Setting Personal Goals

Setting Personal Goals

“Begin With the End In Mind”
The Second of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

(Thank you, Stephen, for reminding me of the glaringly obvious)

setting goalsI hate the word “goals” for a couple of reasons. First, I associate it with sales and I think we’ve established how I feel about selling. I was introduced to the concept of setting personal goals as a 26-year-old Volkswagen salesman. It was presented as some kind of sacred cow; the way to fame, fortune and riches. To me it was like a gun at the back of my head, a sword of Damocles dangling precariously over my chest, ready to impale me soon as I missed the sacred mark. The second reason I hate setting personal goals is that if indeed the sword falls you’ve failed, and who likes to fail? “It’s better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all”; that’s your opinion.

On the other hand I’ve been setting goals all my life, just not calling it that. Setting goals can also be called things like trying to paint a guitar, shopping for a house or attempting to gain the attention of someone of the opposite sex. I’ve attempted and successfully achieved all and in each case I followed a procedure that began with envisioning an end result then figuring out the sequence of steps I’d need to take in order to achieve that goa…uhm, end result. For example, here’s how I came by my beloved sunburst Fender Precision bass (you didn’t think I’d use the ‘opposite sex’ thing as a metaphor, did you?).

setting personal goals

Me on my painted ’82 Harley.

Lessons Learned From Painting Guitars

Some of us can’t leave well enough alone. We look at a perfectly good incarnation of a designer’s vision and see beyond the safe waters of what it is and into the turbulence of what it could be. Harleys are a great example of this. I bought my first in April of 1982 (long before they’d shaken their bad-boy image) and before the end of summer I’d removed the tanks and fenders and had it repainted. It was still mostly the designer’s vision but it was now unique, different from the thousands of mass produced clones; it was mine!

I fell victim to the same affliction several years ago with guitars. Almost any guitar player will tell you of the one they pulled off the wall and knew that it would never return to its undistinguished place amongst its inferior peers. Mine was a 2000 Fender Precision bass. It was light, resonant and played like a dream. I knew we were meant for each other before I even fully cradled it. There was only one problem—I hated the color. It was a natural finish, glossy polyurethane over a beautifully grained two-piece ash body. It looked very 70’s, a time that Fender aficionados consider to be a dark time in the company’s history due to poor workmanship. And of course there was disco, too.

setting personal goals

My sunburst P-Bass.

I thought I’d get over the color thing but just like my Harley the bass was a clone. So I decided to paint it. Internet research led me to a bountiful source of information on how to paint a Fender bass in pretty much the same manner of the masters of old, before the EPA declared lacquer a killer of humans. I’d decided on a sunburst, where an amber tint in the middle allows the grain to show, then fades into a darker and darker finish as you reach the edges. I was cautioned that it was folly to make your first attempt at a refinish a sunburst but it was too late to turn back, I’d already created a picture of the classic finish in my mind.

I gathered together my supplies, cut a template for the burst and headed for the barn to begin creating my masterpiece. I sprayed the amber tint first; it came out fine so I shot a couple coats of clear lacquer to lock it in place. Wet paint is a dust magnet so you can imagine the challenges I faced in a barn. But my Internet instructor told me to let it dry and sand out the imperfections. I waited a couple of hours, hit the dust particles with sandpaper and promptly sanded through my amber tint. What to do? I stripped the body and started over.

My second attempt got me as far as shooting the darker burst but my airbrush sputtered and deposited globs of brown paint where it hadn’t been invited. So I stripped it and started over. And then I screwed it up again. Finally, after my fourth attempt, the guitar body looked like what I’d envisioned several weeks ago when I started. I shot 15 coats of clear lacquer over a period of three weeks stopping numerous times to sand out drips, runs, dust and an occasional bug. But I knew that despite my many errors I was learning and getting closer to my bass guitar.

Once the appropriate number of clear coats are down the sanding begins. At this stage the paint texture is similar to that of an orange, hence the term “orange peel”. I flattened the irregularities of the surface with #600 grit and proceeded getting the surface smoother and smoother using progressively less abrasive grits of wet-dry sandpaper up to #2000. I spent many hours doing this and would guess that I did nearly 10,000 strokes on my way to creating my special bass. Once the sanding was finished I moved on to three different degrees of polishing compounds, all rubbed by hand. And then one day it was done. I attached the neck, wired the electronics, put on the strings and set in its stand so I could just step back and look at the finished product. I’d seen it a thousand times before in my mind’s eye but it looked even better now than I’d imagined.

I’ve painted several guitars and basses since then and each time the procedure was the same.

setting personal goalsFirst, I’d envision the guitar in my mind. I’d see how it looked and I’d feel the pride of accomplishment that would be mine when it was done. I’d hear my friends’ compliments and see myself holding and playing the instrument. It’s never been a “when I’m done” kind of thing, it was always as if I was enjoying these feelings right now. With each guitar there were mistakes that had to be corrected causing me additional work and delaying the time of completion. But I never got frustrated and I never felt like any of it was work. My wife has been asking me to sand and refinish the top of her Aunt Carol’s old dresser for 30 years and I just can’t bring my self to do it. All that sanding would be work, and I have enough things to work on around the house as it is. But 10,000 strokes with sandpaper on a guitar I’ve dreamed of; nope, that’s not work, it’s fun!

Building guitars has taught me this:

…if I can clearly define and envision an end, if I can propel myself forward towards my goal by experiencing the feelings right now that will be mine when the goal is accomplished, I will achieve it. And when I encounter the inevitable problems and frustrations I will move ahead as I will not be able to abandon the joyous feelings I’ve experienced so many times already. The process of achieving my goals will require effort and learning new skills but none of this will feel like work as it will be a labor of love. Painting guitars has reminded me that everything I’ve accomplished in my life, both good and bad, started as a thought, a tiny seed in my mind, and through my attention, imagination and feeling was nurtured into a very real thing.

The Cliff’s Notes version of goal setting is contained in the first sentence of the last paragraph:

1) Define your goal
2) Envision it: make pictures on paper and in your mind
3) Feel it: start enjoying the feelings you desire right now! Daydream, fantasize and pretend!


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