When it comes to my fiber artwork, I never know if the stuff I create is art, craft, or that four letter word that starts with C-R-A. Pretty much, I feel the same way about my writing. When I submitted my third book to my publisher I had two disparate visions playing in my head. The first found everyone in the publisher’s office running around, bumping into and bouncing off each other like the Three Stooges, as they rushed to get my amazing project signed up for their catalog. The other image found them holding their heads and moaning, unable to figure out why I dared submit such C-R-A to them in the first place. The point I am making here is that it is often difficult to evaluate our own work.
I have a long history with this problem. When I was a child, my parents did not require all A’s from me, they just said, “Do your best.” That confused me. If I studied for two hours, I wondered about studying for three. If I studied for three, the possibility of four hours came into view. Finally, I figured out that the only way to know that I did my best was if I did everyone’s best and got myself to the tippy top of the class.
Being exactly this neurotic, I was very interested in a class I took in college in the 1970s. I am pretty sure it was called Social Studies for the Elementary School Teacher and that the professor was Doris Trojak. (It does not seem Google-able at this point in time.) If I am recalling correctly, she wrote our textbook and the focus of her research – and our semester – was on behavioral objectives. Simply put, her goal was to determine an objective/measurable way to evaluate students’ work. Of course, it is easy to be objective about grading if all tests are multiple choice or true/false, but not all school work can be measured in that way. For example, how do you objectively grade a book report?
Not only did Doris Trojak teach us how to do this for our future classrooms, but she used this system to evaluate our work in her class. Thus, she gave us five projects for the semester. If you wanted an A, you had to do all five. If you wanted a B, you did four, and so on. Yowza! An objective way to evaluate my work, I loved it!
Here’s where behavioral objectives come in handy in real life. Pretend you are in a managerial role at work and need to evaluate the performance of your sales team. It is very easy to create an objective list that says how much new business an employee needs to bring in monthly in order to get the desired percent pay increase for the coming year. The more business you bring in, the more your raise. Other employees cannot complain about an imbalance in raises because they control their own destiny in this regard. Great, right?! All subjectivity is gone. No one can accuse the boss of favoritism.
But behavioral objectives can work for us in our personal lives too. If we set out to lose weight or to start a business or to improve our relationship with a certain relative, it is helpful to write down at the start what success will look like. It’s like being an archer, shooting arrows into a field does us no good, we have to have a target to hit. And what do we do when we hit the target? We reward ourselves for a job well done. An “A” on a report card always has and always will feel good. Whatever your grown-up version of an A is, give yourself one. You earned it!
Another reason to specifically set your goal at the start, is that it is very easy to keep moving the goalpost and to never celebrate your success. If dieting is on your agenda, you may think at the start that losing five pounds would be great, but once you lose it, losing another five pounds might sound more wonderful. And it is! But that’s your next goal. Before you move on to it, you need to celebrate this success.
For me as a quilt maker, it doesn’t really matter if my work is art or craft. It is what it is, amen. But I need to give myself a measurable goal. For instance, when I am in quilt making mode, I will make four quilted wall-hangings per year. It is very easy to count to four, so I will know if a celebration is in order. Where things get dicey for self-congratulations is that new quilts become new products on my Etsy shop, as I print images of the quilt on t-shirts, mugs, and the like. I have no control over people buying my product and I often confuse a product’s success with my own. A written goal, “I will make four quilted wall-hangings per year” helps alleviate this problem. By the way, trying to sell my art is a different goal with its own behavioral objectives.
Measuring success as a writer is equally difficult because it is near impossible to get anything into print. BUT, if my goal is to write two hours a day, seven days a week, I can easily know when it’s time to celebrate my success. Getting my work in print by sending queries to editors and publishers is a different goal for a different day.
I have long felt that a problem in adulthood is NOT getting report cards, not getting someone else’s seal of approval on my work. But of course, a major goal in “adulting” is to be able to label yourself a success – on your own terms. Behavioral objects will clearly delineate when your goal has been achieved – and when it’s time to give yourself all A’s.