Starving Artist No More Blog

014: Begin with the End in Mind

entrepreneurship goal-setting Jan 31, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
014: Begin with the End in Mind

Do you know where your creative business is going? Do you know the things you want to achieve and do and create in your business in the coming year? If you do know where you want your business to go, have you taken the time to make those goals concrete and specific? Knowing where we’re going in our creative work has a lot of advantages, and in today’s episode we’re going to talk about why it’s so important for you to have a concrete image for the future of your artistic enterprise. We’re going to look at why it’s so important for you to begin with the end in mind.


Hello, thriving artists! Welcome to episode 14 of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Araya, and I am so excited about the topic of today’s podcast. I am passionate about helping creative entrepreneurs make their artistic dreams a reality, and that is what we’re going to talk about today, how to make changes in your business now that influence how you work and create in the future so that, down the road, you will be living your best artistic life. So incredible!

Before we really dig into that discussion, I want to quickly mention that I have a free resource available on my website that I think can be a big help to you. If you struggle with your business finances – and let’s be honest, I don’t know of any creative entrepreneur who doesn’t at times struggle with their business finances – then the free guide on my website, “Say Goodbye to Feast or Famine: Three Financial Must-Haves for Creative Entrepreneurs,” can give you the guidance you need to take control of your business money. Just visit my website,, and fill out the contact form to have the free guide sent directly to your email.  I truly believe it can help you get your business finances on the right track.

And now let’s switch gears to focus on the topic of today’s episode: begin with the end in mind. If you’ve ever read or if you know anything about the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, then you’ve probably heard this phrase before. Begin with the end in mind.

What that phrase means is that before you start making plans and making goals for yourself, you first need to know what your endpoint is, your destination. In order to make plans for change and growth, you need to know what result you want to have on the other side.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Before you start out on a road trip, what is step number 1? Deciding where you’re going to go, putting the destination address into your GPS. You have to know where you’re going in order to know how you’re going to get there. It’s not a problem if you just hop in the car and start driving – sometimes going on a joyride is a fun thing to do – but a joyride is different than a road trip. For a road trip you, you can’t drive aimlessly expect to get to a specific destination. And you can’t expect to get to a specific destination unless you know where that destination is. Identifying the destination comes first. You have to know where you’re going before you can figure out how you’re going to get there.

This applies in every aspect of life. In order to graduate with a degree from college, you have to select a major so you know what classes to take so you can get the degree. The “end” of selecting a specific degree comes before you schedule and take all of your classes. If you’re a musician, the “end” of selecting what piece you are going to perform for an upcoming concert comes before the hours spent practicing and rehearsing that piece. Sure, there are pieces you choose to learn just because you want to learn them, but in terms of preparing for a specific concert, you can’t start preparing for that concert until you know what pieces you need to prepare. The “end” of knowing all of the repertoire that’s going to be on the concert has to come first. As an audiobook narrator, the “end” of knowing that I need to narrate the audio version of a specific book comes before I start prepping and recording that book. I first identify what specific book I’m going to narrate.

In other words, in order to get something done, you have to first know what it is that you want to get done.

This same principle applies to our business strategy as well. In order to make decisions regarding how we are going to be present in our creative business and what work we’re going to do within that business, we first have to know what we want our business to be. What do you want your business to look like in one year? 3 years? 5 years? What dreams and aspirations do you have for your art and your creative work?

Even more importantly, what do you want your life to look like in those timeframes, and how will you need your business to support you in order for you to live that life?

Until you know where you want your business to go, you can’t make a strategy to get you there. Until you’ve identified your dream scenarios for your work and taken the time to make those scenarios concrete and specific, you won’t be able to figure out what is required of you to make those dreams your reality. Those dream scenarios, those visions for what you want your work and your life to be, are the “end” that you need to identify so that you can begin with the end in mind.

I call those dream scenarios your “10,000 foot goals” for your business. I recently took an international flight, and I love looking out the window when I’m on those flights. As you gain in altitude, it’s amazing how the details of the land below you fall away, and instead you can see the bigger picture. You can see the meandering paths of rivers as they flow over hundreds of miles. You can watch how the foothills of a mountain range gradually transition into the mountain themselves and then transition back to foothills again on the other side. Depending on the weather on the day you’re flying, you might even be able to see the weather patterns as they move across the land below. From that height up above the earth, the details of roads and buildings don’t matter so much, and you can see the bigger picture. You can see the shape of the land and the variations within it.

Now, commercial airplanes fly much higher than 10,000 feet, but hopefully you understand my meaning. We need to occasionally take a step back from our businesses to see the bigger picture so that we can dream a bit, so we can expand our concept of what is possible for us and our business. We need to take a 10,000 foot view of our work and our art so that we can determine where we want to go next. Only by doing that, by taking a broad view and choosing dream goals based on that broad view, will we have any idea about how to make those dream goals happen. We have to begin with the end in mind. Only once we know where the end is can we determine what strategies will make that end our reality. You can’t strategize if you don’t know what your goal is.

When I talk with artists about this concept, about goal setting and strategizing as it relates to their business, I frequently get some pushback. I even once had an artist I was working with compare business goals and strategies to a straightjacket that kept her from feeling creative and spontaneous. And I get it! Figuring out your business goals and the strategic plan that will allow you to achieve those goals is not, on its surface, a spontaneous act. It’s the very definition of planned and premeditated. It doesn’t feel creative.

Goal setting can also be hard for creatives because it seems like it requires us to think in a way that we’re not used to thinking. While there are many exceptions to this statement, artists as a whole, regardless of the artistic discipline, are not known for being the most organized. And goal setting and formal business strategizing is nothing if not organized. Goal setting and then creating strategies to achieve those goals is basically the process of detailing your desires in an systematized and concrete way and then planning out – organizing – the action steps that each of those desires requires you to take. It’s a process of organizing your business aspirations and determining what is necessary to make them happen.

But I would challenge you on both of those objections, that goal setting hampers creativity and that goal setting requires organizational skills that artist don’t often have. Let’s look at the second objection first. Yes, artists may not be known for their organizational skills, but you wouldn’t be the incredible creative entrepreneur you are if you weren’t great at organizing in certain areas of your life. Being an artist requires organization. I can’t master a piece of music without first approaching it systematically and practicing it section by section. I can’t narrate an audiobook without first reading the book and planning ahead for decisions about what the author’s intent is and how I will voice certain characters. A photographer can’t make a photo without first considering the lighting and making decisions about what to include and what to leave out of the shot. A painter can’t complete a painting without first going through the process of prepping the canvas and mixing the paint and painting all the different layers. If you are an artist, you are already organized about your art. You already have the organizational skills you need to be organized about business goal setting and strategy. You just need to apply your existing organizational skills in a way that’s a little bit different from what you’re used to.

And as for the first objection, that goal setting and strategizing takes away creativity and spontaneity, study after study of creatives has shown this to not be true. In 2019, the Harvard Business Review carefully “reviewed 145 empirical studies on the effects of constraints on creativity and innovations, and found that individuals, teams, and organizations alike benefit from a healthy dose of constraints. It is only when the constraints become too high that they stifle creativity and innovation.” I’ll link the original article in the show notes so that you can read the study if you’re interested. But the point is that having guardrails to guide your work doesn’t take away your creativity; it actually adds to it.

When we look at the history of art, we see this truism over and over and over again. Constraints improve the quality of the resulting art. Shakespeare’s mastery of the sonnet is one obvious example. The strict structure provided by the sonnet became his playground. Far from being limited or stifled by the form of the sonnet, Shakespeare considered the form’s limitations a challenge and rose to that challenge by writing some of the most beautiful poetry in the history of the English language, within a strict poetic structure.

The same is true of the “hero’s journey” format in prose literature. How many books or plays or movies do you know that follow those same basic steps? The hero’s journey is so common that it’s almost become a trope! And yet within that strict structure, there is almost infinite variation. Works as different as Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz and To Kill a Mockingbird and Star Wars and the Odyssey are all built upon the structure of the hero’s journey. I guarantee that none of the authors or screenwriters of those works felt limited by the hero’s journey format that they chose to follow.

An example from the musical world is that of sonata form. The innovations and wealth of variety and creativity contained within the sonata form is breathtaking! One of my favorite classes during my graduate studies was an entire semester just devoted to sonata form. When you examine how differently the sonata form was used and modified and expanded in the works of composers like Beethoven and Mozart and Clementi and Schubert, you can’t help but marvel at the creativity sparked by such a restrictive musical form.

The Harvard Business Review article I referenced earlier explains why the sonnet and the hero’s journey and the sonata, along with countless other artistic constraints that have influenced artists over the centuries, have resulted in such incredible creativity and innovation. The article says, “Constraints … provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas.”

Constraints provide focus. The limits and structure you place around yourself and your artistic work allow you to focus your creativity in a targeted way, and you end up being more creative as a result.

The process of goal-setting and strategizing within your creative business is exactly the same. If you know where you want your business to go, what you want to achieve with your art and your work, then your creativity has a focus. You have a purpose behind your artistic innovation. Goal setting is not a straightjacket. Beginning with the end in mind does not limit you. It focuses you, and with focus, incredible things are possible.

That said, while I don’t agree with the artist who told me that goal setting is a straightjacket (for the reasons I just outlined), I do understand why she made that statement. She wanted to be free to do anything and everything that captured her fancy. She didn’t want to put limits on what she could and couldn’t do with her work. She wanted to be able to accept every project and do every kind of work. And I get that. As creatives, we are programmed by the society around us that we should be grateful for every bit of paying work that comes our way, because after all, artists usually starve, right? Artists usually have to make drastic personal sacrifices for the sake of their work. So if you’re getting offered money for your art, then you “need” to take it. If I make goals for my business, if I identify what “end” I want in my work, then I might have to turn down projects that don’t fit within my definition of what my business and my art should be, even if those are projects that would pay me. The scarcity mindset tells me I have to accept everything that comes my way, and if my business goals tell me I shouldn’t accept a certain type of project because it doesn’t contribute to the end I have in mind, then my business goals must be wrong, and goal setting must be bad! The scarcity mindset tells me that I can’t place limits on my work.

This scarcity mindset is not reality. The starving artist is a harmful myth. It is not truth. The reality is that the kind of focus that goal setting brings to your work will allow your business to grow and blossom in ways that nurture your creativity and support you, the artist, as a person. Saying no to work that is outside your ideal sweet spot is hard, but it’s also good, for you and your business.

As I was working with this artist, the one who told me that goal setting was a straightjacket, we realized together that most of her objections to making a strategic plan for her business came from this place of fear and scarcity. She was afraid that if she took the time to dream for her business and to then develop concrete strategies to make those dreams a reality, if she identified the “end” she wanted to reach, that she would be forced to say no to paying work. And that scared her. It was so far removed from her current existence as a hand-to-mouth working artist that she instinctively said that it wasn’t something she wanted.

We worked through that process together, and she eventually came to realize that saying no to work that was outside of what she wanted to do would give her more time for the work that was what she wanted to do. She was able to adjust her mindset to see how goals could help her focus her work and have more opportunities to do the creative work she loves.

But she still was resistant to goal setting. We dug into that resistance even more together, and we realized that she still wanted the freedom to accept any project that sounded interesting to her, even if that project didn’t align with her business goals. She wanted to be able to say “yes” to anything that she wanted to do.

And this is where I reminded her, and remind you, that change is a direction, not a destination. Just because you’ve taken the time to get that 10,000 foot view of your business and identified your dream achievements within your work and your business, just because you’ve set a strategic plan before yourself, doesn’t mean that you are forever stuck with that plan. Your plan is your plan, meaning you are free to change it whenever you want to! You can adjust your strategy as you go forward. If your plan no longer serves you and your business, then you should change it. If you decide on a dream goal but realize 6 months or 2 years or 5 years into it that the dream goal you’d set for yourself isn’t quite the right fit, that’s ok! It’s your dream goal. You can change it.

But even if you eventually change your goals and revamp your strategy, the process of setting those initial goals and deciding on your initial strategy still has value. Change is a direction, not a destination, and selecting those first dream goals gets you moving in the positive direction of change. By taking time to identify the end that you think you want and taking steps to move toward it, you are making positive change in your business and in your work. Change begets change. It is a direction. Once you are moving in that direction, you will be able to make another positive change, and another, and another.

Change kind of has a snowball effect. It’s a little like a snowball rolling down a hill that picks up more snow with every rotation and then gains momentum as a result. When you start making positive changes in your business, they build upon each other just like that snowball rolling down the side of a mountain.

Because of that, the changes often become easier over time. Now, don’t get me wrong, change will never be easy, but if you’re focused and intentional about growing your business into a thriving creative enterprise that meets your needs, then it will become gradually easier over time to take the action steps that you need to take. Identifying an end is never a futile effort.

Begin with the end in mind. Take the time to get a 10,000 foot view of your business and where you want to go. Dream. Expand your view of what’s possible so you can envision a future for your art. Only by identifying your “end” will you be able to develop a strategy to get there. You have to know where you’re going before you can determine the actions steps that will make that dream “end” a reality. This dream goal is not a straightjacket. It won’t hold you back. Rather, these guardrails that you put up around your work will focus your creativity and help you and your work to grow and flourish. And if you find after a bit of time that the “end” you selected for yourself isn’t the one you actually want, then you can choose a new “end”! Change is a direction, not a destination, and taking the time to develop goals and a business strategy for yourself is never a wasted effort. Making positive changes to move your work forward will help you grow into the best version of your artistic self and will help your business fully support your needs. When it comes to your art and your business, it’s always a good idea to begin with the end in mind.

Thank you so much for joining me for today’s episode. I hope it helped expand your concept of what it means to make goals for your work and your business. I have seen from both my own work and the work of the artists around me that goal setting, beginning with the end in mind, is a powerful process that will cause your creativity to blossom. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, or any of the episodes of this podcast, I would so appreciate if you would subscribe to the podcast and if you would leave a rating or review for me. That’s how new artists and creatives will find this podcast. And of course, if you have a friend or colleague you think would find this podcast helpful, please share it with them. After all, sharing is caring. If you have any comments or feedback for me related to this episode, or any episode of my podcast, or if you want more information about the coaching and workshop programs I provide, please reach out to me via my website, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks again for being with me today. Now go and create and grow your business into the thriving creative enterprise of your dreams. I can’t wait to see what you create.


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