I passed some drive time a few days ago listening to the audio version of Creative Quest by Questlove. This slice is about one idea that stuck with me.
Questlove credits fellow musician David Byrne with inspiring in him this counter-intuitive stance toward the future: Rather than define goals focusing on what one seeks to achieve or aims to become, articulate instead what one doesn't want. It's a way to narrow options and avoid missteps without needlessly foreclosing possibilities. Most people dislike being pigeonholed, but purposefully identifying for ourselves boxes in which we don't want to be put can create useful, still-spacious guardrails.
For example: "I don't want to be a teacher who feels suffocated by piles of grading." Reminding myself about that priority influences other decisions and course corrections. While I'm never completely free of the occupational hazard of responding to student work, there are many -- what I consider creative -- ways to conduct this business that avoid crushing metaphorical weight.
What if I phrased that sentiment in the affirmative? "I want to be a teacher who leaves schoolwork at school." (Decide for yourself if that's the same sentiment or an adjacent one...) That goal might get me to the same place as the first one, but I perceive its guardrails squeezing more tightly. The mindset behind it feels somehow parsimonious, demanding deprivations that the negative vision sidesteps or at least manages to elide.
Or maybe the Byrne/Questlove approach is just better aligned with my inner defensive pessimist who favors self-effacement over self-promotion.