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On Writing, Aside #1: The Difference Between Aspirations and Goals 
It's easy -- even tempting -- to confuse them, but they couldn't be more different (A quick aside from the On Writing series)
By joepeacock Posted in Blog, On Writing on May 29, 2018 0 Comments
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“Hope in one hand, shit in the other, and see which gets full faster.” — My dad.

“Without hope, a dream is just a wish you’ll never have granted.” — Also my dad.

 

I used to think my dad contradicted himself a lot with his cliches, and then I got older. I realized that a lot of what I thought was one thing was actually two distinct but related things. I’ve since learned that aspirations are everything you hope will happen, while goals are what you must do to make anything happen.

I only have a few goals for Marlowe Kana:

  1. The characters are believable.
  2. The plot makes sense from beginning to end, and everything connects.
  3. It’s fun to read.
  4. And hopefully, it makes a few points about our current society.

But as for aspirations… Well, I hope that one day it is celebrated as a return to the core of cyberpunk’s ethos, which is to tell of a future formed from our present, centered around technology’s role in our social evolution (or de-evolution). I hope it is the start of a larger framework for more stories for Marlowe, both from before and from after the events in the current series. I hope to write like Neil Gaiman. I hope to see a seventh release of action figures based on the universe. I hope to be knighted. I hope there’s a national holiday for Marlowe Kana.

This is a quick summation from Stephen Shapiro, which I found while Googling for images related to aspirations and goals:

In addition to goals, there are aspirations. Many people view these as being the same or similar, but they quite different. The origin of the word “goal” comes from the Old English word gal which means obstacle or boundary, and is related to the world gælan which is “to hinder.” Goals then, by definition, can inhibit. And we typically use goals as a way of overcoming these barriers. Think about sports, such as American football. You push hard and struggle to move the ball past 400 pound linebackers with the ultimate objective to move past the goal line; your destination.

Conversely, look up “aspiration” and you will find that its origins are similar to the words “spirit” and “inspire”. They are all derived at some level from the Latin word aspirare which means “to breathe upon.” It is believed that the connotation is “to breath life into” or “panting with desire.” Quite simply put, goals are logical and calculated. Aspirations are emotional and inspirational.

So there is a difference between goals and aspirations. Goals are about typically about convergence, narrowing, and focusing in on an outcome. Therefore they can limit and create a myopic view of the world. On the other hand, aspirations are expansive. They create new possibilities. There are many paths and options for you. And you have a wide peripheral vision, sensing new opportunities as they arise.

I think his point on “inhibiting” is that goals absolutely do narrow your focus, and he doesn’t want people losing track of their greater aspirations by focusing too hard on goals. But I think that’s a bit erroneous. There’s a well-known “secret” that sherpas tell aspiring climbers of gigantic mountains never to look up while they’re climbing. It freaks people out to see how much farther they have to go. The heights are massive, and the work to achieve them is doubly so. Instead, they tell them to always look behind them at the ground they’ve covered. It shows that progress is being made and keeps them climbing.

I think goals are like that. They are measurable before and after. They serve as both destinations and as markers of a journey. But the best way to achieve any goal is to have a larger goal above it. So I see his point. But if I let my aspirations govern my measure for success in writing this series, I’d be in a ditch right now with the cheapest bottle of booze I could panhandle for (or the most expensive I could shoplift), crying my eyes out for the 564th straight day. It would murder me, slowly and painfully.

Putting it bluntly: I’m writing 1) a cyberpunk dystopian social critique, 2) starring a geenetically engineered super soldier celebrity, 3) who has been used by everyone since childhood for their own devices, convincing her that she really does want this 4) because it’s what society wants from her, 5) and it breaks her and everyone she loves.

This is pretty niche. It’s not exactly Harry Potter. But my goal isn’t to make it Harry Potter. It’s simply to make it, hopefully at a skill level higher than when I started, while having fun telling a story I’ve always wanted to tell.

…But on the other side of that coin, Harry Potter wasn’t Harry Potter until J.K. Rowling made it Harry Potter, and she only did that by writing the next word after the prior, finishing the next chapter after the last, releasing the next book after the the current one, and keeping on with keeping on until it was done.

It also helps that it is a work of genius, appeals to the inner child in every one of us, tells a story of unity and equal opportunity and dealing with bullies and magic and everything everyone needs to read in their lives.

So even if I aspire in my wildest dreams to write the next Harry Potter, reality has a firm grip around my goals — which sounds limiting, until you realize that reality is what you make it.

I believe it’s impossible for any aspiration to be achieved without goals, and I believe that each goal should be its own thing. If you reach it, awesome — go for the next. If you don’t, set new ones until you reach them, and then, go for the next thing. This is the only thing that keeps me sane. I cannot let my aspirations have a home in my head while I’m trying to achieve a goal, because it will overwhelm me and make me think it’s all impossible. It’s eating a whole porterhouse steak in one bite. It’s just not possible (or healthy). It’s running a marathon in one step. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying, you know… Good luck.

I see the whole thing (as my carefully chosen Featured Image suggests) like climbing a mountain. You only get to the top one toehold at a time, and every one you get, you have to celebrate. Because there you are — in the clouds, somewhere, well above where you started. And right now, my reality is that I’m on Volume 4 of a nine-volume series. I’m 4/9ths up the mountain I chose to climb. I’m farther than I was, and I’m not sitting on my couch wishing I was already above the clouds. I’m climbing that damn mountain. That’s my goal.

The difference in a nutshell

 

When I get to the peak, I’ll see two things: a view I’ve never seen before, and all the other mountains yet to climb. And at that point, I’ll decide which mountain to climb next. That’s my aspiration.

Aspirations are powerful. But without goals, they’re inert. They may never come true, but they are the fuel for the engine that makes the journey possible. To that end, do not let your aspirations be your goals. They will crush you under their weight (and if they don’t, they aren’t large enough!). You will fail because your aspirations are supposed to be out of your reach. You’re supposed to work toward them, and that’s what goals are for.

And by all means, celebrate every single time you achieve a goal, because that’s the real shit right there. That matters far more than any dream. You DID the thing. This isn’t a pipe dream anymore. It exists, because of you.

I celebrate cvery chapter I complete with a nice scotch. I celebrate every volume I complete with a very specific, very special cigar that I bought a box of, just for celebrating completed volumes. I celebrate every single achievement, because it’s something I decided to do and then I did it. Something new exists because of it. I’m not even worried about my aspirations, because they’re safely out of reach and serve, like the north star, to guide me along this path of goals I’ve set.



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