The Passport Photo Allegory

I’ve been an alumni for about three months now (sorry, I just love saying it so much. I paid my dues and now I’m going to brag about it for the rest of my life. If I’m clever, I can finesse it so I won’t have to do anything noteworthy anymore and just coast off the success of graduating). In my three months of alumni-ship, I’ve thought a lot about self-motivation and keeping yourself in check post-college.

It’s hard because in college, you spend so much time reading, writing, studying, learning, and discussing, but once you graduate, unless you have some sort of system or community of people that allows you to keep up with the latest research or a book club, or what have you, you really lose that constant flow of knowledge and that network of likeminded colleagues. What do you do then? How do you stay informed and continue to share with your peers your perspective on the world and its contents?

I didn’t want to be one of those people who never reads a book after they graduate college. (Come on, though; I just wrote a book; there’s no way I could not read a book the rest of my life, but you catch my drift.) I saw the post-grad lethargy a mile away and I wanted to combat it immediately by, basically, setting up goals and deadlines for myself.

I think goals are really important to becoming a better person. Goals are something easy for each person to set for themselves and it gives them a project or an objective to focus on and direct their energy. By the time they’ve completed the goal, they are somehow better for having gone through the experience. Well, assuming they have a good attitude about it, anyway.

Goals scan be anything—as big or small as anyone wants. Go for a walk once a week. Buy a car. Write a poem. Cook dinner five out of seven week nights. Hike the Appalachian trail. See Peru. It’s all up to you.

The goal-setting is the fun part. You get to play with your imagination and your future. What is something you’ve always wanted to do but have never done, have always held yourself back from? Make it a goal! Don’t let yourself become complacent about your life. You are the only person stopping yourself by putting nonexistent limits on your life. Think about free will.

Admittedly though, I have made plenty of goals these few months that I have slipped up on. Like, in the beginning of January, I was going to apply to get my passport and two months later, I still have not gone to Walgreens for the 5-minute and 2-dollar process of getting a passport photo taken. All I need to do is sit and smile! And I drive past Walgreens all the time. In fact, I have even been inside Walgreens multiple times these months and still have not gotten my passport photo taken. What’s stopping me? It’s such a simple goal and I’ve had so many opportunities to easily knock it out.

I realized it was because I had let getting my passport photo become “something that doesn’t get done.”

The first time I planned to get my passport photo taken, I probably didn’t get around to it because “I didn’t feel like it” by the time I had the chance. So I decided to do it again some other time, at some non-specific random future time.

The next time I popped up and decided to get it done, but then fell through with it (probably again “because I didn’t feel like it” AKA I didn’t want to put in the effort) is when it became sort of a pattern of not doing it.

So I began to look at getting my passport photo as a task that doesn’t get done. And because it happened again and again, I grew complacent about it and accepted that, if I had a list of tasks for the day, getting my passport photo taken would probably be the item that got put off for later. I came to expect that I wouldn’t get around to it. It became “something that doesn’t get done.”

It’s like when I was in college. My last semester, I had a few big projects that I was supposed to be working on throughout the semester, but I would always have to put them off because smaller projects would come up that were due sooner. Those big projects easily became “things I didn’t get around to” and sure enough, I ended up having to face the music because I’d put it off and put it off and put it off. There was also this little thing called Time that was in short supply, but still.

Don’t make something a goal if you know you are not going to get around to it that day. If you know you’re working a twelve hour shift, don’t plan to go to the gym afterwards if you know you’re going to be tired as hell after work and fall on the couch instead. Rather, plan to go to the gym the next day. If you plan to go to the gym on your busy day and end up not doing it, then going to the gym has already become something that gets put off, and that changes the way you perceive the gym and our expectations for yourself, no matter how justified you are for skipping something as horrible as exercise after a long day.

Now, this doesn’t really apply if you are already an avid gym member and that’s the first day you skipped in like two years. But for people starting off, it’s all about setting up routine—getting yourself used to following through with your goals.

I also want to give an example of setting goals that are too big and vague that they don’t get done either. Don’t make your goal “Move to Iceland” and try to make it happen by willing it so. Moving to Iceland is going to involve a few smaller steps along the way, so while moving to Iceland can be the ultimate goal, the dream that rallies you to push through the work day, etc, but for practical purposes, break that down! Step one could be “save $2,000.” That’s tangible, it’s something that’s gonna get you closer to that big goal without overwhelming you. I mean, unless you have no money and a lot of bills, but it’s not about how fast you achieve your goal, it’s about the experience of getting there and learning your incredible abilities.

So this is what I have been pondering in my sometimes lazy days since graduation. How to not let some of my goals (very simple, easy goals) become things that don’t get done. For a long time, that’s how writing my novel was for me. In fact, my whole life, writing a novel was something I wanted to do but just never saw through. I would speak about it that way, too. “I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I just can’t,” I’d tell people—until I wrote a novel.

Break that cycle of self-limitation, and challenge yourself to seize your day. You got this!

And what about the passport photo? Well, this will be my challenge to myself. Check back next week to hear if I practice what I preach…

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