We begin with dreams.
When we are looking into a hazy future and our minds plumb the depths of the “what ifs”, we dream. Dreams are not bound by the constraints of practicality. Dreams are not limited to the possible or permissible. Dreams are flights of fancy where anything can happen. Dreams motivate and inspire us. Dreams drive us to believe that the improbable is very possible and push us to seek difficult accomplishments. Dreams are golden light and haunting music.
Dreams are also imprecise. They are impractical. They often lack clarity and depth. Dreams do not guide us toward realization, put place a beacon on a far-off hill that beckons to us no matter the stones and thorns that bar our path.
When the time comes, then, to try to realize our dreams we must then begin to speak of them as goals. We can say “I have a dream . . . and these are the goals of that dream.” Goals allow us to shape our dreams and make them realistic. Goals allow us to define our dreams in terms of the steps we must take to reach our “shining city upon a hill.” Until we put goals to our dreams they remain far off, more a lovely vision than a place we think we shall some day reach.
We can say that our dream is for the citizens of Cascadia to control our own destiny, and then we must speak of the actual goals. Gaining some measure—and ultimately it must be a great measure—of political power, is a goal that will let us move toward our dream, but even that goal is too broad. Narrow it down! Make it specific! Starting and sustaining a conversation is a goal that will move us towards that dream. Forcing our opponents into our narrative is a goal that leads us towards that dream.
Before we can enunciate our goals we must define a common framework of language for talking about and setting goals. What is the nature of a goal? What are the characteristics of a goal?
A goal must be SPECIFIC. We must be able to articulate and agree upon the exact nature of the goal. Achieve a free Cascadia? Narrower. Work together as a region? Narrower. Get our local governments on our side? Narrower! Elect public officials on our ticket? You’re starting to get it but narrower! Elect our candidate to this specific office in this specific election? Now we’re getting there.
A goal must be measurable. We must be able to say, “this is how we can see that our goal has been achieved—these are the real things that can be demonstrated to show that our goal has been achieved.” A key thing in this part of defining a goal is that you must be able to say from the outset what the measurable result will be. Coming along later and declaring victory is useless.
A goal must be achievable. If our goal cannot be achieved it is not a goal, it’s just a dream. You can say to yourself: “my goal is to learn to fly just by flapping my arms.” Well, that’s not a goal, that’s just a dream. But if you say: “my goal is to learn to fly an airplane,” that’s an achievable goal. If you can’t, honestly say, that your goal is achievable then you need to narrow it down further; make it more specific.
A goal must be relevant. If the goal is not relevant to your larger dream then what’s the point? Learn to cut out the tangential and the unimportant. Focus your energies, time, and resources only on that which moves your goal forward. If you see something else that you believe is important then set a whole new goal, don’t try to wrap it into one that already exists.
A goal must be timely. If you’ve got a goal that doesn’t have some specific timeframe attached to it then it’s just in a position to go on forever, never ceasing, never stopping, never being achieved. If your goal is so nebulous that you can’t set a timeframe, then it has already failed the test of being specific. Narrow it down!
These five points are what is known as S.M.A.R.T. Goals. As a fellow dreamer I understand how this can feel awfully restrictive and mechanical. I get that it lacks romance. I wish that all it took was a bit of brilliant oratory for the dominoes to start falling. The reality is, though, that anything in life worth having, worth achieving, takes hard work and dedication. What S.M.A.R.T. Goals do is they give us a framework for speaking the same language and working together in order to make real things happen. So if we’re serious about reaching the dream of Cascadia it’s time to start talking about the goals that will bring us there. Then, with the dream in our hearts and pragmatism in our minds we can set about achieving our nation.