James Clear’s Atomic Habits is a wildly successful book – and by all accounts, a very good one.
Has it been successful just because it’s very good? No. That’s an essential part of it, but it wouldn’t have hit the New York Times best seller list and sold over a million copies if he hadn’t:
- Spent almost three years writing it
- Spent half a year away from home promoting it
- Come up with over 300 possible titles for it
- Appeared on over 150 podcasts talking about it
For me, this is a valuable reminder about the importance of setting the right goals.
For a writer, “have a New York Times best seller” is the type of goal that’s easy to set because hey – isn’t a best seller what every writer should aspire to? It’s also a universal marker of external validation that “proves” you’re at the top of your game.
But is it the right goal? That depends: are you willing to do everything it takes other than just the writing to have a fighting chance of achieving it? Do you have the stomach to compete against people like James who (as well as being extremely talented) are willing to pour years of their life into making sure they beat you?
For some people, it’s absolutely the right goal. For me, it’s not. My goal isn’t to have a best seller: it’s to write about as many interesting things as I can, and to spend as little time promoting the writing as I can get away with.
This makes me the authorial equivalent of Woody Allen: a movie every year without fail, filmed as quickly as possible, minimal promotion, and such a volume of output that you’re almost guaranteed the odd hit purely by the law of averages.
Neither goal is right or wrong – but James wouldn’t be fulfilled by pursuing my goal, and I’d be unhappy pursuing his.
You might not aspire to write a book, but the same applies to any endeavour: pick a goal that’s right for you, not one that “sounds good” or is right for someone else.
The goal you choose will dictate how you spend your time and how you measure your success, so take care to pick it wisely.