Creativity & Setting Goals: Don’t Let The Dog Eat Your Couch!

I had the crazy good luck last week to be in the presence of two amazing women- each of whom I’ve given the status of “virtual mentor” in my life. (This loosely describes someone I love, admire and feel I know intimately even though we have never met and who wouldn’t know me from Adam should we meet on the street.) I got so spend a weekend watching British dressage superstar, Charlotte Dujardin teaching some of my favorite northwest horse and rider combinations and then spend an evening listening to Liz Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and creativity guru) speak about the creative process. A week of inspiration on steroids!

Liz talked about the relationship between fear and creativity and how these two characters sit side by side on any creative journey. I kept thinking about how much of what she talks about applies to riding and almost every pursuit human beings take on.

She said,

“There is so much to be afraid of…

that you have no talent

that you will be ridiculed or rejected

that you will be ignored

that you will be criticized or upset your family

that there is no commercial market for what you do

that your work is not important

that your ideas will be stolen

that you are too fat…
why this is one I’m not sure but it seems to keep people from doing important things.”

She went on to say… (I’m summarizing here.)

“Fear is the one that sits in the seat next to you screaming, ‘We’re all gonna die!’ 
Fear will always have a seat in the car but if you let fear take the wheel, you are not doing your job. Your job is to hunt for the jewels that are hidden within you and bring them to the light.”

If ever you think, for a moment, that none of this matters and that you are good with the status quo; good with letting fear choose your route, think again. You will soon be bothered by a nagging restlessness, discontent, longing or even despair. This line from Liz’s talk says it all:

“Unused creativity is not benign. It’s like a border collie without a job. It will eat your couch.”

It will eat your couch! I love this. There have been many times in my life when my couch was in serious risk of being eaten.

Sometimes I wonder how I have come to be associated with goal setting. It’s not really a claim to fame I’ve embraced. Goal setting sounds pretty boring and serious and blah. I always kind of cringe when people call me and say, “I heard you do goal setting seminars” or they talk to me about their goals in the same way non-horse people tend to talk to us about horses. “Yah… I made a goal once and my horse went lame and I’ll never do that again!”

When I heard Liz say that about unused creativity though, I suddenly got it. THIS is why I do this goal-setting thing. It’s not about achievement or attainment; or about making lists and plans. It’s about embodying the creative process in our lives. It’s about keeping that Border collie busy, hunting for jewels.

Creativity and fear play the same roles in the goal setting process as they do in creativity. Creativity means, simply, the ability to make new things or think up new ideas. That’s it. The goal setting process is CREATIVE. It’s inventive, playful, and it might feel risky. No wonder fear and creativity operate so closely together. If you are bringing something new into existence, you are taking a risk. You might fail. You might look silly. It might seem too small or unimpressive. It might seem too lofty. Who are you to think you could do THAT? A goal is inherently new and creative because it represents movement from where you are to somewhere unfamiliar. Just as there is no RIGHT novel, no wrong poem and no perfect drawing, there is no goal too big, too small, too silly, or too crazy to be brilliant and to take you to new places in your life.

If you are feeling stuck, please know that there are millions of little jewels in you waiting to be brought into the light. There is not one precious one that you are meant to find over all others. They all have the potential to shine. Whether you want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, wear white breeches before Christmas, get a promotion, start a business, write a book, go on a solo trail ride or compete in the Olympics, it is who you will become along the way to your goals that matters. It matters that your couch does not get eaten!

You might be struggling right now with creating or achieving goals. You might be afraid to set the wrong goal. You might feel like you can’t think of any goals. You might feel like you are too old or too young to set goals. You might feel that, if you set a goal, lightening could strike and you may not accomplish it so you’d rather stay put. You might feel a tremendous amount of resistance to setting goals or have a million excuses for why it’s not the right time or you’re not ready. You might think that you are special and have issues that others don’t have or understand. Don’t be precious with your passion! If you wait until you no longer feel fear or resistance to do things that matter to you, YOU WILL die with regret. Sorry to be blunt but we cannot escape that reality.

I want to leave you with a quote from the Charlotte Dujardin symposium. She said this more than once:

“Be brave. If you, as the rider, are always afraid to make a mistake you will hold your horse back.”

I hope the metaphor is obvious!