I recently started reading a book called Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod. In it, Janice tells the story of how she came to get rid of almost all of her belongings, quit her copywriting job and leave California to explore the world and become an artist. Her journey began when she took up journaling at age 34. After a couple months of writing, she noticed that the majority of her entries were spent griping about her job where she created (in her words) “junk mail” such as the ads you get telling you how much you could save by switching car insurance companies. At the end of yet another session of bemoaning her work, the question popped into her mind “how much money does it take to quit your job?”
She posed this question to her colleague and at first they both dismissed it, resigned to the fact that they didn’t have the million or more it takes to stop working. But then they really started to discuss it. “It depends on how much money you spend in a day. Multiply that by how many days you don’t want to work. Save up that amount. Easy.” her colleague said. “Say you spend $100 a day. That includes rent, gas, food, everything. You’d have to save $36,500 to live the same way for a year without work.” Janice held on to that idea and started to really ask herself if she could live on $100 a day. At first she struggled because she had no idea what she currently spent, but she went on to determine that $100 a day was in fact doable. She decided that she would take the rest of the year to save up $36,500, enough for a one-year sabbatical from her life that she would use to figure out how to become an artist. “I could make this happen” she thought.
I found myself drawn to her story, not only the fantastical idea of freely flitting around Europe for a year, but the way she went about achieving her goals. She started with this large and nebulous task of becoming an artist, a goal she had no real idea how to achieve. Step by step she figured out what she needed to do to get closer to it.
Perhaps without realizing it, Janice made her goals SMART. SMART is an acronym for setting goals that helps to increase the likelihood that the goals will be achieved. It stands for:
First, she got specific. ‘Becoming an artist’ was much too vague, so she narrowed her focus. To make a goal specific, it is helpful to answer the ‘W’ questions – who, what, when, where and why. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? When do you want it to occur? Who is involved? She decided she wanted time to figure out her next moves which required her to quit her job and save up enough money to live for a year.
Next she endeavored to make her goal measurable. ‘Enough money to live for a year’ means very different things to different people. Janice determined that a realistic amount for her meant $100 a day or $36,500 a year. This gave her a way to track her progress and determine when she had reached her objective; two important factors in setting achievable goals.
Making her aim actionable, realistic and time-bound all went hand-in-hand, as they often do when setting goals. She had determined a realistic amount she needed to live each day, so now she needed a realistic time frame in which she could accumulate the necessary funds. At first saving over thirty-six thousand dollars seemed unreachable, but she decided it was possible to save or earn about $100 a day. That meant she needed a year of savings to buy a year of freedom. Resolute to accumulate these funds, she began taking specific steps to cut expenses, earn extra money and increase her savings. She sold belongings, created paintings using up old art supplies and sold them on Etsy and spent free time doing things like hiking that didn’t cost a lot of money.
Within ten months of setting her goal, Janice had saved up over $60,000 – nearly double what she’d set out to do and enough to buy herself almost two years off of work. She went in to her boss, resigned from her job and left for Europe to find the next step to becoming an artist.
I imagine if I asked Janice the most interesting part of her story, she would tell me about what happened after she left her old life behind. Personally, I am more inspired by what she did to give herself that opportunity. Deciding to save a hundred bucks a day doesn’t sound all that exciting until you realize it’s a gift to yourself of the future you want.
From the routine to life-altering, there are things we can do to increase the likelihood that we’ll accomplish what we set out to achieve. Let’s all take a cue from Janice, put pen to paper and start getting SMART.