By Tamara Gal-On

If nobody has pointed it out to you yet, let me be the one to remind you that we are not just experiencing the final weeks of 2019, we are entering the final weeks of the decade. The twenty teens are nearly an era of the past. The twenty twenties are almost upon us.

There is something about starting a new decade that reminds me of the feeling you get when you start a brand new and very beautiful journal. Your favourite kind – ruled, squared or blank pages in a delectable cover, just waiting for you to spill your ambition and creativity across its pristine expanses. Nothing yet written on it to limit your originality or remind you of unfinished business or past unsuccesses.

Yes, unsuccesses. I am indeed fond of making up words but bear with me – because if you’re planning on planning out 2020 and beyond, this is a handy idea. An un-success isn’t just a non-judgemental way of renaming a failure, although it is that, it’s a way of reframing it too. We know there are people who make good money delivering motivational talks and selling books about how a particular failure is the best thing that ever happened to them. For many of us though, we just want to forget our failures ever happened, walk away and get on with other things. Only, those failing-is-good-for-you folk have a point. Yes, they do. No, really, they do.

Because after 17 years of helping creative industry people set goals and go after them I know that the best kind of goal setting and effective planning doesn’t come out of nowhere. We all have history, both old and more recent, it’s ours, it matters and we ignore it at our peril. The unexamined life and all that.

Setting inspiring goals that are going to endure the usual ups and downs of life in a creative industry (let alone the emotional rollercoaster of being alive and on social media in these interesting times) means we need to set ourselves up properly for success. And in my experience goal setting and planning works best when you’ve prepared.

And part of a good preparation process is to know where you stand right now so that any plans or strategies you make for the future come from a solid foundation, a place of self-knowledge as much as from aspiration or intuition. You can have all the intuitive certainty in the world that your goals are right and true but if you haven’t consciously learned from past mistakes, what’s to stop you making the same mistakes again in this new context?

So, as step one in productive goal setting for the shiny new decade ahead of us, may I encourage you to perform a small review first? When you know what got you to where you are now, you can use the insights around what worked (so you can repeat it) and what didn’t work and why (so you can let it go if need be and learn from it) both of which will boost your chances of making better choices in your goal setting and planning for the next period.

If I may, I’d love to provide you with some food for thought questions to do that reviewing. Let’s start with the stuff that didn’t go to plan, your un-successes, and then we can end on your high points.

Ready? Got a journal, pen(s), thinking space, enough time? Are you comfortable? Do you need a drink or some good brain food type sustenance? Yes? OK, deep breath. Let’s go there. Let’s look at those un-successes.

Let me start by saying, congratulations you went after a thing you wanted. Some people never even get that far.  The I always wanted to write a novel, said with a whimsical look into the distance people. I’m sorry your particular thing didn’t work out as you hoped but let’s not let it go unacknowledged that you dared, or allow it to hold you back from going for what you want in 2020 and beyond.

What is an un-success if it’s not just a failure in a fancy coat? Well, if:

  1. you tried a thing, got ill/righteously called away and had to drop it so it stalled
  2. you got half way into something and realised you had put trust or faith in the wrong people/person so had to withdraw or quit
  3. you did a thing and somebody plagiarised the hell out of it (or failed to pay you) and you benefited far less than you should and it all just felt bad by the end
  4. you began a thing in good faith and then part way in realised it was based on something other people thought you should be doing, not something you actually wanted – so being a wise soul you stopped
  5. you wanted the thing but you never got the chance because you were way to busy to start so there it sits on your to do list with an accusatory look on its face

None of those things are really failures in the strictest sense. Not by my definition anyway. Extenuating circumstances are thing.

So, if any of the above or similar were the circumstances of your un-success this year, try this line of reflection:

  • Are you glad you tried it? Spent some time with it?
  • What is your major positive take away?
  • What are you grateful for in having attempted this project/idea?
  • What is your main learning about yourself from it? (This can be a big thing or a small thing. It all counts).

Next. Applying what you learned:

  • Do you still want to achieve this outcome in the coming year? Do you want to try again?
  • If no, can you let it go? No making it mean anything about you. Especially nothing restrictive or contracting in energy? So, will you let it go?
  • If yes – you want to go for it again, knowing what you know now about yourself, about the project, about the process – what would you do differently? What is the smallest thing you can do to set the project or idea back in motion taking into account your learning?

Apply this to any projects or outcomes* you didn’t quite pull off to your satisfaction in 2019

*Outcomes might look like you set an income target, or a streams target, or an artists signed target or gigs performed or whatever – and you didn’t quite hit it. If you didn’t set any numerical targets for yourself in 2019 and are feeling underwhelmed by your results this year, may I suggest gently that some numbers in our goal setting and planning can be very empowering. Especially if they are associated with actions taken not outcomes achieved. Meaning the difference between – “my goal is to perform at 8 festivals in 2020” and the very different “my goal is to apply for 16 festivals in 2020” (in the hope of getting 8 yeses). You have control over the latter and almost none over the former. Don’t hitch your emotional happiness to goals you have no control over. Here be dragons!

But, as in this case, knowing you have a set number of festivals to apply for means you will know if you are doing enough to reach your desired action quota. If you succeed in achieving the overall outcome, excellent. If you did all 16 applications but didn’t get the 8 yeses you wanted – review again. What did you get? How do you need to tweak those numbers? You can go and ask very specific questions from someone with festival booking insights when you have numbers to share. “I want to perform at some festivals in 2020” as a goal is a recipe for underwhelming results and having no idea what to do about them if you don’t like them.

There. You survived the thorny part of the review. The things that didn’t quite work. Now for the joyful things from 2019. What did work?

  • What did you do fantastically well at?
  • What worked out beyond you wildest dreams? Or what worked out exactly as you planned it?
  • What gives you the biggest smile to look back on it?
  • What were you worried about in January that you handled perfectly now that you’re looking back. What does that mean you might dare to try in 2020 and beyond.
  • What gives you the greatest sense of pride?
  • What project, outcome or win means you need to rethink an old (unhelpful) thought about yourself that now needs retiring as it’s out of date? (Eg – you used to think you were bad at finishing/marketing/asking for support but you completed an epic crowdfunding campaign this year so, actually…)
  • Are there any things you did amazingly at this year that you want to repeat in 2020?
  • Are there things where you did amazingly and the natural next step is to uplevel – do it bigger or more often?
  • Are there any things where you did amazingly and yet you didn’t tell many people/share about it? Can you share about it now in a review of the year type way?

Now you have a nice set of review data about the year just gone. You’re in a much more informed place to do some clear and focused goal setting for 2020 and the new decade ahead of us. Let it be the wonderful blank canvas that it is, one you can do anything you like with.

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Tamara Gal-On is a coach, speaker and writer for the creative industries with a focus on creating career longevity. She helps her music industry clients (be they creators, managers or those in the wider industry) to earn more, create more freely and make more of the difference they want to see in the world whilst also developing their resilience in the face of the industry’s challenges. She can be contacted at