My Accountability Partnership Taught Me the Value of Fluid Goals
It started with the lofty vision to write a book… or at least that’s what we told ourselves during our first meeting in January of 2018. Jenn M. Choi, my writing accountability partner or “AP” for short, had asked Facebook if anyone wanted to write more with a buddy. Writing has always brought me joy — but I know it’s not going to bring me sh*t beyond that unless I take my game to the next level.
Editors, wonderful souls that they are, exist in this world because we are only so apt at selecting the good from the bad words we are emotionally invested in. Logistically this partnership didn’t make sense, Jenn is in Berlin and I’m in San Francisco, but I‘m grateful that didn’t hold us back. Jenn is more than a storyteller, editor or sounding board — to define ‘it,” would be to limit it. What I can tell you, is I would not be who or where I am a year later without Jenn as my AP. I don’t say that lightly, and it hasn’t always been easy, but it is so worth it.
Before I go on… WTF is an Accountability Partner?
This is likely different for every arrangement. In our case, we pitch each other stories, draft and help down-select what bits will resonate with a greater audience. Sometimes the content is written, other times it’s video, ideally it’s both. We try to make sure whatever we publish doesn’t waste the readers time. And we respect each other too much to waste one another’s time. This is the foundation and a theme in the success of our partnership.
Jenn is covering the logistics of how we’ve made this work. She is organized AF in ways this dyslexic is not. Her consistency in our calendaring, goals and timezone navigating is the glue that’s kept our collaboration together. There would be no record of our meetings if it wasn’t for her google-doc diligence. This piece is about the importance and value of fluidity in whatever form your accountability partnership takes.
A Fluid Approach
Neither Jenn nor I have a Best-Seller yet. Though, it’s not for lack of creativity or commitment to writing, but because our goals, and content passions have matured over the last year. There are plenty of thought-leaders who would encourage you to have some elaborate 12-month plan, with goals to hit each month on that journey to writing a book, and maybe that style resonates with you.
But what if you fail month one? How are you going to stay motivated through another 11 months of a plan that isn’t working for you right now? You’ll likely abandon it altogether or resent it. Conveniently, Jenn and I have both been “Life Designers” for years. Inspired by the book Designing Your Life, we prefer to set the bar low, and clear it often. We know better than to expect greatness day one. Reframing challenges this way makes it easier to adjust a target or goal.
Fluid Dialogue →Fluid Goals
For goals to be fluid, your dialogues must also be fluid. Back in November I was scheduled to deliver Jenn a draft of a diversity piece I’ve been working on to accompany a talk I gave in Copenhagen. Instead I delivered an intense, brutally raw, and rather revealing poem about my “Daddy Issues,” casually to our Facebook Messenger chat that afternoon. While admittedly a bit surprised by the content, Jenn was incredibly supportive and gave me solid feedback not only on the poem, but my current emotional predicament.
Had I tried to force-write a listicle on empowerment while feeling like absolute death inside, it wouldn’t have been my best work. It doesn’t matter if my poem ever sees the light of day, either. The point is, I held up my commitment to writing, and Jenn let that take whatever form it needed to that particular week. I’m proud of both of us for taking it in stride.
Vulnerability = Empathy + Tough Love
Jenn and I have been committed to vulnerability from beginning. Her first piece is a first-aid kit for grief (shameless plug, it is excellent) and I think this subconsciously set the tone for our creative process. Grief is brutal; and honest. When you’re truly mutually-vulnerable, it’s not just about you being open and empathetic with your partner, it’s also about tough love. Jenn had to dish some of the latter out when I was in the middle of a three-continent speaking tour recently.
I try to share fun pictures from the road on social media- #BLeisure, anyone? But I often say, while traveling to cool places for business is great, and I’m incredibly grateful, it’s not always glamorous. My body clock is generally confused, and my brain is perpetually questioning itself. Despite my best attempts to hydrate, meditate, eat and exercise between terminals, some days the affects are beyond human control. No one actually has and does it all with a smile on their face. Some days we all feel like we’re drowning.
Naturally, Jenn and I were scheduled to speak on one of these days for me. It was never explicitly stated, but the voice in my head says “Sav! Do not waste Jenn’s time…” 72 hours before each of our meetings. And I’m glad it does. I value her feedback, I want to create as a result of it, and I don’t want to come up short for someone I respect.
A few months ago, in the midst of the mania but in a genuine effort not to disappoint Jenn, I drafted a truly wretched piece about Blockchain. Jenn managed to suffer through it and jumped on the phone with me to critique. She basically told me what I already knew. It had no structure, needed direction, didn’t speak to the target audience (or any really...) etc. I tried to brush it off (very sassily) with the excuse that I was just “checking the box for an upcoming conference.” And that I, “didn’t really care if it was good. No one cares about Blockchain, anyway.” Yikes. It makes me cringe even to type that.
Jenn took a deep breath and dropped a truth-bomb. “Girl, I have never heard you so angry. This just doesn’t sound like you. You love this sh*t. Are you okay?” I mumbled some jet-lag gibberish while fiddling with my stiletto. She paused. “Sav, I think I know what you need to do.” She had my attention. “You need to go to the bar, and you need to get yourself a drink. Go have a glass of wine.” I exhaled into a laugh-cry (spoiler: this happens often on our calls) and thanked her profusely as I made my way up the stairs to the atrium lounge.
Can Fluid Goals Yield Results?
Have these fluid goals really worked? Despite the lack of book deals, we think so. Jenn’s more focused now on doing a TED talk and building her speaking brand. Writing about travel, her expat life, and her grief are still on the docket, but now video has surpassed prose in her content output.
A piece I wrote about New Zealand was syndicated in a Kiwi publication, my Advice for Generation Z will be reprinted in a writing textbook in 2020, and I’ve started “Your Savvy Update,” the newsletter I’ve been meaning to do for years. We both are working on distribution, perpetually experimenting on Reddit, and are trying to grow our vlogging audiences. We learn from our work and each other each week.
Most of all, I’m proud to say we’re even more committed than we were when we started, thanks to our strategy for kicking ass and our fluid goals. And in true accountability partnership form, we published pieces on this topic simultaneously. Check out her piece “How to Kick Ass with an Accountability Partner.” And remember, balanced partnerships work best!
Closing Note: Dip Your Toe in First
If this is something you’re personally aiming for, start with the goal to publish something monthly. If content is a part of your goal and it consistently comes easy, work up to weekly, and so on. You don’t have to be a famous best-seller day one. But you do have to write, press record, or do whatever it is you want to be doing more of. And trust me, it makes a massive difference to have someone checking in to see if you actually do the work. Jenn and I both severely underestimated how challenging and long it would take to publish initially. It was not a fun process at first. It was a test. But we passed, and our work now is better for it.
If you’re considering finding an accountability partner, or have any questions for Jenn or myself, let us know in the comments or catch our live show discussing our experience March 21st!