Archer’s Analogy to Goal Setting

As a rookie to the independent freelance community, I’ve learned very quickly in my first 90 days that my skills are only as good as my last project. The demand to keep up with the work while honing existing skills can be daunting not to mention learning new skills. To alleviate my anxiety I founded the NuggetHead University – I’m the only student. Basically, it’s goal setting around skills: I want to learn <insert skill> by <insert date>. To better explain, let’s look at an analogy from an archer’s perspective.

Think of a target. An archer’s target. Let’s imagine you’ve never shot an arrow from a bow yet you’re willing to give it a go. Now imagine the target resting on a stand at shoulder height just 10 yards out in front of you. Easy enough. You draw back your bow, select an arrow from the quiver, notch it, take aim, release! Miss!

This sucks! This sport is stupid. I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough to pull back and hold it steady before I release and that’s why I missed.

Now, re-read the above quote again but think of your craft, your skills, or your job. What do you hear now? I hear excuses. An excuse spoken is an opportunity for action!

Let’s go back out to the archer’s field. Go again. This time think what didn’t work the last time and make an adjustment. Bow in hand, select an arrow from the quiver, notch it, release. Hit!

What just happened? You didn’t quit. You pushed forward. It was a hit. It may have only been on the edge, but it’s still a hit. Don’t expect a bullseye when you haven’t earned it yet. Now, keep shooting arrows at your target learning more from the arrow before. You get stronger. Your aim is steadier. Your release is as smooth as a blink. Your hits get closer to the center. Eventually you hit the bullseye consistently as if it were as easy as breathing. You’ve mastered that target.

Now what?

Move the target. Push it out to 20 yards. Take aim. Release. Hit. Not a bullseye, but still a hit. I’m stronger. I have better release so why didn’t I hit the bullseye? There are new skills to learn. You have to adjust your angle slightly higher to compensate for the arc the arrow travels. Aim again. Bullseye! Shoot again. Not quite a bullseye but close – why not? There’s a crosswind. A new skill is needed. Not only the adjustment in angle but now you need to counter your aim to also adjust for the crosswind. Aim again. Adjust for the angle and crosswind. Shoot. Bullseye!

Honing your craft is as much about the analogy of learning how to shoot an arrow at a target. Once you master one distance (skill), move the target out farther and learn new skills to hit it. Keep pushing the target out learning more and more about the sport (your craft).

As a life-long sketcher of doodles and an elearning developer, there were many times where I had to spend a lot longer at one distance before I could advance the target. There are still many targets down range that I want to take a shot at, but I’m not ready…yet. Being good at many skills is good; being great at one or two skills is better. You can be great at as many skills as you want, however it’s a good idea to be patient and practice the distance (skill) you’re on and master it before learning more. Some people can shoot at and practice at multiple distances at one time. If that’s you then go for it! I can handle about two or three at a time. If I add more I get overwhelmed and the quality of the output suffers (missing the bullseye).

The point (no pun intended) is to have a target. Some target. If you don’t have a target how do you know when you missed it? Better yet, how do you know when you’ve hit it? Your aim is the bullseye. Set the target, take aim, practice until you’ve mastered that distance.

Good luck, be patient, and don’t shoot your eye out!


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  1. Daniel says

    Glad you wrote this, Kevin. And dig the reference to Jean Shepherds In God We Trust: All Other Pay Cash (a.k.a The Christmas Story). In a similar fashion, every week I focus on something: this week, getting comfortable with Storyline’s basic features, next week, start revamping my website, etc, etc.

  2. Brent Schlenker says

    Hi Kevin! Great analogy. At the risk of sounding negative, I gravitated towards the first part of the quote, “This sucks!” But I hear more people pointing at themselves and saying “I suck!”.  When my kids come to me and say they don’t want to do something with the standard, “No. I suck at that!” I have a pretty standard response.  1) Do you WANT to do that (whatever it is)? The answer is usually, “Well, yes. But I suck at it.” and that leads to 2) Embrace the suck! 
    Seriously, everyone at some point “sucked” at what they are now good at.  So, since you can’t go around sucking you have no choice but to embrace it and push yourself through it.  
    Good stuff! Thanks for reminding to embrace sucking at things I want to some day be good at :)

    • says

      Hey Brent! “Embrace the Suck!” LOVE it. Imma do a follow-up post with that very title (credit to you of course) in a couple months. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns out here and there’s still plenty of ‘suck’ to deal with. Still gotta push through, though.

  3. says

    Love the line: “Don’t expect a bullseye when you haven’t earned it yet.” …and when you combine that necessary practice with having targets (setting goals), it’s a recipe for success. Great post.

  4. says

    Really great post Kevin! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bruce Lee said, I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. Catch you later! ~mojo

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