Set the Goal, Enjoy the Journey

When I write, I start with a framework. A skeleton of what I’m doing, to establish the rough shape, size, and purpose of what I’ll eventually end up with.

With a blog post, that means I figure out what point I want to make, and establish how best to express it. With a book, I determine who the characters are, what kind of world they live in, and what important things happen in each chapter.

In between these milestones, these pre-determined landmarks in my work, anything could happen. The story I’m telling might take a sharp right turn, and I may end up explaining a critical point in a different way than I originally intended. Maybe a character surprises me with how they respond to a difficult situation, or perhaps the situation isn’t what I thought it would be, either.

Setting these goals ahead of time, these entrances and exits to a written project, I’m better able to enjoy the space between. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going, and with that knowledge at hand, I can settle in and enjoy the process; sink my teeth into characterization, prose, and style.

Like with travel, determining a beginning and end point allows you to focus on the middle. That framework is best left malleable, of course, because who knows what you’ll discover in the interim? But having it built, having something concrete from which to jump, allows you to focus on the meat of your work and less on the bones.

Update: April 14, 2017

This is still how I set up my writing projects, and my life.

I’ve definitely experimented with a lot of variations on this, with more prep sometimes, and less others, but the basic outline, and the use of milestones and deadlines, works splendidly for my purposes.


The Authority of Experience

There are a lot of blogs, articles, and even books written by folks who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Or rather, they get some aspect of what they’re talking about, but lack the authority of experience. They’ve read a lot about a particular subject and have re-spun the information into something new. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — it’s what we’re taught to do in school, year after year — but it can be detrimental if the positive feedback received for remixing borrowed experience diminishes the author’s desire (or ability) to go out and learn something firsthand. To collect new knowledge for the next generation of information collage-makers to work with.

This idea that one should go out and pursue novel information, rather than depending on what’s already been documented by others extends beyond business and money and relationship advice and the myriad other things upon which we tend to give advice, sometimes based solely on the advice others have given to us. It also applies to personal things: our philosophy, spirituality, and emotional stability.

Perhaps most importantly, going out into the world and experiencing something grants knowledge of how you’d respond to certain stimuli, in situ. How you’d actually respond if held at gunpoint or found yourself in an unfamiliar country without access to money. Or had a massive opportunity you could pursue, but only through great effort and sacrifice.

We all have theories about how we’ll respond in these situations, but they’re generally based on the experiences of others (or experiences they’ve borrowed and delivered to you).

Books, movies, blogs, and all the other media through which we can transfer information and ideas are wonderful, but you can’t truly know what you’re made of, what’s real and what’s supposition, until you go out and earn your authority.

Update: April 14, 2017

This desire many people have to have the trappings of expertise without first experiencing anything that would guide them toward expertise hasn’t flagged in the years since I wrote this. If anything, there are more people posturing and propping up Potempkin Instagram accounts and blogs than ever before. There’s some great stuff out there, and we live in a Golden Age of communication. But there’s still a basic media literacy that’s lacking amongst the general public that would help sort the legit stuff from the folks who’re just going through the motions of legitimacy.


Good People

As a kid, I was convinced that I would always be a gamer. I liked games for the challenge they provided, and the sense of satisfaction I gained by learning the rules, methodically increasing my skill, and eventually teaching others to enjoy a game’s complexities on the same level I did.

That feeling hasn’t gone away, it’s just expanded in scope. Rather than attempting to teach everyone the strategic complexity of chess, I promote literacy and encourage folks to self-educate about anything that seems interesting. Rather than studying tournament games and memorizing Starcraft build orders, I travel as much as possible, seeking out new ideas and learning all about myself and unfamiliar facets of the world.

Despite this shift, one thing has stayed very consistent: I still work hard to surround myself with good people.

‘Good’ is generally a horrible word to use when trying to describe something accurately, as it lacks quantifiable definition. But in this context, that’s perfect. To me, a good person is someone who is a net positive for the world. Their existence doesn’t drain others, it strengthens them. Their attitude about life is upbeat — things will continue to get better — and they treat others with the respect owed to other members of the same species. These are people of varying skill sets, points of view, faiths, cultures, and economic backgrounds, but all share a certain something that adds up to ‘good person,’ according to my definition.

Part of what I loved about playing games was that they allowed me to pull free of reality for a bit and imagine ‘what if.’ You can be the nicest person in the world, but when you sit down for a game of Risk, chances are you’ll be just as back-stabby as anyone else at the table.

The fantasy world you dive into while gaming is only fun, however, if the game is different from real life. Competition is a pleasure with good people, but if the people you’re playing with are antagonistic to begin with, chances are the game will become just another stressor. Slaughtering each other’s armies will hit too close to home.

Games are a challenge you face together, even if you’re on opposite teams for the duration. They give you the opportunity to think with cold cunning in an environment where you can stand up at any time and extract yourself from that world. Where you can test your mettle and your wits, without needing to actually be the kind of person who callously conquers South America for fun.

I often view life as a game, and one that can be far more strategic and rewarding than any of the tabletop or video variety I’ve ever encountered. But just like playing Risk, the challenges real life presents are a million times more enjoyable when there are good people nearby, facing them at your side.

In the same way you can choose the people with whom you play games, you can also choose the people with whom you share your life. Make sure they’re people who’ll keep things exciting and challenging, but avoid surrounding yourself with excellent competitors who also happen to be horrible human beings.

Update: April 14, 2017

This is true whether you’re a hardcore extrovert or a massive introvert. The number of people in your life isn’t what’s important, it’s the quality of those people, based on attributes that are important to you.