Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dreaming Big: A Strategy for Starting Small

The other day, I created a Google Form to solicit information for our Staff Directory. I asked the basic questions (name, birthday, address, phone number, etc.) but then decided to include more personal questions, since we're all new to the organization. I asked "What's something no one would ever suspect about you?" (My answer involved something about thinking I had prostate cancer when I was in the 7th grade.). I also asked the standard, "What are three adjectives that describe you?" One of my adjectives was "willing to dream big and do something about it." 

It was interesting to me that my adjectives have changed over the years. In college, one of my adjectives was always "cerebral." Now I consider myself more practical than cerebral, although I am still over-analytical. 

Also, I feel like I've become a dreamer/doer just in the last decade. I think part of this can be attributed to learning more about setting and achieving big goals, primarily through my work with Teach For America, and the strategies I learned as a teacher using Understanding by Design. I also think I picked up a lot of time management and personal organization techniques over the years that have really helped me be more effective. 

It wasn't until I read a snippet in O Magazine the other week that I realized there might be another reason I now feel more and more comfortable dreaming big. The snippet talked about the importance of setting and achieving small goals, in order to increase your confidence. It's such a simple--yet revolutionary--strategy. When I look back on it, I realized that I totally practiced on smaller goals (for an entire decade!) before I felt comfortable undertaking larger goals, like starting Austin's first public Montessori school

For example, in 2004, I put together an elaborate superhero costume for Halloween. My friend Jamie and I made and passed out lunches for homeless people and then campaigned for a democratic congressman. We had so much fun planning and executing that experience!

Then in 2005, I planned a big birthday party for myself. It involved pulling together a planning committee (seriously!). I made an agenda for our meeting and everything. We had t-shirts printed, I made a Random Acts of Kindness scavenger hunt, we had two live bands play, and we passed out CDs with music related to kindness.

Later that year, I planned and saved for a year-long sabbatical, so I could travel to India, take classes at a folk art school, and learn how to make hammocks and tofu at an intentional community.

I'm realizing now that each of these goals helped me build my confidence. It helped me trust that I could set a goal for myself, backwards-plan all the smaller steps needed to reach the goal, and then work relentlessly to achieve the goal.

It's not magic at all. Like anything, it's practice, practice, practice.

P.S. Meghan, I'm still waiting to hear an update about your dreaming and scheming. With chart paper, no less!

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Kelsey said...

what a great reflection! You're so right - achieving big things isn't a talent you're born with, you work up to it. Just like you couldn't sit down and just write an awesome novel or run a marathon without some training. As I've been setting and achieving monthly and yearly goals I'm encouraged by knowing that I CAN do something if I put my mind to it. You're an inspiration Sara!

Meghan - yes, can't wait to hear more! :)

Shawn said...

I would love to learn more about that birthday party - sounds like it was so much fun and had a larger meaning behind it. The acts of kindness idea is something I love and I'd love to hear more about it!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Shawn!

Here's a link to a little more information about it...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I SO needed this. I am at a stage personally and financially where I can't necessarily go out and change the world. But I started running, yoga, signing up for volunteer things and other small activities/challenges to force myself to try new things and get out there. Some days I have to remind myself that all the little things ARE making me better for when I'm ready to tackle the big stuff. I love this idea and it motivates me to keep going!!

- R

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