian told me. “But we’re still trying to wrap our heads around this.”

War cries from the turtle snail clan

I finally see the shouting lady a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, making her halting way up the mountain to where the front-running Derek (the mo-sheen, we call him) was taking a breather. Clearly pooped, she leans her pack against a rock to take some weight off. She considers a couple of miles to be a good day.

Outfitted with his trekking poles, John’s ready for the trail.

“I’m of the turtle clan,” she says, citing some Native American — Hopi? — lore. “But now it seems like a snail.”

No worries. Never mind what the doctors say. She has arthritis, wears a brace on one ankle, and the doc told her that hiking the AT was one of those things she should never attempt. But she’s hiking for her own reasons.

“I’m a healer,” she says. She does have that New Agey look and bearing about her; her tattoo is of some spiritual motif and she has religious items in her pack. She swears she generates enough electrical energy to destroy a cell phone. “But now I’m healing me. I keep looking off from this mountain and I say, that’s my past.”

It’s clearly a tough go for her. She decided her pack was too heavy to make the climb up Sasafrass Mountain (elevation 3,336 feet), so she gave some of her food to some other hikers.

But she made it this far, and we talked with the summit within sight.

“You’ll hear me shouting when I get there,” she says.

To the members of my hiking party she’s pretty zingy, from way out in deep left field someplace. But we have to share a unanimous “good for her.” She’s on the trail, beating some odds, achieving a dream.

Just like our two Canadian friends.

Or just like John, Derek, and myself.

Sure, life happens. We have jobs and/or businesses, and sometimes we have an uneasy truce with our work lives. We have expectations to meet, promises to keep. John and Derek both have wives who would probably never join us on the trail. This is, for us, extracurricular activity. The boys’ night out.

For more photos, check out The Column

But for Derek, who grew up in northern California and went to high school in Twentynine Palms in the desert, this is something he’s always wanted to do. And John, well-educated with a good job in hospice care, well, this is also something on his bucket list.

I still think I look like I walked in from the set of Deliverance here.

I first heard of the AT when in my early 20s, and it immediately went on my list as something I had to do before I got too decrepit. A couple of years ago, my friend Rick Moore invited me to join his group for a section hike, and I had to beg off due to a foot injury.

But the Trail grew larger in my mind, so the three of us began training and planning for the hike.

Even though life happens and often it’s a series of busted dreams, there’s no reason for me to give this one up.

Postscript

The trail kicked our butts. Basing our projections on our training runs, we expected to hit 37 miles in four days. Didn’t even come close.

Epic fail, right?

Wrong.

We’ll be back up there in six months, better trained, better equipped, and a whole lot more humble.

“I think that’s the biggest thing,” the shuttle driver told us as he took us back to our vehicle. “I think (many hikers) overextend themselves.”

He knows a little something about this. He’s driven an AT shuttle vehicle for 23 years, picking up hikers who fall short of their goal and take them to their vehicles — just like us. It’s a living.

He hears hikers say it’s easy to hit 20 miles per day right from the jump, and he believes it’s all a bunch of hogwash.

“Your system needs to adjust to this,” he said. “Through-hikers don’t start feeling right until they hit Neels or Unicoi gap (both past the 30-mile mark), then they get their legs and they’re gone. You don’t eat right on the trail. You don’t sleep right. And if your training is just running on the beach … ”

Gee, suddenly I don’t feel like such a wussy.

Get right down to it, even with the blown expectations, our hike was a success. We went out there and did it. We nibbled at it. We want to continue, hopefully for a bigger bite next time.

We came back with a better idea of how to approach the trail next time. Better training. Strip down our pack weights. Plan around water sources. Come back with a new respect for the big’un.

The epic fail would be if I wrote the whole thing off and never attempted to act on such a consarn idiotic idea again. If I gave up and settled back on the couch.

But I’m just not wired like that.

I’d rather listen to my own instincts than to reason any old day.

Catch me and my friends again in about six months. We’ll have some more trail grime to clean off and some more stories to tell you.

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Sep 192012
 

While you do much of your work in private, successes and goals don’t need to be. Now it’s easy to put your large and small triumphs out there; just takes a couple of seconds to post it on your favorite social media.

I’m ready. As soon as I reach today’s goal it’s going up on Twitter, Facebook and probably LinkedIn (love that Hootsuite online tool). How about something like this: @creativedanger Wrote and posted my week’s worth of 3-graffs blog entries. On a roll. #amwriting

Get brave. Sprout some guts. Do something dangerous. Meet your daily goal and let everybody know. I find these dispatches get likes and/or retweets, which is always a bonus.

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Jul 312012
 

When I got involved with National Novel Writers Month a couple of years ago, I started paying attention to how many words I wrote every day. Then I started publicizing that.

In all my social media, I put up daily dispatches of how I did, whether good, bad or ugly. This public posting helped keep me accountable. I’ve kept that habit, and when I mention my daily writing goal (1,000 words) in this blog, it’s my way of staying accountable.

Try going public with the small, daily goals. You might find it becomes a habit.

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Jun 262012
 

While the Facebooks and Twitters are good for announcing what you had for lunch (please don’t!) or that cool viral video you saw, these social media tools are good for building some accountability.

Right now. Get on your favorite social media site. Announce your new project, your goal for the day, (like a word count if you’re a writer) and hit Send. Then get to work. After you’re done, announce whether you met your goal. Be honest here; post both your successes and your failures.

You’ll probably find someone who is watching and pulling for you.

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