Reaching for the Stars (and other goal-related clichés)

25 May

by Susan Dennard


I feel like I’m always Debbie Downer on here. Discouragement and depression—not the most uplifting topics.

But you know what?  I actually feel pretty good most of the time.  And then there are those extra-special moments.  You know the ones I mean: the moments when you’ve just achieved a goal.

Honestly, there isn’t a headier feeling in the world for me (well, except perhaps too much champagne, but that’s not a very pleasant heady feeling, so we’re not gonna count it).  When I can strike something off my To Do List or–even better–when I can mark something off my Dreams List, I pretty much feel like an invincible SUPER WOMAN.

Dreams List

What is my Dreams List, you ask?  It’s a list of my biggest, hardest goals, and it’s constantly growing.  Whenever I have a new dream, I add it to the list.

Seriously, can you imagine how AMAZING it felt when I got to mark this goal from August 2010 off my Dreams List?  It was possibly even more exciting than accomplishing the dream itself because here was my written confirmation that I had set a goal, worked hard, and conquered it.

The key is to be specific about what you want and what qualifies as success.  For example, here’s a dream taken straight from my list:


Mission: I want to send a polished draft of SCREECHERS to my agent before the end of August 2011.

Wildly Successful If: I send it to her before the end of July!

That “Wildly Successful” bit makes a nice little difference in how you view your goal. It gives you a little nudge to work that much harder.  Yet it also suggests you might not be able to meet it (since it’s “wild”) and that it’s okay if you don’t.

While the SCREECHERS GOAL is shorter term, you can also make a long-term goal. Here’s another from my list:


Mission: I want to be able to afford a house of my own, and I want a house in Southern France with a giant yard, garden, mature trees, and lots of privacy.  I want to buy it within the next 5 years (before I turn 32).

Wildly Successful If: I can afford it before I turn 30!

Savoring the Small Goals

I make my planners SUPER CUTE AND SOOZ-IFIED so I feel happy and motivated every time I open it up. And yes, that IS Han Solo.

The thing is, the Dreams List usually takes time.  It’s long-term, so reaching that awesome pay-off that is accomplishment can take time.  We need small goals to tide us over.

And that’s where a simple daily To Do List can really help.  For those of you who already maintain daily planners, you know what kind of joy comes in marking something off your list.  Ahhh, the satisfaction of a simple scratch-through or check mark.

Right now, I have three sorts of goals on my Dreams List: writing/career, health/fitness, and financial.  As such, my To Do list includes something related to these big dreams almost every single day.  So instead of just listing the mundanities of my day, I also lay out the little steps that build up my dream.

Here’s a page from my To Do List:

Even though I follow a pretty standard daily routine, I always list every step. It’s not that I need to be reminded of my routine (though I do forget some things), but rather that I like to be reminded I’m working toward something.  It keeps me on-track and focused.

For example, I do cardio every weekday, and it’s a habit.  Yet I still write it down everyday. That way, when I do my daily cardio, I can mark it off and know I contributed to my overall healthy lifestyle dream.  Plus, I get that little rush of feeling that comes with accomplishment!

The Key is in the Reminding

Maybe keeping track of your goals or to do lists aren’t your style.  I realize I’m a little nuts (read: absolutely crazy obsessive), but I do think there’s something to be said for writing your goals down somewhere and reminding yourself every so often that you’re making progress.

You could do something as simple as sticking a post-it on your bathroom mirror that says: SEND QUERIES BY JULY!  Or maybe just writing your goals on a paper you keep in your wallet.

The day I went on subs for Something Strange and Deadly, I made a desktop background that said SOLD! Every time I saw it, I smiled and did a victory fist-pump.  And you know what?  A week later when my book did sell, seeing that desktop background made me absolutely giddy with joy and pride.

Set goals—big and small.  Work hard to achieve them.  Dream of them; visualize them.

Then grin wide when you jump the small hurdles, and throw a freaking party when you reach the big ones!

Do you keep track of your long-term dreams?  Do you keep a daily to-do list?  How do you celebrate reaching your goals?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


22 Responses to “Reaching for the Stars (and other goal-related clichés)”

  1. Ashley May 25, 2011 at 3:18 AM #

    This is very good post, Susan!

    I have many long term goals, and buying my first house is one of them. Glad to see I’m not alone on that one, especially buying property with huge yard. 🙂
    Thanks for the dose of motivation to achieve my goals!

    P.S. You are NOT a Debbie Downer, by any means.

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 3:57 AM #

      Aww, thanks! I’m glad to hear I’m not as downbeat as I think I am. 🙂

      And yaaaay for buying houses with lots of yard! Good luck with your goals. YOU CAN DO IT! 😀

  2. linda May 25, 2011 at 5:57 AM #

    Wow, you are SO my kind of girl. Your organization skills are amazing! Pretty funny since I just blogged about planning ahead, making checklists, and working toward a goal. Except you are way better at follow through than I am. Thanks for the awesome post!

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 11:24 AM #

      You’re so welcome, Linda! And YAY for being organized together!! 😀

  3. savannahjfoley May 25, 2011 at 8:17 AM #

    For the record I’ve never thought of you as Debbie Downer, Sooz. 🙂

    Awesome post. I read once that Jerry Seinfeld buys a huge calendar every year, one that shows all 365 days on it. And when he works on his comedy, he marks a day off. Eventually it gets to a point where he can see exactly how much work he’s put into his projects, and that provides greater inspiration to not let a day go by where he doesn’t make some sort of contribution.

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 11:25 AM #

      Oh. My. Gosh. I LOVE THIS IDEA.

      I’ve been doing something similar with my fitness goals, but only months at a time. THE WHOLE YEAR!? Genius.

  4. Meredith May 25, 2011 at 8:49 AM #

    You are far from a Debbie Downer, Sooz!

    When I was working at my previous jobs, I was the queen of the list-makers. I had overall lists, lists for each specific case I was work on, lists for admin type stuff. It was the only way I could stay organized. Now that I’ve left that world behind, the list-making has stopped, and I’m not quite sure why. I’m just as busy, if not busier these days, so a list would be invaluable. Ok, starting a list right now!

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 11:26 AM #

      Oh boy, I can SO see you as a list person. I bet you go nuts when you’re doing all your middle ages research…and if not, you should!! 😀

  5. Mac_v May 25, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

    I love all of your posts, Sooz! You’re not a depressing person at all! Especially when your folders look like that. *swoonoverHanSolo*

    Checking things off lists is probably the only reason I get half of them done! I know I need that motivation to get going and I’m glad I’m not alone! Thanks for the awesome super happy post! Im going to go write my list for today now 😉

    Mer 🙂

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 11:26 AM #

      Haha! I love that you make lists to motivate yourself too! I HATE seeing something on my list *not* checked off, so it’s a double motivater!

  6. R.G.Bullet May 25, 2011 at 10:49 AM #

    Well done, Susan. It’s a great feeling.

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM #

      Thanks!! Isn’t it, though? 🙂

  7. Jan May 25, 2011 at 11:16 AM #

    I have never considered you a ‘Debbie Downer’! I enjoy your posts & agree (Hans Solo :}) you always blog neat & timely things. I have gotten away from lists-& now I realize that’s part of why I seem to be struggling to accomplish what I want. So thanks! I needed this. Also thanks for the series on revisions. I’ve been stalling- but I’m setting my goals as soon as I send this. :}

    • Susan May 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM #

      Yay for Han Solo!!

      And yes, it’s amazing how much lists can just help you get organized and not feel overwhelmed. Like with my revisions series, I like to keep lists so I see exactly how all the pieces of my day are broken down–everything is much more manageable then!

  8. Ellen May 25, 2011 at 12:04 PM #

    This is an absolutely fabulous idea. I make to-do lists, but I usually have to be fairly busy to sit and write down everything I need to accomplish. Doing it with long term goals never occurred to me.

    I may have to give this a shot!

    • Susan May 26, 2011 at 2:05 AM #

      Yay! A list of long term goals (or Dreams Lists) are so fun to make! Sometimes my dreams change, so I’ll pull one from the list, but usually I find what I wanted a year ago or 2 years ago or last month is the same! And seeing what (if any) progress I’ve made so far can be great for nudging me to keep on working.

  9. Kathryn Leigh May 25, 2011 at 1:16 PM #

    After reading this, I’m feeling pretty inspired. I think the post-it on the mirror thing is my style. Thanks for the idea.

    • Susan May 26, 2011 at 2:06 AM #

      Mirror post-its are awesome! And desktop backgrounds!! Good luck with your goals! 😀

  10. Heather May 25, 2011 at 4:40 PM #

    I loveee lists! Every summer since I was about twelve I’ve always made a list of everything I want to achieve before school starts again. This year’s list is pretty big, but in September when I look back and see how much I’ve accomplished (hopefully at least a few things from the list), I know it’ll be an awesome feeling 😀
    You’re definitely not a Debbie Downer! I love your attitude to getting things done. Set goal, work hard, reach goal. That’s exactly the approach I need to take!

    • Susan May 26, 2011 at 2:08 AM #

      OMG, this is great. I SO wish I’d thought of that on my summer breaks–I love it!! The only summer goal I ever made was to read the entire original Nancy Drew series (that was in the 3rd grade), and I reached it! Woot!

      I’m sure nowadays I could conjure up some better goals, though. 😉 Have a wonderful summer break, Heather!!

  11. Maya May 28, 2011 at 8:37 AM #

    Great post! Another reminder that I need to get my butt in gear. 🙂 Thanks for the tips, and the encouragement! So glad you got what you were hoping for.


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