It’s not that long since I wrote a previous post about missing targets, to talk about the lesser importance of missing a specific deadline or target when compared to the much greater importance of developing and maintaining a regular practice of writing. I wrote that previous post in the context of being several days late on my planned schedule of posting to my blog each Monday. But the last time I posted a new post was on October 3 (or October 4, if I count my repost from the TAAOnline blog), so I’ve missed my targets by a much greater mark—an even greater failure with respect to those targets.
The thing is, what do I do about it? I can’t go back in time and post something on Monday, October 8 or Monday, October 15, as would be in accord with my plan of posting each Monday. My answer–which will probably not be surprising—is that the best response I can have is to get back to my practice of writing to try to produce material for my next post, which, ideally, would be posted by Monday, October 22. As I am writing this on October 21, there’s a good chance that I will, in fact, get back on my planned schedule of posting each Monday. And I am optimistic that I will be able to keep that schedule in the future, though perhaps with occasional interruptions. Getting back on track after missing a target allows each individual failure to be washed out by the weight of each time I do meet a target. Missing two targets feels bad. Missing two targets out of 20, for example, doesn’t feel as bad.
It happens that the cause of my missing my blog target was that I was working toward another target, that I also missed. I was writing the index of a book that will be out this spring, and that happened to be a big enough and difficult enough task that I missed my target for it: I had said I would be done by the 17th, and I didn’t finish and submit the index until the 19th. The stakes of that project are much higher than the stakes of my blog post, in the sense that there are people who really care that the index gets done on time: the book’s author and publisher. At the same time, however, the missed target needs to be kept in perspective: the author may have been disappointed, but he is more pleased to have it done—we went over the index together on Friday and he seemed generally pleased, despite its limitations. I have no direct feedback on how the publisher views the delay, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to prevent publication by the planned release date (in February of 2019).
When I had missed my target, I was certainly upset that I had missed it. But I also kept my focus on the project: I did not let missing the target keep me from making progress, and that was key in limiting the scope of my failure. As an amateur musician, I have been thinking about this in comparison to playing music: one key skill a musician needs to learn in order to sound good to other people is the skill of continuing to play despite a mistake. A single note/chord that is misplayed—whether by playing the wrong note or by playing at the wrong time—can be almost invisible (inaudible) to an audience as long as the rhythm is kept steady. The skill that the performer needs is to be able to stay on rhythm after playing a wrong note. Skilled musicians—professionals far above my skill level—make mistakes, but they keep playing, and we, the audience, may never even notice that they made an error. Inexperienced musicians, on the other hand, often become flustered by an error and they stop playing. And that—the larger break in the rhythm—is obvious to everyone. The inexperienced musician focuses on the error, and loses the rhythm as a result. The experienced musician keeps focused on what comes next, and as a result, continues playing and the single miss gets washed away.
So what do you do if you miss a target? Keep focused on where you’re trying to go; keep focused on the ideas you need to express and the audience you want to reach. One missed target is only one spot in the larger fabric of your life. Keep your attention on the fabric that you want to weave in the future, not the flaw that happened in the past.
Having just finished the index of a soon-to-be-published book, I want to mention that book, and promote it, because I think it’s an excellent book, and I’m really very proud that I was able to help create it. It’s called American Sutra, and it was written by Professor Duncan Williams of the University of Southern California. I hope that it is received with the enthusiasm I think it deserves. It’s a book about Japanese American Buddhists and the discrimination they faced during the World War II era, which bring up many issues of religious discrimination (and combined racial-religious discrimination) that are relevant in the present day. It will be released in February, 2019, on what is known as the “Day of Remembrance” in the Japanese American community—February, 19—the anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which created the legal framework for the incarceration without cause of over 100,000 American citizens and resident aliens (many of whom would have become citizens if not for laws that prevented Asians from gaining citizenship).