Setting Goals

It can be really hard to set goals when you are chronically ill.  You never know if your illness will get in the way of you achieving them, so sometimes you wonder, “why even bother?”  It’s particularly hard at this time of year with all the instagramspirational quotes that start floating around, about how the only barrier is your mindset and all that nonsense.

I still think it is worth it, though.  Without goals, the year ahead can stretch away like the road across the Hay Plains on a hot day – empty, tedious, and exhausting.

Hay Plains - Highway
Image description: A road in the Hay Plains.  A plain tarmac road in very flat, dry country stretching off under a big blue sky.  A single “kangaroo crossing” sign.  https://travelista.club/guides/australia-the-hay-plains/

I find setting goals helps add something to the landscape.  It lets me feel accomplished when I achieve them and gives me something a little closer that endless horizon to rest my eyes on.

There’s a couple of tricks to it, though, in order to prevent you from feeling hopeless or overwhelmed.  Here are mine:-

1.  Use the S.M.A.R.T. method

If it is a big goal, like that favourite of new year resolutions, losing weight, don’t just have that general concept floating around.  The SMART method says that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.  In other words:-

  • Don’t make your goals too vague.  If you can’t say what success will look like, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?  A generally vague goal, like, “be a better person” is only going to be useful if you can qualify exactly what you mean by that.  Being specific about your steps to achieving that goal is also really useful.  For instance, one of my goals this year is to finish reading the Old Testament.  I have set out specific milestones of when exactly I want to finish each book, and how much I need to read each day to achieve that.
  • To quote lifestyle website YourCoach, “Measurable goals means that you identify exactly what it is you will see, hear and feel when you reach your goal.”  In other words, what will success look like?  Sometimes it’s really obvious – I’ll know when I’ve reached my goal of qualifying as a SCUBA diver when I get my qualification.  In others, it’s a little harder.  For example, I’ll know that I’ve reached my goal of improving my Arabic when I can read any word, even if I can’t translate it, and have a basic conversation about specific subjects.
  • Attainable is the most important one for spoonies.  If you can’t walk 1km without pain, don’t set your sights on climbing Mt Everest this year.  Kosciuszko is probably out of reach too.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim high, but aiming high should also be within reality.  “Improve my fitness” and setting smaller, more defined goals might be a more successful choice.  If you set the bar way too high and consistently fail to reach it, your goals will feel like a burden rather than a motivation, and you’ll feel like a failure.  That’s not the point of having goals.
  • Relevant is the “why” for your goal.  Why do you want to achieve the thing?  I want to speak Arabic because I love learning new languages and it’s a handy one to have.  I want to learn to SCUBA dive because I tried it once and it was amazing and I want to be able to do it regularly and safely.  I want to finish the Old Testament because it is important to me to know the Bible so I can better understand my own faith.  I also think goals shouldn’t be too burdensome.  If you are dragging your way through a Goodreads classic reading list because you feel like you have to in order to be a better person but you actually hate classic literature, then drop it.  Find a goal that you won’t hate.  I love classic literature but reading it won’t make you a better person, particularly if you hate every second of it.
  • The original timeliness aspect of SMART planning suggests deadlines, because motivate people into action.  That’s good if those deadlines are going to be achievable, but for spoonies I feel like timelines might be better than deadlines.  It is really hard for us to commit to things with 100% certainty, and deadlines are no different.  Timelines are more suggestions than hard and fast “it must be done by now or else”.  We need still need timeframes for motivation and to make our goals realistic, but we also need flexibility.

On that note…

2.  Be flexible

If you don’t achieve your goal within the specified timeframe, it is not the end of the world (unless your goal is to save the world and there’s some sort of ticking clock I don’t know about, in which case, please don’t be flexible).  I’ve set what I think are realistic goals.  Ideally, I’d like to qualify as a diver by early March, but I may have yet more unforeseen medical expenses or bouts of unpaid sick leave which mean I simply can’t do it financially.  If it can’t happen then, that’s fine.  I can learn to be a mermaid some other time.  Our lives are made up of constant compromises, and sometimes even our big goals have to take a back seat.  That’s totally ok, and you shouldn’t feel like a failure or berate yourself if that happens.  Timeframes may change.  An entire goal may become impossible.  Chances are, it’s not your fault.

That being said…

3.  Hold yourself accountable

This is one of those hard ones where you have to strike a balance between not letting your illness become an excuse not to do something you actually could do, and forgiving yourself when it prevents you from doing something you wanted to.  If you are having a good day, use it (but don’t overdo it).  If you are having a bad day, do what you can but don’t force yourself past your own limits.  Allow yourself time to rest and recover, but don’t let it turn into laziness and slacking off.  Of course, this needs to be set by your standards and your body, not society’s standards in general.  They may think time you need for recovery is slacking off.  It is not.  Don’t buy into that.

So, those are my top three.  I also want to share the planner I’m using this year, because it is absolutely great for goal setting.  I realised I was running out of time, energy and motivation to keep up with a bullet journal and I needed to sacrifice the flexibility it offered me in favour of something pre-planned.  For Christmas my parents gave me this beautiful set from Leaders in Heels.

Make It Happen Bundle
Image Description: a pink notebook with “Nevertheless, She Persisted” on the front, a dark blue note book with, “Think Big, Dream Bigger, Set Goals, Make it Happen – Daily Planner” on the front, and a lilac note book with “Make It Happen – The Leaders in Heels Planner” on the front.  

Whilst it is a little heavy on inspirational quotes and a very shallow, marketable form of  feminism, it does have all the functions I need.  The weekly planner in particular has a big focus on goal-setting using the SMART method, with room for three primary goals (a sensible number, I think).  It has annual, quarterly and monthly reviews, which really encourage reflection and accountability.  The daily planner also has three daily goals.  So far, I’ve had a very productive year.  Normally I flounder a lot when I’m off work because I have no schedule, no clear goals and no accountability.  Sitting down at the beginning of the day and writing down what I want to achieve gives me focus and drive, and it is sooooo satisfying when I achieve all the things on my list.  The third book is just a notebook so I can still do bullet journalling things like make a lot of lists.  9.5/10.  I take half a point off because the weekly planner smooshes Saturday and Sunday together, which I hate.

 

What are your goals for this year?  Do you have plans on how to achieve them?  Will you be rewarding yourself if you get there?  Let me know in the comments.  I also invite my readers to keep me accountable on my goals and nag me throughout the year about achieving them.

Hope

It’s a powerful thing, hope. It makes us keep fighting when we feel like it isn’t worth it, just in case it is, or try a new medication when there is no guarantee it will work. Sometimes you hate it, because you are terrified about the despair you feel when your hope isn’t borne out. I think this makes hoping brave, because we do it despite that fear.

In the spirit of hoping, I’ve been writing a quote about hope in my diary each day this week. I want to share them with you to start this year off with some positivity, because what says “hope” more than a new year?

1) “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” – Neil Gaiman

Now, being me, I do have a problem with this quote, because I think it veers close to “you have to do something to mean something” territory, which I think it just wrong. People have inherent value. However, it does very much embody the spirit of the new year, which is that sense of “now I will achieve something.” Taken with a grain of spoonie salt, I also think it is a valuable reminder that we never stop learning, and there is value in each lesson (even the ones that suck to learn). It is an encouragement to do something – anything – to break through the ennui that can come with long-term pain and isolation. And ultimately, I think it places values on our battles and our victories, even the seemingly tiny ones, like getting out of bed when we didn’t think we could.  So, whilst I don’t necessarily want to make mistakes, I do hope I do enough that mistakes are a possibility.

2) “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “it will be better.”” – Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I love me some Tennyson. This quote just embodies everything I feel just before the new year comes – this one has to be better.  Maybe it won’t be, but hope thinks it will.

3) ““Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”
– Emily Dickinson
Admittedly this is one the longer side, and a poem, but I love Emily Dickinson, and I love this portrayal of hope.  It talks about the value of hope itself: its persistence, its ability to survive even the worst storms, how it comforts us, and how it is always with us.
4) “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  – Desmond Tutu
I don’t think my hope is necessarily as strong as this at times, but at least it is never less than “thinking there possibly could be light at some point.”  That’s a lot less catchy, though.
5) “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”  – Martin Luther King Jr.
This one will be most applicable for my religious and spiritual readers, but I couldn’t leave it out because for me it is such a good descriptor of my faith in hard times.  The Bible is pretty clear that this life is going to be full of hardships and woes, sometimes catastrophically so, and often without any reason that we can see.  However, the Bible is also clear that these things do end, and at the conclusion of it all is the reason Christians have hope at all – Jesus and a new, better life with him.  During my darkest times, even if the rest of my life looks like a barren, careerless, pointless, painful mess, at least I can set my eyes on that.
6) “There never was a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.”  – Bernard Williams
Night is so often used as a metaphor to explain away our problems – we all have to go through dark periods, darkest just before the dawn, etc etc – but what I like about this quote is that it isn’t saying sunrise brings a solution.  It’s just saying that hope is persistent.  Even when problem after problem tells us we shouldn’t hope, it comes back like the dawn each time.
BONUS QUOTE:
There have only been six days since the new year but you get a bonus one anyway because I’m benevolent like that.
7) “Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.”  – When You Believe, The Prince of Egypt
If you haven’t seen the movie Prince of Egypt, you should.  The soundtrack is great and it is the grittiest, most realistic portrayal of Exodus I’ve ever seen.  Far more so than the movie Exodus, which I thought was fairly bad.  I digress.
This song is sung as the Hebrews flee Egypt.  Their people have been slaves for generations.  The Egyptians have been cracking down on them, raising the quotas of bricks they must produce and reducing their materials.  One random who used to be a prince has shown up out of the desert and said, “worry not, pals, God’s going to release you.”  They’ve had no hope for years, and this is a pretty slim one.  Now it’s come true and they are heading out into the desert with only what they can carry, amongst them children and the elderly, and they will soon have half the Egyptian army on their tail.  It’s a time with not a lot of hope, but it’s all they’ve got, and the song is just excellent.  I’ll post the lyrics below, but first watch this incredibly low-resolution video to hear it and see it in all it’s glory:
If you want a faithful lyrical version, Celtic Woman do a lovely one.  If you want a less faithful one, Mariah and Whitney also have a version.
Lyrics:
[MIRIAM]
[Verse 1]
Many nights we’ve prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song we barely understood
Now we are not afraid
Although we know there’s much to fear
We were moving mountains long before we knew we could

[Chorus]
There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail it’s hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

[TZIPPORAH]
[Verse 2]
In this time of fear when prayer so often proved in vain
Hope seemed like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away
Yet now I’m standing here

[MIRIAM]
Now I’m standing here

[TZIPPORAH]
With heart so full I can’t explain

[MIRIAM & TZIPPORAH]
Seeking faith and speaking words I never thought I’d say

[Chorus]
There can be miracles when you believe
(When you believe)
Though hope is frail it’s hard to kill
(It’s hard to kill)
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
(You can achieve)
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

[Bridge]
[HEBREW CHILDREN]
Ashira l’adonai; ki gaoj ga-ah
Ashira l’adonai; ki gaoj ga-ah
Mi chamocha baelim adonai
Mi kamocha nedar ba kodesh
Nachita v’chas-d’cha am zu ga-alta
Nachita v’chas-d’cha am zu ga-alta
Ashira, ashira, ashira

Ashira l’adonai; ki gaoj ga-ah
Ashira l’adonai; ki gaoj ga-ah
Mi chamocha baelim adonai
Mi kamocha nedar ba kodesh
Nachita v’chas-d’cha am zu ga-alta
Nachita v’chas-d’cha am zu ga-alta
Ashira, ashira, ashira!

[Chorus]
[ALL]
There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail it’s hard to kill
(It’s hard to kill)
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
(You can achieve)
When you believe, somehow you will
Now you will
You will when you believe
(When you believe)

[MIRIAM & TZIPPORAH]
You will when you believe.

So, go forth into the new year with fresh hope, my friends.  You never know what this one holds.

Happy New Year: Change, Surrender and Big Decisions

TW: domestic violence, assault, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse

2018, like so many other years, has not been easy, but it has been big.  I spent around 3 months in total off sick. I had my third operation in two years.  I battled medically-induced depression, went into menopause twice, visited my homeland again, celebrated my second wedding anniversary and adopted two beautiful animals.  Most dramatically, though, I learned when to quit.  Literally.

I’ve worked in the same place, with one minor break, since January 2014.  I started as a volunteer paralegal.  In September that year I started as a part-time paid paralegal.  In July 2015 I finished my Masters of Law and my BA (Hons) and went full time.  In January 2016 I was promoted to a senior paralegal position and moved to a different section.  In August that year I become a solicitor.  I’ve never worked anywhere else as a lawyer.  I met my husband there.  I was instilled with a love of law there.  And, in the final work week of 2018, I quit.

This wasn’t a totally spur-of-the-moment decision.  A few months back I applied for a job elsewhere on something of a whim, and was moved into a merit pool.  I didn’t really expect anything to come of it.  However, the Friday just before that last week, I got a call offering me a position.  Two days later, I accepted it.

It was an incredibly difficult decision in many ways.  In my old job, I was a litigation lawyer.  I was in court at least three days a week, and meeting with clients or preparing for cases the rest.  Most days I would be appearing with less than an hour to prepare.  I was helping extremely vulnerable people.  I acted on behalf of domestic violence victims, the homeless and the mentally ill.  I got to argue points of law with magistrates who seemed hell-bent on confusing me, and work with angry clients who were not too far from assaulting me.  It was often incredibly rewarding, but, as I’m sure you can guess, extremely physically exhausting.

In addition to the time pressures that any legal job has – file this by 10am, send this letter out by 5pm, subpoena these documents by Wednesday – you also have a bunch of other unique stresses.  There is the belly-churning stage-fright you get before appearing in front of a magistrate, the pressure not to embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues, client and court by stuffing up.  There’s the emotional burden and vicarious trauma you take on by hearing stories of domestic violence – often involving serious physical and sexual assault, sometimes against children and animals – every day.  There’s the standards you hold yourself too to be the best lawyer possible, standards that are drilled into you irrevocably in the hyper-competitive environment of law school.

There’s also a hefty dose of physical exhaustion.  In addition to travel between the office and court (walking distance, in my case, so walking it is), there is an inordinate amount of running around involved in court work.  You have to chase around after a seemingly endless stream of clients, registrars, associates, other lawyers and even your colleagues, none of whom are ever where you need them to be.  There’s the inevitable last-minute change of courtroom because the lights aren’t working in courtroom 5, or because the magistrate that was hearing your application now has to do an emergency bail hearing instead.  There’s the frantic jack-in-a-box hopping up and down that a lawyer needs to do in the courtroom to demonstrate respect for the court.  All in all, combined with the mental and emotional stress, the job is incredibly exhausting, and I simply can’t do it any more.

I am extremely sad.  I love litigation.  I love the thrill of winning a point or getting a good outcome for a client.  I like the challenge and the test to my skills.  I love arguing (as my family will probably attest).  Not only that, but I’m moving away from some truly fantastic colleagues whom I will desperately miss.

Moreover, it’s a huge change in mindset for me.  Three years ago I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a family lawyer.  I would do five years of practice, then get accredited as an Independent Children’s Lawyer, maybe even a mediator, and after ten years I would do my specialist accreditation in family law.  Now I’m moving into a government organisation working in a policy role that has nothing to do with litigation, family law, or domestic violence.  I’ve had to give up an entire future because my body was wearing out faster than I could replenish it. I’ve had to hugely re-evaluate where my life is heading and what I want to do.

In all honesty, now I don’t know.  A lot hinges on 2019.  I may hate this job and scramble back into litigation and work until it breaks me beyond repair (I hope I’ll have more sense than that).  Alternatively, I may love it, and be happy to never go back.  I may change career several more times, as my generation apparently does.  Right now, I have no idea what the future holds.  It’s scary, but I’m ready.  I’ve got my positive brain engaged.  This is a new opportunity to discover what else I’m good at and see if I love other things too.  It’s a new workplace, next to a beautiful walking track and near to my sister.  It’s also (I sincerely hope) a physically easier job, that will give my poor body the chance to heal that it so desperately needs, so that I can actually get back to building a career (whatever that looks like).

I’m proud of myself for taking this step.  Yes, I quit.  I gave up.  Some might say I failed.  Whatever.  Sometimes, quitting is what you need to do.  It was the right decision for my health, and hopefully for my family too.  It was scary, but I had the courage to do it anyway.  2018 was a year for courage.  2019 is going to be a year for perseverance, as I stick to the scary decisions I have made and see them through to their end.  I’m ready.  I’m happy.  Bring it on.

I hope your 2019 is full of hope, happiness, and beautiful surprises.  I wish for strength, endurance, courage and beautiful, painless moments for all of you.