“I kept hearing advice, like ‘just get out of bed, just make pot of coffee.’ If my goal is only to get out of bed, I’d never accomplish anything,” she said. Her advice to others coming out of a difficult situation? “Set goals impossibly big — look at the big picture.”
The headline got my attention: “Single mom builds 3,500-square-foot home by watching YouTube tutorials.” Who in the world does such a thing? Turns out, Cara Brookins does—and did.
This mother of four kids ages 2 to 17 who had recently left an abusive marriage found an abandoned home destroyed by a tornado and rebuilt it with her kids in nine months. Did they know how to build a house when they started? Nope. But they learned as they went. Each night, they watched YouTube videos to teach themselves the skills they would need the following day. Together, through shared labor and commitment, they resurrected a home and a family.
Reading of this seemingly impossible triumph, I had a revelation about my own process and experience as a single mother and a writer. Like this audacious woman, I also tend to set goals that seem impossibly big. Not because I believe I can accomplish them. But for the opposite reason: I think so little of myself that I don’t believe I can do most things.
The way I have learned to build trust in my capacity throughout my lifetime is to repeatedly throw myself before the oncoming train of a commitment so big and so scary that I feel I must learn how to do the thing (run the business, write the book, present at the conference) to survive. This bizarre but effective practice has kept my attention trained to a bigger problem than my own unfriendly inner voices. And it’s enabled me to accomplish a wide range of goals I never actually believed possible.
For example, when I was in the mosh pit of my divorce process and feeling so profoundly wronged and hurt by my ex-husband, I made a decision that I would find a way to be happy with him, to regain my love and respect for him, no matter what. And over the course of about five years, I got there. Behind this “impossible” goal was a deep and powerful purpose: I believed that my enduring friendship with my co-parent would create the best context for our son to flourish. During that life chapter, I don’t think I could have gotten out of bed for anything less.
If Cara Brookins and I had focused on simply making it to the coffee pot, we very well may have achieved that goal. But because we each had a much higher purpose of healing our families and impossibly big goals of resurrecting homes and relationships that had shattered, we found a way forward that took us from that cup of coffee into lives that were so improbable as to be completely unrecognizable.
If your writing life has gotten you from bed to the coffee pot but you’re not sure where it’s going to lead you next, or how you’ll get there, I dare you to dream bigger. MUCH bigger. Set an impossible goal, and fuel it with a purpose that is essential to who you are.
You may or may not arrive at your intended destination, but I believe this is beside the point. If you’ve got your sights set on something that matters more to you than your fear or doubt, you’ll walk (and write) through any fire to keep moving in that direction. As you go, you’ll discover strengths and capabilities you never knew you had. You’ll reach vistas you’ve never imagined seeing. And you’ll come to appreciate more fully that you can count on yourself to be brave, be vulnerable, and keep going.