Setting goals in an uncertain world

This past week, several musicians asked about setting goals in an uncertain world.

It’s no wonder these questions came up since many musicians are struggling in this “limbo” period (between COVID, the economy, and social unrest). We’re all a bit unclear about how to invest time, energy, and resources towards an unknown future.

So here’s what I’d suggest: it’s a bit of counterintuitive advice for musicians . . .


First, do some dreaming

I find that most freelance musicians are used to thinking of this month, this quarter, or this season only. We focus on the immediate tasks in front of us. The grant proposal that’s due next week or the recording session at the end of the month. Inevitably, we fall into short-term thinking.

And since so much of freelance work depends on meeting other people’s immediate needs, we end up chasing opportunities. And we rarely pause to consider what it is WE want.

So at a time when gigs are few and far between, it’s important to consider where you are headed and what is it you most want to create.

Do this: take a 15 minute meeting with yourself. Sit down with a notebook and pen in a quiet, undistracted space. And imagine three years from today. Ask yourself what ambitious project you most want to have completed by then. A project that YOU initiate and either lead or co-lead.

So these aren’t simply opportunities you apply for that someone else has created for you. This is about you taking charge.


Whatever it is, write it down

I find it’s a relief to get dreams down on paper. It feels clean and honest to admit that, yes, I DO want to make this happen.

And Yes, it IS daunting, but damn it, if I don’t try I’m going to die one hell of a disappointed person. I’ll be disappointed in myself if I don’t give this a real shot.

Once I have a clear goal for three years from now then I flesh the project out a bit on paper, I start to see what’s involved. Maybe it’s a team of collaborators I need, or a partnering organization, or some funding.

Instead of getting overwhelmed and giving up, I just think backwards from the three year goal. Think about what you would need to have in place two years from now in order to set yourself up to complete the goal. Then think what you’d need to have accomplished one year from now, 6 months from now, one month, and one week from today.


Break your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (your BHAG) down into manageable pieces

For example, let’s say that three years from today you want to have launched a summer chamber music series with your own ensemble and friends—one that includes coaching adult amateur players. So what should you have done two years from now to set yourself up for success? Maybe you will have done a series of chamber music weekend trainings with joint faculty and student concerts as beta versions of the series. And then one year from today you would have done a series of online and outdoor concerts plus coached several adult chamber ensembles in separate online master classes.

Setting goals in an uncertain world can feel daunting. The solution is to take it one step at a time. The beauty of having a series of smaller benchmarking goals is it helps you focus on what needs to be done this month and this week.

For instance, you might say to yourself, “I’m going to need to find collaborators for this,” or “I’m going to need raise money to pay the rest of the faculty.” And “I’ll need to do some research and improve my networking, too.”

You can break these tasks down into small do-able actions steps for this week. Maybe it’s a key phone call or email or reaching out to a mentor. And if you’re not sure what the next “right” action is, just take your best guess.


The main point is to get started

Most projects begin when a musician dares to tell her friends and colleagues about her goal. Once she does, she can start getting ideas and feedback, plus referrals to mentors and resources.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Or to let yourself get overwhelmed. But as my business coach Dallas Travers says, “Overwhelm is a choice.”

You can choose to set goals even in these uncertain times and you can get yourself moving toward your better future.

Getting mentoring and accountability through coaching can be a huge help. Just think what’s possible if you set the intention and follow through each week completing three concrete tasks toward your goal.


The time to start is now.

I can guarantee you that there’s a beta version of your project that you could bring to fruition in the next six months. Wouldn’t it feel great to be that much closer to achieving your three year goal?

If you’re curious about getting expert coaching to help you with setting reaching your goals, find the details here.

If you want to sample expert music career coaching, join our next hot-seat coaching session! Get on the e-list here, so you get the notification, plus the weekly newsletter of music career tips and inspiration.

Looking forward,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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