Dreams vs. goals

September 12, 2012

In a romance novel I once read (seriously, even with this intro, it is going to be a good, insightful post) (really (probably))…

Let’s start again.

In a romance novel I once read, the heroine is a well-connected woman. Plus, she’s a nice human being. So when another person says they’ve always wanted to write books for children, our heroine moves heaven and earth to get proto-author the right contacts into editing, agents and children’s publishing. The proto-author then flakes out completely.

Because the proto-author didn’t want to write children’s books, she wanted to talk about how someday she’d like to write children’s books. It was a safe dream but it was not a true goal.

(I’m a little worried at this point because two friends who  occasionally read my blog have said they’d like to write children’s books. This is not about them. This is about my neurosis, not about anyone else. Not even Phil. Who, as far as I know, doesn’t want to write children’s books.)

Ok, let’s switch away from children’s books into something that may get me into less trouble. But, really, I promise, there is a unified point.

When C was serious with the band, a neighbor of ours joined for awhile. But he didn’t ever practice. He couldn’t remember the words to songs he wrote. I actually liked his voice but he just wasn’t serious about the band. And as they started to have gigs, the neighbor’s lack of dedication was a frustrating barrier for the whole band. See, the neighbor didn’t want to be in a rock and roll band, he wanted to talk about being in a rock and roll band. His mental model was not only dad, provider, husband, handyman, etc. It was also “singer in a rock band”, it made him feel cool; C’s band fed that image. But it was a dream and not really a goal.

I worry that part of my personal mental model is “mad scientist inventor” but I don’t have the oomph to do it. I like reading and watching television and going to the beach and hanging out with my friends and sleeping and exercising (and working on projects, shipping software).

I’ve been thinking about dedication as I work on this prototype for my infant product idea, trying to figure out if my project will survive and how. Do I have what it takes to see it through? Forget that…I’m too afraid of the answer, let’s try a smaller chunk: do I have what it takes to build a prototype for my own personal use and for demonstration purposes?

When I work on other people’s products, it is easy to identify the work involved and motivate myself to get it done (ahem, cash is a nice motivator for me as is the “done” finish line). But with my own project, somehow I believe that is I just wish hard enough, it will magically be complete.

That hasn’t been working so I carved out some time to work on it as a project. (My rates are really quite reasonable when I work for myself.) Today, I hit a limit of my tools that showed I have compiled my program and downloaded it 100 times.  Some of those were dumb, formatting tweaks to printfs but not all of them. This ridiculous milestone  represents a lot of work, a lot of time spent with my butt in the chair thinking about this product. Sitting here, reading datasheets, putting hardware together, learning to crimp cables, drawing schematics, buying beer and sushi to bribe people into helping me, and writing code, it really is a lot of work and not nearly done.

And still I fear that this may be a phase, something I’m excited about but only because it is new and shiny. And when something else shiny comes along (or this bauble loses its gleam), well, I’ll drop it in the gutter.  I don’t know the path ahead or if I’m really on any path. Or if I want to be.

I don’t know if this is just a dream or truly a goal.

Funny, as I finished this post, I just got a call from a past client. They want me to do something for them. They pay pretty well (and on time). It will be just a few weeks of work. I just managed to carve out time from current clients to have time for my project. But it would be a lot of money to work for these clients which would give me the freedom to work on some other future idea. It is an easy job. So shiny.