90-Day Goals: The Power of Validation

Chip Colquhoun
10 min readOct 4, 2021
These last 3 months I’ve been storytelling in person to live crowds again! Though online and/or socially-distanced storytelling is not as photogenic as this shot from my book launch in 2016…

I was so pleased after my first 90-Day Challenge — I’d never before experienced such personal and professional growth in just 3 months! I was better off financially, emotionally, and physically. Sure, I hadn’t hit all 5 of my goals — I was off by 1 — but, as my good friend Mark Hampton commented on my first 90-Day Review, “If you hit all your goals, you’re obviously not challenging yourself enough!”

I’m not sure Mark’s advice provides so much solace, though, when the figures are switched around. In my second Review, I only achieved 1 of my 5 90-Day Goals. That was back in May, and time was so tight that I didn’t even get around to blogging about that Review…

…so when I hit the deadline for my third Review, which should have been 22nd August, missing it barely registered.

That was quite a wide standard deviation, and not one that hinted in the direction of progress either. The important thing was, had it taught me anything I could apply to attract more success in the future?

What was I trying to achieve?

Just looking down the 5 goals I listed in February makes for cringeworthy reading now. Not only have I not finished my current writing project, but I no longer have an agent (though that’s actually quite a delicious story for another post…). Writing here on Medium was intended to provide some of the content for a personal website I’d be proud of, but all I have to that end is 4 published articles (once I’ve published this one) and a URL without a host.

My subscription project didn’t get established because of troubles with my company’s website, which was going to be the outlet for that project. This, combined with that writing project/agent issue, meant I still hadn’t raised any revenue by late August, let alone May — so I certainly wasn’t in a position to rehire any members of staff.

The only goal I hit then was one that I’d had to tweak. I originally wrote it as “Publish my mummy’s Christmas book” — but in doing so, I’d ignored my own advice of choosing goals over which I have total control. It turned out I wasn’t quite there with Mum’s book: we needed some illustrations.

I did arrange the illustrators, and provide them with a plan — so the only way I could consider this goal ticked was by rewriting it as, “Do everything I can towards publishing my mummy’s Christmas book.”

In May, I carried over the current writing project and the personal website. Knowing Mum’s book was gonna take a wee bit longer, I crafted a similar goal for another writer I’m working with. To these I added two personal goals: complete a backwards roll into a handstand so I could perform this move onstage during a production of Grease, and take a holiday.

The latter was a big one, but also a bit of a cheat. It was big because I haven’t had a proper holiday — which I define as “more than a weekend spending time away from work, both physically and mentally” — since early 2017. But my wife and I had our legal wedding in April this year, so we were due something of a honeymoon — hence the slight cheat.

Did it work though?

What DID I achieve?

This is what I’d hoped audiences would have seen during my performance as Danny Zuko in the Cambridge Pied Pipers production of “Grease”…

Here we are in October, and again I can only say I hit the goal to “Do everything I can to get [a certain someone’s] book published” — and again because I’m now waiting on an illustrator and the writer to do more.

The backwards roll into a handstand was one pin away from a strike. Physically, I could do it in practice. I came close to pulling it off during a Grease rehearsal. But just a fortnight before the show, I performed the manoeuvre in a baggy shirt, resulting in a blister — which I then burst by repeating the move before realising I had a blister.

The result? An incredibly painful infection which inhibited my ability to do a simple backwards roll, let alone one that culminated in a handstand. Thus I only scored a spare — I had to replace the move in the show with the simpler reverse worm.

The holiday was scuppered by COVID. ’Twas my father who caught it — but because my wife and I are his primary caregivers, we ummed and ahhed about going away while he was still recovering. We’d got as far as organising a temporary call-in care service when he took a turn for the worse, ending up back in hospital on the day we should’ve been packing. Our decision to stay was the right one, though: he’s now back home, and his health is improving.

That said, I did have a fair few days that week in which I was mentally away from work. I did some writing on Tuesday, but had a whole three days afterwards just spending quality time with Emma. So perhaps I can tick that one off after all.

That leaves me with just the two goals that have remained unfinished since February: my current writing project, and the personal website.

Yes, these goals remain unfinished. But I could never have predicted the incredible benefits their pursuit would produce…

Validation

In my previous 90-Day Review, I mentioned abandoning a contract with a US publisher on my agent’s advice. Now that agent has abandoned me, I’m damn gutted I burnt that bridge. However, I had another book that I chose to focus on — the “current writing project” — and I went against my agent’s advice by sending it to some fans for something of a critique, to check I was taking it in the right direction.

These fans were a mother and her 10-year-old daughter, who had been incredibly supportive of my storytelling since we met at an outdoor event in 2019. They’d bought all my books, and attended most of the free online events I put on throughout the UK’s COVID lockdowns — so sending them my unfinished manuscript was my way of saying thank you.

What happened next was completely unanticipated. You see, the mother has a 6-year-old son as well, and he was so lacking in emotional literacy that both his parents and his school considered him borderline non-verbal. Certainly he hadn’t been interested in my storytelling at that outdoor event. So his mother was pleasantly surprised when he began taking an interest in my writing as she read it to her daughter at bedtime.

Within weeks, this boy’s interest in books rose rapidly. He began reading aloud to his teacher and classmates. He wrote a two-page short story entirely voluntarily that led to his teacher sending him to the headteacher’s office for praise. At that point the headteacher had to ask the mother whether anything had changed at home that might have led to her son’s sudden explosion of literacy prowess — and the only thing she could think of was my book.

When she shared this with me, that alone would have been a happy ending to my story. I honestly could have died happy, knowing my choice of vocation had actually changed lives for the better.

That family wouldn’t’ve been happy, though. They wanted the book to be finished! This led to a Kickstarter campaign so I could stop the hourly-rated work I was doing to pay the bills and focus entirely on getting the book completed — a Kickstarter that was 100% funded in two days, with no small input from the family who inspired it.

The validation didn’t stop there, though. My attempts to generate a regular income from my writing had thus far been scuppered by teething issues with my company website. So I reached out to my contacts for help.

Not only did my network produce an incredible designer-developer team to reignite my company’s brand, not just its online presence, but it generated further testimonials as to the positive impact of my work — testimonials that morphed into financial backing to produce a company website I can be really proud of!

I now had every reason to keep doing what I do — and every type of support I needed.

And all this because I reached out to people, and didn’t try to do everything myself.

So what now?

When I review the last 270 days, on paper they should have been awful. I barely hit two and a half of the 10 targets I’d set myself since February.

But in reality, I’d gone back to storytelling at in-person events, launched a then-unique story subscription service (which has since been attempted by a leading charity, no less — but hey, competition is good, right? Proves there’s a market, etc…?), got legally wed, performed in two stage musicals (including one in my dream role, Danny Zuko), run a successful Kickstarter, attracted support to keep my writing alive and generating regular revenue, ditched a lousy agent, made several strong new contacts in my sector, achieved a level of fitness that I’d previously only dreamed of, seen the new Bond film, and kept my father alive.

How’s that for a 270-Day Review!

In considering my next 90 days, I remembered the three lessons from my original post…

  1. Don’t just look for opportunities to make pennies — look for those that fire you up.
  2. When opportunities come along, take a moment to consider where — or even if — they fit with the rest of your goals.
  3. Rather than factors you can’t control (e.g. money, popularity, etc), be driven by your own sense of purpose (i.e. things that will make you feel proud that you simply attempted them).

…and added the three lessons I’d discovered from this very post you’re reading now:

  1. Choosing goals that rely solely on your efforts does not mean “going it alone.” Seeking validation from others provides fuel and direction; seeking support provides oil and tread. Altogether, this makes you way more likely to succeed.
  2. Make sure there’s at least one goal which is “just for fun.”
    I say this because goals such as “backwards roll into handstand” haven’t really helped me professionally, but the sense of achievement it gave was a big part of what kept my spirits high during this taxing 8-month period.
  3. Make sure at least one goal relates to being social.
    Why? Because this will help you keep in mind the benefits of both those other points, i.e. not becoming overly self-reliant, and keeping some fun in your life. It was Grease — and more specifically, the friendships I made within that cast — which inspired my backwards-roll-handstand attempts, and my social storytelling (i.e. the free stuff I was doing online during the UK’s lockdowns) that nurtured the relationship with the family that would ultimately provide me with that amazingly huge validation.

Keeping this in mind really helped me get selective about my new 5 goals. One thought I’d had was to apply for at least 10 paid acting jobs. Grease left me seriously validated at my acting and singing ability, and I felt it would be silly not to cash in on that. But two of my goals already related to my professional life, both of which incorporated goals that had been unfinished since February. If I’m to get those done, I really need to be focused right now.

I’ve thus ended up with two professional, one professional-social, one entirely social, and one entirely private “just for fun” goal — which are…

  1. Start putting my completed manuscript in front of agents and publishers.
    To do this, of course, I have to complete that current writing project. Thanks to the Kickstarter’s success, I expect to have that done by Christmas at the latest. In reality, I reckon it should be done before the end of this month.
  2. Do everything I can to hit our first 100 subscribers to my new subscription service.
    This is by far the biggest challenge among these goals, both in terms of difficulty and the sheer number of tasks. But it’s also the one that offers the most in return: revenue, reputation, and sense of achievement.
  3. Put at least 4 posts on social media every week.
    Hitherto I’ve been pretty rubbish at putting content on my social channels. Not any more. It’s time to give people a happy reason to connect with my on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or (of course) Medium.
  4. Invite some friends to join my wife and I for a night out.
    COVID has prevented us from doing anything like this, but in reality we were pretty naff at it even before the pandemic — partly ‘coz we were caring for my father even then, but also because we live a fair way away from most of our pals, making it more of an effort. We’ve each made some very good friends over the last few years, though, and it’ll make us both happier to get closer with them (and perhaps help keep us sane, too, so we don’t come to find our own company overbearing…).
  5. Spend at least 30min noodling on my guitar at least 4 times a week.
    I’ve been playing guitar since the age of 16, mostly self-taught with the odd lesson here and there — and while I can play some tunes really well, I still lack confidence playing at friendly gatherings. Making guitar practice a regular thing will be a first step towards conquering that reluctance.

There’s more to come…

Thank you again for sharing my journey here on Medium. The deadline for my next 90-Day Review is now, serendipitously, 2nd January. Please check in with me then to see how I got on, what lessons I’ve picked up to share, and where I’ll be heading next…

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Chip Colquhoun

A storyteller from birth (professionally since 2007), I'm happiest when I know I'm enriching the lives of others.