All confusion comes from lack of clarity.
Confusion itself doesn’t present a threat, or give us pain, necessarily, but it does make us aware of potential pain.
Complexity is fine. Avoiding complexity just because and idolizing simplicity just because isn’t wise; it’s naïve.
There’s nothing truly simple in the universe we inhabit.
We keep trying to distill complex things to their simplest essence, and the damned things erupt into more complexity. We find, in our quest for simplicity, that we can go infinitely outward or infinitely inward, and find ever unfolding layers and levels and patterns and overlaps and pieces and connections and dependencies and always movement, always change.
The quest for simplicity is a futile one, if we’re honest.
Also, if we’re honest, we don’t really want simplicity, if by simplicity we mean fewer options.
What we want is clarity: clarity lets us scan all the options, and find the few that are important right now. Clarity lets us wade through the noise and hear the signal.
The problem isn’t too much noise.
The problem is that, without clarity, we don’t recognize the signal when we hear it. We don’t know what we want, what we’re after, so we can’t find it. It may be right in front of us (usually it is). But until we have clarity, we can’t tune in. We’re twirling the dial, hearing the static, hearing the noise, and trying to define the signal while we search for it.
It’s like trying to tune a flute while you’re playing the flute. You can’t do it. The nature of the first activity—tuning—necessarily interrupts the other activity.
It’s the same when we try to find the signal while we’re still figuring out what the signal is. Until you know what you’re listening for, how do you know when you hear it?
I’ve worked with many clients who don’t quite know what they want from their content marketing.
They know they need content. They know they’re supposed to be creating it, lots of it. They know they’re supposed to market with content, somehow? Right? And they know that the content should be related to their business, and helpful to their customers, and, you know, not crap.
They usually have a content goal like
- increase website traffic by X%
- increase conversion rate by Z%
- get better search rankings for XYZ keywords/topics
- get more list subscribers
- make more sales
- increase readership
- establish expertisein XYZ topic/area
- get backlinks.
All of those things are fine, and can be specific, measurable, achievable. In other words, they can fit the “right definition” of a SMART goal.
But that doesn’t mean there’s clarity.
Clarity is the WHY that supports your goals.
Clarity gives you the reason to keep working toward your goal when the initial motivation’s gone, your energy is low, and you keep hitting obstacles.
If you don’t have clarity, you’ll start second guessing your goals. You might second guess them even with clarity. But having clarity will bring you back, help you remember WHY the goal matters to you.
If it doesn’t matter to you, why put yourself through pain to achieve it?
And let’s be honest: reaching a goal—any worthy goal— will bring some pain into your life. A worthy goal is one that stretches you, pushes you, expands your reality in some way. In order to reach the goal, you have to become more than you are now. You have to venture into unknown territory. You have to change something about yourself, your choices, and/or your behaviors to reach new places, to create new results. There’s going to be some pain involved.
This is true of both personal and professional goals.
Goals aren’t a good starting point.
Goals are what you define after you sit still and quiet long enough to get clarity, to answer your own question: WHY?
WHY am I putting effort into this area? WHY do I want to change what’s happening? WHY do I want different results? WHY do I want something other than what I already have?
One WHY leads to another WHY which leads to another WHY. It’s a trail that takes some time to follow.
Don’t rush it.
If you walk the clarity trail long enough, you may find a shortcut. No, not a shortcut to clarity, but a shortcut to getting whatever it is you really want.
Sometimes the goals are distractions. Sometimes they’re goals that sound good, look good, and make us feel good. We pick goals we can justify, goals that make us feel more like the kind of people we want to be.
That’s all well and good if the goals line up with what we’re really after, with the big WHY underlying all our choices and actions. If the goals don’t line up, though, we’re either wasting our time or … Well, we’re wasting our time.
We may burn out before reaching the goal because deep down we know it doesn’t really matter. Or we may reach the goal because we’re good at self-discipline, but reaching the goal won’t give us what we want, sooo… it still doesn’t really matter.
I don’t know about you, but I do not like wasting my time. I do not like spending my energy on meaningless pursuits, no matter how good they sound or how much my ego lights up at the idea of having a new “braggable” achievement.
Clarity is hard to get to because it requires gut-level, ego-free, childlike honesty.
We have all these internal filters that keep us from operating in that kind of honesty. Oh, we’re honest people, mostly. I’m as honest with you as I can be. The limit of my honesty with you is this: how honest am I being with myself?
I can’t be honest with you about something when I’m refusing to be honest with myself about it.
Honesty with self is the real challenge. Clarity requires some good old-fashioned sit-still-and-think time because most of us are not in the habit of being truly freely perfectly unfiltered and honest with ourselves.
So that’s our challenge. It’s a tough one for those of us who value things like efficiency and productivity and who are Type-A overachievers. (Hands up! I see you.)
Let’s remember that effectiveness is as important as efficiency. Let’s take time to be still. Let’s give ourselves time and space to get to the why, the underlying answer, the real motivation.
Clarity first. Goals second. Action third.
Annie Mueller is a writer, reader, seeker of growth, and transplant to Puerto Rico, where she lives with her best friend and their four children. Her crash course in self-discovery came from experiencing job loss, financial devastation, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and major surgery—all in less than a year. She writes about creativity, personal growth, and spirituality; runs Prolifica, a content management consultancy for small teams and solo professionals; and sends out a popular weekly newsletter about feelings and freelancing. You can find more of her work on her website.
Image courtesy of Anastasia Shuraeva.