In my Drexel class Music and Audio Freelancing, the students start out each term by setting two, five, and ten year goals. Most of the time, the ten year goals are not particularly realistic, and for the purposes of the class, they don’t really have to be. They just need to be a spot on the horizon. Something to shoot at. In both the class and the book, I make a clear differentiation between GOALS and PLANS. Anyone can have the goal of being in the Olympics, the President of the United States, or a successful record producer, but figuring out a plan to get you there is a whole other deal, and requires some knowledge of what it takes to do the job and how people actually come to have that sort of job.
When we first moved to Pennsylvania in 1990, I had a record deal with Atlantic and a few hit singles under my belt, a publishing deal with Famous/Paramount, fairly well regarded management, and was in the middle of finishing up the second Pajama Party album. We had just bought a house in the Pocono mountains on three acres, and I had equipped it with a pretty nice studio capable of doing almost anything I needed to do, short of finishing a full-on analog record. I had a beautiful wife and a two year old son. On paper, at 34, I had probably achieved everything the 24 year old me would have put on his list of ten year goals. The 24 year old me would have thought that the 34 year old me had it made. What else could I possibly want? What further need could there be for goals or plans?
However, human nature is a funny thing. How things look from the outside are definitely not how they look on the inside. How “success” looks from one vantage point is different from another, especially if you’ve reached some of the goals you set for yourself a few years back. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that at 34, I found that I had new goals. I was a different person than the one who had set those ten year goals at age 24. I had a family. I had learned a lot about the music business, about what I wanted out of life, and about which parts of being a producer, engineer, and songwriter that I liked, and which parts not so much. It was time to set new goals and make new plans.
What I’ve learned since then is that setting goals and making plans is actually a continuous process that is constantly under revision. Everyone needs to set aside time to do some “big thinking” about where they are headed, what they want, and how they intend to get there. Honest thinking. Tough thinking. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, but it has to be done. This is a process that never stops. I’m still trying to figure out where I’m headed and what I want to be doing in two years, five years, ten years.
And just as it is necessary to set goals and make plans, it is just as critical to know when to say “I don’t want to do that any more,” or “that’s probably not a realistic option for me any more.” That’s the tough part. While it’s admirable to keep plugging away at your original goal, there is no shame at deciding that, for whatever reason, you no longer want to pursue that direction. For myself, I originally wanted to front a band. I was a talented guitarist and songwriter. It was difficult to hear that I didn’t have the voice or the looks, but I eventually took that information to heart and revised my goals and plans, and used my talent to further my career the best way I could. It ended up working out for me, but it could have been a disaster if I hadn’t had the ability to do the hard thinking and planning necessary to keep moving forward.
So keep the wheels turning in your head. Spend some time each week thinking about what you’ve been doing, and where you’re headed, and whether it’s still all working for you. If everything’s chugging along, that’s great. But remember, you can always change direction and make a new plan. It’s all good, just as long as you’re setting goals, making plans, and still in the game.