The boring, unglamorous steps help bring the dream to life!

In case you missed it last week, I wrote a book! And now I’m sharing a few of the lessons I learned through that process. You can see Lesson 1 here. 

Lesson 2 – The vision never included these steps, but they’re integral to the process.

Our biggest dreams are often very detailed. We dream with our 5 senses, experiencing the achievement long before it ever comes to fruition. When someone imagines themselves holding the academy award and giving their acceptance speech, they can hear the applause and cheers. They can feel the joy in that moment! 

No one imagines filming 50 takes in the pouring rain after putting on makeup for 6 hours, just to get the exact right emotion into the exact right sentence only to have it cut out of the film in final editing. But the 50 takes and the award go together; you need both.

Here’s a huge discovery I made that I’ll share in case there are any aspiring writers out there. The best way to write a book? It’s to actually start writing a book! Can you believe it? But for 20 years, I’d imagined seeing the book on a shelf (or in later years in an online bookstore). I didn’t necessarily dream about writing every day. And yet, that’s a key step in the process. 

Unfortunately, the process is often not glamorous or even fun. There are days when you don’t have time or you don’t feel like doing it or you have nothing to say or there’s no inspiration to be found anywhere. But without putting in the work, the dream doesn’t happen.

There are lots of people that have a dream job that is different than their current role. They can see the awesome job, company, and co-workers as part of it. They can feel the joy. But guess what’s needed to get there? Lots of unglamorous steps in the process. Updating their resume, gaining new skills, applying to jobs, and facing the rejection that applying to jobs inevitably brings. 

So what should we do? First, we need to recognize that the path to where we want to go is filled with distractions and unglamorous, though necessary steps. 

Then, we need to commit to making progress in the face of that knowledge. For me, it was committing to write regularly. In the case of the dream job, it’s committing to do the steps to take you there. Like any interesting journey, it’s not always fun, but it’s definitely worth it!

#PositiveAction What do you need to commit to doing to allow you to achieve a goal or dream? Take one small step today!

 

Image by fvoellmer from Pixabay

 

Once upon a time, I had the worst year of my entire life professionally and personally. That story is too long for today, but suffice it to say that I came to the conclusion that almost nothing was working for me in the way I was approaching my life. 

Whoa! That’s kind of a big, complex problem, huh? 

It’s definitely not the sort of thing you can fix in a single day (or even a single year, but I made, and continue to make, progress!). What’s the solution? I had to get Targeted in my action. I couldn’t fix everything all at once. I needed to focus on the most important thing.

Here’s a simple example. One of my favorite things to do for the new year… *drumroll please!* …is to clean out my closets! I know, I know. It’s a wild and crazy life I lead. Here’s the thing: It gives me a chance to clean spaces that don’t get cleaned very frequently, but more importantly, I can assess the stuff I own and ask questions about it. Does this fit AND flatter? Or Does this align with the current life I lead? Or Have I used this enough to warrant expending my time and space to keep it here? I’m sure this process is starting to sound a lot more fun now!!!

My inner Clutter Conqueror would love to go through the entire house like that. Asking questions, cleaning out all the rooms from top to bottom and ending with a space that even Marie Kondo would be jealous of. But my real life doesn’t afford me the time or energy to do all that. Not to mention the fact that with a family of four, this zen-like space I’m imagining would be back to a mess in 5 minutes flat. 

One choice I could make is to say, “Well, it’s pointless. I might as well do nothing.” Another choice I can (and do!) make is to say, “What is a Targeted approach where I could achieve that aspiration on a smaller scale?” This was how my tradition for cleaning out my closets for the new year was born! 

I focus my attention on one area, knowing that there are lots of other things that could use my attention, energy, and effort too. But I prioritize this activity because of several reasons. 

First, it’s small, which means I can accomplish it in a short amount of time. I love to see progress quickly! Next, it helps me let go of all that other stuff I could/should/wish I had time to work on. Freedom from guilt! Finally, as a recovering perfectionist, it gives me great joy to have a few small spaces of order in the chaos that is my daily life. If you’ve never spent a minute or two gazing upon a well-organized space, you absolutely must try it! Talk about relaxation!! 

Hang on, I think I’m getting slightly off topic. I must be more Targeted!

As I’ve mentioned, resolutions aren’t for me. I love change! I just happen to take a different approach to getting there. One of those different approaches is to select a word of the year. 

I’ve been doing a word of the year for five years now. My previous words include: Grateful, Listen, Release, and Enough 

If you are looking to go deeper on a word of the year, I got the idea from Jon Gordon, but there are lots of others who advocate this approach as well.

What I love about a word of the year is it’s Targeted. It gives me an opportunity to keep my focus on one thing for the entire year. I thought it would be hard to spend a year with a single word, but I have been pleasantly surprised every year by how the word continues to take on new, different, bigger meaning in my life. The fact that it’s Targeted is what makes it so effective.

When you’re thinking about taking positive action, you want your action to be targeted. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think of all the things you’d like to change or do or be. By making a choice to focus your time, energy, and attention on one thing, it becomes possible to make incredible progress!

#PositiveAction Identify the one thing that is most important for you this year. The Targeted attention will be transformational!

Targeted is the third element of ACTION, part of a series focused on positive action. If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to start at the very beginning with positive action

Image from Pixabay

Throw kindness around like confetti
The lesson: You can never have too much kindness

I had the privilege to fly with my great uncle, a WWII Navy veteran, on the Honor Flight last weekend. It was an action-packed, whirlwind of a day (starting at 3am and ending around 11pm!) and it took me a several days to collect my thoughts around it. 

For those that don’t know, the Honor Flight takes veterans on a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the monuments and memorials and creates a day that is all about thanking them for their service to our country. 

As part of the flight, families collect letters from friends and family members to give to the veteran to show our love and appreciation for them. Several of the letters we collected were from former students that my uncle taught in the 1960’s. Back then, he was teaching 6th grade and it was interesting to see multiple letters come from students in those classes.

One of his former students happens to live in the Washington D.C. area and asked if she could meet up with us during the day. We had the opportunity to meet at the National Mall at the WWII memorial. She showed up with a welcome sign and greeted our bus.

After my uncle’s surprise of seeing a student and some catching up, along with many photos taken, I asked her the question that had been on my mind since the letters had arrived weeks before. What was it that was so memorable about her 6th grade teacher that she would be willing to go out of her way on a gorgeous fall Saturday and meet up with us?

Her answer: Kindness.

She remembered the kindness he showed her in 6th grade, whether teaching or helping her with a problem, like the time she forgot her swimming suit for Friday swim. It was the kindness she remembered vividly all these years later.

And she wasn’t the only one! So many of the 30+ letters we got mentioned kindness and how much of a difference that made in people’s lives. 

What’s interesting is that I had noticed kindness from others all day as we participated in the Honor Flight. Flight team members, bus captains, volunteers, even total strangers all showered us with kindness throughout the day and that huge amount of kindness made it  truly memorable. I’ve never been part of a day-long celebration of kindness before and it was remarkable! 

I know that I’ll remember the kindness that surrounded us for a long time (maybe as long as those 6th grade students have!). It was a great reminder for me on how I want to show up in life and at work.

#PositiveAction How can you throw kindness around like confetti today? 

Photo by me, of my starting-to-get-worn notebook that is on pace to run out of empty pages by year’s end. 

 

I took the above picture while I was out walking last week. I try to get outside more in fall because it’s my favorite season! On my walk, I was enjoying sunshine, warm air, and all the sights and sounds of fall when I came upon this feather. It got me thinking (which I’ve learned to embrace, since I have yet to find a way to keep my brain from running down random pathways pretty much all the time!). 

This feather used to be attached to a bird. I’m no ornithologist, so I can’t tell you which one, but here’s something I do know about birds. They need feathers. Feathers help them stay warm. More importantly, birds need feathers in order to fly.

This feather was on the ground. Not helping a bird fly. I starting thinking about that fact: the bird was still flying, even without this feather.  

As humans, we are infinitely complex. We each have different strengths, skills, talents, preferences, beliefs, habits, experiences, and more. And each day we continue to add to our respective lists. However, some of those things that were useful to us in the past may not serve a purpose anymore. Just like that feather. 

Here’s how that’s been showing up in my life lately. I used to enjoy a bowl of ice cream while watching my favorite show. It was a fun treat. And then it started to become more of a habit. Something I was doing more often than not each week. I needed to let that habit go (along with several pounds!). 

Here’s another one. I was raised with a belief that a good job was one with a steady paycheck and a lower incidence of layoffs. I’d never examined that belief or questioned it to see if it matched my reality. Then, I left my safe job in corporate America to start my own business. It became apparent pretty quickly that this particular belief wasn’t serving me anymore and I needed to let it go if I wanted to move forward.

We’re entering fall, the season of letting go. It’s important to give yourself space by saying no and this is another way to do that. It’s a great time of year to step back and see what you can live and work without. Let the leaves (and feathers) fall!

#PositiveAction Find one habit or belief that is no longer serving you and let it go!

Photo by me during a walk on a gorgeous fall day!

Last week, we talked about making progress and assessing if you’re getting closer or further from where you want to be. Today, let’s look at one of the ways you can make progress happen faster. It relies on at least one other person. 

Some of you are going to say, “Wait a minute, Ally! If I’m relying on another person, won’t it slow me down and keep me from making great progress on my own?” But here’s the thing, it actually helps you speed up and stay on track. That’s the beauty of having an accountability partner.

An accountability partner is a simple concept: it’s someone that you tell about a change you want to make and they help hold you accountable for making those changes. Basically, they are a checkpoint, a cheerleader, and sometimes a source of tough love as you go through your journey. 

Since change is hard, especially on your own, the more systems you can put in place to help you be successful, the better off you’ll be. This is one of those systems. It’s an achievement hack. I use it for generating progress on big dreams as well as small tasks, because it’s so effective. And if I’m being honest, it’s pretty fun too!

Here’s how it looks in real life.

As an entrepreneur, I have the freedom to decide how to spend my time, which is wonderful! But it also means I need to make sure I’m spending time on the most important things and not chasing after every squirrel-idea that crosses my path (which by the way is a LOT!). Enter my accountability partners! I meet with a group of entrepreneurs monthly to check in and hold each other accountable for making progress on those things that are most important to our respective businesses. None of us wants to show up to that meeting saying we made no progress, so we are each taking action over the course of the month to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Another example: as a career coach, I recommend to my clients that they update their career story (resume, LinkedIn, portfolio, etc.) every quarter. But let’s be honest, when left to our own devices, most of us aren’t going to do that. Unless you’re into the desperate place where your job has become soul-sucking and you are doing everything in your power to get out of there, in which case, I know a great career coach that can help! 

So instead of dreading making updates to your career story, schedule drinks or dinner (or both!) with a friend. Start out the gathering by taking 10 minutes to update your respective stories and reminding each other of the great accomplishments you’ve had over the quarter. Then kick back and enjoy dinner, knowing that you and your accountability partner have completed that task and that should your dream job open up next week, you’re completely ready for it!

Most people have tasks they dread, but love dinner and hanging out with friends, so feel free to employ this strategy for the variety of things you have a tendency to avoid. It’s an amazingly effective (and fun!) way to make progress.

Should I start out this mid-summer post by saying something to the effect of “Can you believe we’re already halfway through 2019?” Or does it feel like it’s already been exactly 212 days since the start of the year? Some years feel slower and more challenging than others, but the fact of the matter is, time flies, whether we’re having fun or not. 

So instead of time, let’s talk about progress (and if you like progress, you’ll enjoy this post on progress vs. perfection). 

With the exception of leap years, we each get 365 days to make progress on those things that are important to us. Being that we’re halfway through the year, how’s your progress been?

For me, I made the switch a few years back to focus on a word of the year, rather than on a list of goals. It’s been transformational, in that the word tends to infuse itself into every aspect of my life, even though I had originally intended it for improvement in a specific area.

My word for 2019 is enough. It started out as more of a clutter free / minimalist / simple living sort of mantra to start asking the intentional question of do I have enough of x? It’s funny sometimes how a simple question can spark profound change. It quickly morphed from do I have enough plates, shirts, or books to an inquiry around enough of everything. Am I spending enough meaningful time with my family? Do I have enough work? Am I contributing enough to my community?  My word of the year is a lens that I can filter all my decisions through to decide where and how to best focus my energy and time.

So am I making progress this year? Yes. Is it noticeable? Yes. Am I improving in dimensions that are important to me? Yes! Is it a goal tied to a specific metric that has a color on a dashboard? No.

And I’m ok with that. I’ve had enough (see what I did there?) experience hitting specific targets and delivering results. As is often the case in work and in life, numbers don’t tell the whole story. 

When it comes to your career journey, only you can decide how you feel about your current role and when it’s time for a change. Maybe you know where you’re headed, but aren’t there yet, sort of like that hot air balloon picture above. That’s fine, as long as you’re making progress. Today’s a great time to take a look at your progress and see if you need to adjust for the rest of the year. I promise you’ll be reading articles starting with “Can you believe it’s the end of the year already?” before you know it!

Note: There are several folks who advocate for a word of the year (or even a life word if you want take the long view!). Check out Jon Gordon, Evan Carmichael, or this article from Inc if you want to dig a little deeper. 

My “office” (pictured above) is also where we eat meals, play board games, do homework, create artwork, and so many other activities. As a matter of fact, a realtor would probably call this room the dining room or eat-in kitchen. Our house doesn’t actually have a dedicated office space.

Here’s a list (and photo evidence below!) of some of what I had to remove from my office in order to take the first picture: swimsuits and towels dried, but not yet put away from swim lessons; an incomplete to-do list; a quantity of crumbs unparalleled by Cookie Monster; Trolls movie soundtrack CD borrowed from the library (I like my kids to experience older technologies to better appreciate new ones!); and a water bottle with food still caked on the side. I could continue the list, but you get the idea. Plus, it only occurred to me to take a picture after I was about halfway through cleaning it up!

I know what you’re thinking: I should stop trying to do work in such a crazy place! But here’s the thing, although it’s imperfect, it works for now. Would it have been more ideal to start my business when I have a dedicated office space (preferably with several layers of sound proofing and a mini fridge… which, when installed my family will likely never see me again, BTW!)? Sure, but then I probably never would have started, because there would always be something else imperfect holding me back.

The same is often true for people in their careers. We wait for the perfect job description, the perfect timing, or the perfect company. And because none of those things actually exist in the funny little place we call reality, we never take action. 

In order to break out of the perfectionist mindset, here’s a few ideas:

  • If you think a job posting sounds interesting… apply! 
  • Just because the timing is inconvenient in taking on a new opportunity is no reason not to go for it anyway! 
  • Stuck at a company you hate because you figure they’re all the same? You may be surprised to discover that there are lots of great places to work that probably are a better fit for you than your current employer.

So, do I give up the dream of an office of my own someday? Definitely not! But I also don’t let it hold me back from doing what I need to do to be successful today. And you shouldn’t either.

P.S. If you’re feeling especially stuck, you may enjoy reading this.

One of the most popular jokes in our family right now is a knock-knock joke.

 

Knock-Knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting Cow.

Interrupting cow who?

Moo! Note that the timing is everything here. You need to yell out your Moo before the other person finishes the Interrupting cow who? portion of the joke, thereby interrupting them. Trust me, it’s hilarious! If you spend time with younger kids or with adults who need to lighten up (and who doesn’t?!?), try this out on them and see for yourself.

 

My kids have been off from school for a week and it’s been an adjustment for all of us as we unlearn the schedule and pattern of the school year and try to settle into a summer rhythm. When and how I got my work done over the school year isn’t effective anymore; there are too many interruptions.

 

Do you ever feel that way in your job? Are the interruptions taking over and preventing you from doing your best work? I’ve been in roles where that’s been the case and it’s frustrating for both the interrupter and the interruptee. 

 

But there’s another way to think about the interruptions: Have you considered the possibility that the interruptions ARE your job? 

 

When people stop by your desk to ask questions, it’s not because they’ve been plotting all day to sabotage your work when you finally get a moment alone. It’s because they lack clarity on something and believe you can provide it.

 

Those problems that get brought to you to fix are the things that someone else couldn’t resolve on their own (Send them back to try resolving it on their own first if they haven’t!). They need your unique insight and advice on another way to approach the issue.

 

I’ll bet if you spend some time thinking about your various interruptions throughout the day, they are mostly questions, requests for help, problem-solving, or advice. They are a chance to build productive relationships. A chance to share your knowledge. They are an opportunity.

 

We need to reframe how we look at interruptions. They aren’t annoyances to be ignored or brushed aside – they are often the exact thing that our companies or families need us to do in order for us all to be successful. 

And sometimes when an interruption is taking place, it helps me remember to reframe it, lighten up, and really listen when I whisper to myself, “Moo.”

Do you have a big dream or maybe a tiny nugget of an idea inside your head that you hope will happen someday? Great! Hope is an amazing tool in many instances. But it doesn’t make dreams and ideas happen. Action does.

In the book, Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary, she spends some time exploring the idea of imperfect action. Rather than waiting for the exact perfect conditions to do the thing you’ve been waiting to do or hoping to have unfold, instead identify the action you can take now, albeit imperfect, to move you toward what you want.

Is there something at work you’re hoping will change? Identify one action you can take to make that change happen. Is your dream to write a book? How many sentences (or words!) have you written to get you closer to that goal? Do you want a new job? Start thinking strategically about what steps you need to take to get to where you want to go. Wishing and hoping isn’t a strategy.

I encourage all of my clients to start taking actionable steps toward whatever it is they are targeting. It’s easy for all of us, myself included, to come up with excuses and reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t get started. That means we usually put off doing those steps that could help us get to where we want. Then we end up struggling with why the change we seek is taking so long or give up entirely because it feels like we’re not making progress.

As a recovering perfectionist, I completely understand. It’s hard to push forward when it’s not perfect timing, or perfectly worded, or perfectly planned out. But there’s at least one thing you can do to move forward (arguably, there are many, but start with one!). 

There’s a saying, sometimes attributed to Chinese proverb, that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

You don’t need to wait for the timing to be perfect; you just need to pick one thing and move forward imperfectly.  Start starting already!

I enjoy writing. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog – I get the opportunity to write and share my ideas along with my personal story. And yet, today, the words aren’t flowing. My creativity has stalled out.

But that’s a lot like how real life works, isn’t it? Sometimes when we really need to create an amazing presentation or report or piece of software, the ideas don’t come. We wait… and hope… and wait some more. And so you try to make it work, even if it’s not your best idea, because you need something (anything!!) for the deadline.

If you’re like most people, that’s also how you approach your career development – waiting until something else forces you to take action in the form of updating your resume, applying for a job, editing your LinkedIn profile – and then the panic sets in and the ideas don’t come.

Stress has a funny (strange, not haha) way of reducing the quality of our work by hijacking our brains. When we are stressed, the fight-or-flight response is triggered and our body reacts to the perceived threat. This was helpful in bygone days when we needed that response to stay alive. Now it just makes the stressful task at hand all the more challenging because you don’t have all your wits about you.

So what should we do? How do we get back into creativity mode so we can do our best work, whether on a resume, an important presentation, or a blog post?

Preparation.

Wait a minute! I thought we were going to talk about how to generate brilliant ideas that make billions of dollars?!? Nope. It’s about putting in the work so that you can keep moving forward when the stress happens and the creativity slows down, since it happens to everyone.

Successful writers write everyday. Successful painters paint everyday. If you want to be successful in your career, you need to be taking action daily on those things that will make you successful. Make sure you’re communicating your value to your current and potential employers with your personal brand. Make updates to your resume and LinkedIn profile quarterly. Develop an impactful elevator pitch for when you get your shot to talk with your CEO or other leader. 

As for me, I carry around a notebook and am daily jotting down ideas for my coaching clients, speaking gigs, and yes, even blog posts. Then, when inspiration refuses to strike, I still have a whole bunch of options to choose from.

Is this blog post a make or break moment for me? Probably not. But we can’t always predict which moments will be course altering until after they happen. Wouldn’t you rather be ready for whatever the future might bring? I know I would!