Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do over the next three years. That seems to be about the maximum time span for realistic long-term planning, whether in business or in personal life. I have no idea where I’ll be living in five years or what my most consuming passion will be that year. Several options keep cropping up: traveling the world, going to grad school, building a tiny house, or operating a parrot behavioral rehabilitation center. Note that in the short term, these goals are more or less mutually exclusive. What you may not have realized, but fortunately I have, is that they all obscure a hidden goal.
The hidden goal in my life right now is to avoid publishing my first novel. This is what Stephen Pressman calls “The Resistance.” I know full well that I’m petrified of reading negative reviews of my book. Part of me evidently believes that it’s better to never do anything than to expose oneself to criticism. As though doing nothing will somehow stop anyone from criticizing you! My heraldic bird is the chicken, and it has a yellow belly.
Hidden goals are everywhere. We want to get organized, but there’s that hidden goal of “Keep All the Awesome Stuff and Keep Adding More.” We want to lose weight, but there’s that hidden goal of “Never Pass Up an Opportunity to Eat Sugar.” We want to save money, but there’s that hidden goal of “Buy Everything I Want.” If there’s one thing we can’t stand, it’s “Depriving Myself.” We frame everything we want to do in terms of “giving up” something in our current comfort zone, rather than how much we’ll gain from accomplishing the new thing.
Most things that are scary are worth doing because they are scary. I’ll watch a slasher film, jump over open flame, or go to a haunted house – but I won’t publish my book because I’m afraid of what some troll will say in the inevitable one-star review. (I mean, if War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice have their share of one-star reviews…). I’ll fly to a foreign country and live in a tent for three weeks, but I won’t do a language exchange because I’m scared to do video chat with a stranger. I’m not afraid of spiders or snakes or public speaking, but I am afraid of social risks.
The 99u book Maximize Your Potential categorizes five types of risk: Physical, social, emotional, financial, and intellectual. I will launch myself full-speed toward an intellectual risk. My tolerance of physical risk is fairly high on solid ground but very poor in water, air, or at high speeds. I’ll go to emotionally risky places without too much trouble. My tolerance of financial risk is an F-. Social risk? If it’s people I’ll never see again, I’ll do whatever I want, but if I seek to impress, I’m shaking in my shoes. Knowing my risk tolerance profile helps me recognize when my yellow-bellied chicken is flying high. When protecting my anxiety is my hidden goal, it’s a goal I don’t want to meet.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.