Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Resolutions vs. Goals

Far too often in our lives, the urgent preempts the important and we are left looking back at the time we spent over the previous year wondering where the time went and why we are not closer to where we want to be. Since this is January and that's the month that everyone takes stock of their lives before hitting the 'reset button' on said lives by making grand life-changing resolutions, I'd like to take a moment and encourage everyone to think about resolutions and decide for themselves if setting goals might be a better course of action.

As I'm a firm believer that large successes are built upon smaller successes, I think it is more appropriate to set goals rather than make life changing resolutions. It is my opinion that well-meaning people who make giant, life changing resolutions will fail more often than not simply because they aren't being realistic with their resolutions. And I speak as one who has made and broken LOTS of resolutions! It's like being a couch potato all year and then deciding on January 1st that you're going to run a marathon 30 days later. The resolution is just fine: get into the physical condition necessary to run a marathon then, run the marathon. However the amount of time necessary to achieve that resolution is unrealistic. Show of hands: how many of us have started going to the gym in January only to stop going in February when life gets busy and our resolve starts to waiver?

This is why I think smaller, trackable goals give people a far better chance of succeeding. But in order to make them more achievable, and thus more likely for us to stick with them, we need to carefully evaluate our goals and assign a realistic deadline for them that takes stock of our resources--be they financial, chronological, or strength of character. This is where I find value in taking time out for assessment and introspection once every year (for me, it's in December). If you can take the time to assess your resources (current skill level, money situation, available time and current commitments, etcetera), then when it comes time to plan your goals for the year, you'll already know if you have the available resources to achieve said goal. That short period of introspection before you decide on your yearly goals tells you where you are--then you can decide where you want to go, decide if it's a realistic goal, and revise the goal to bring it in line with your resources.

In my own life, I have also found that written goals are far more likely to be achieved than unwritten goals. When we take time to put our goals on paper, we pull them out of the ether and make them concrete. We remove them from the misty world of dreams where we can get that emotional high when we think about them and live in that safe world of fantasy that we all have in our heads. But, writing down our goals pops that emotional bubble and forces us to decide whether or not we have the internal strength to make those goals real. Add to that, when we take the time to review our goals (daily, weekly, monthly), those written goals make us accountable.

Last year, I decided that I can't have caffeine any more. It disrupts my sleeping habits. It dehydrates me. It affects my memory and makes me jittery when I have too much or too little. In summary, the negative effects of caffeine far outweigh the short-term positive effects. So, after multiple failed attempts to stop drinking soda and caffeinated tea, I changed my angle of attack. First, I decided on a goal with a realistic deadline: no more caffeine in 30 days. Second, I wrote that goal (with deadline) on my calendar. Third, every day, I wrote the number of caffeinated beverages on the calendar that I had drank that day. When I looked at the calendar I was able to see, not only how much caffeine I was consuming, but was also able to set realistic daily goals to reduce my caffeine intake. Best of all, by looking at the calendar every day, I saw the numbers going down every day. So I was encouraged by tracking my progress.

I am currently living a caffeine-free existence and I feel better physically and mentally because of it. Next, is to eliminate soda and excessive amounts of sugar from my diet. And because I have that smaller success with caffeine under my belt, I now have no doubts that I can achieve my next goal of reducing my sugar intake as well as achieving my overall goal of getting healthy.

So, applying the previous lessons to my career: these are the goals for 2011 that I've come up with over December and January:

1. Get Certified
In 2010, I had some opportunities that I couldn't take advantage of. Namely, a couple of universities made some discrete inquiries about whether or not I would be interested in teaching classes for them. Unfortunately, due to time constraints between my forensic work and my historical animation consulting, I couldn't capitalize upon any of those opportunities. On the bright side, it did make me think about my current skill set. Y'see, in the past, I've taught both animation and computer programming classes (both professionally and as a hobby). However, while those classes highlighted how much I enjoy teaching, they also highlighted areas where I feel I need more practice. So, the big goal this year is to take a technical training bootcamp and get my CTT+ certification. While there may be more inexpensive ways to learn how to teach, CompTIA's CTT+ certification is THE teaching standard that Adobe recognizes for their Adobe Certified Instructor program. So I figure, if I'm going to learn how to be a better instructor, best to do it in such a way that allows me to turn this goal into a stepping stone for possible future goals. There are three bootcamps this year in the Great Lakes region and I already have the material. It's time to pick a date, get registered, and start studying.

2. Get Animated
Write, animate, and teach one class in animation, even if it's just a one day workshop. Back in 2004, I created and taught a class at the East Lansing Recreational Center on experimenting with animation. Unfortunately, a car accident and it's resulting physical therapy prevented me from teaching more that year. And over the past couple years, billable projects kept cropping up so my dreams of teaching animation classes were buried under the workload. And while I'm thankful for the work, it has prevented me from designing, writing, animating, and teaching the other classes that I wanted to. Since that class back in 2004, I've been driving to Toronto seeral times each year to learn new animation techniques from the Toronto Animated Image Society and the National Film Board of Canada. Those workshops have given me a lot of knowledge and ideas that I'd like to pass on. After bumping into Gary Schwartz at a film screening last November, I was reminded of a one-page write-up that he uses for his week and weekend animation workshops. Gary told me that if I ever found myself stuck for workshop ideas, then I should use his framework to spark my own creativity. At this point, I think I have enough experience, information, and resources. Now it's time to sit down and produce a series of workshops that cover one day, one weekend, one week, and one semester.

3. Give something back
In my career, I did not get to where I am by myself. So, in 2011, I would like to do one thing every month to every other month that will show gratitude to the people who helped me along my career. It could be making a donation to R.I.T.'s Erik Timmerman Memorial Scholarship for future animation students, speaking at a college, helping a local university evaluate student portfolios, teaching a workshop, encouraging a student, or just calling up a professor and saying 'thanks'.

While I have other goals for 2011, these three are directly applicable to my career and are ready for stage 2: breaking them down into smaller daily/weekly/monthly goals and assigning deadlines. More on that in a later post.