As the end of 2017 draws near, I find myself looking back on the year that was. I had my fair share of triumphs, disappointments, and opportunities. Without question, this will always be remembered as a special year because I achieved a major life goal. In April, I released my first book (titled “I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description for Living a Life of Purpose and Meaning”) and checked off a big box on my list of accomplishments I hoped to complete…one day. Since then, I have had the opportunity to talk about my book and its message with several different audiences including people of faith, business leaders, and high school students. What has struck me is just as eager as listeners are to hear about what it means to be a CXO, they are equally enthused to learn how I achieved my goal. I found that people are hungry to hear stories of inspiration and receive affirmation that dreams can indeed become reality.
It is hard to put into words. I thought the notion “you can do anything you set your mind to” didn’t apply to me. I thought that was for the other guy. But I have come to appreciate I, too, can share in life’s grandest adventures. I can make what seems unreachable attainable. This was the dream after all; publishing a book. Not selling thousands of books or becoming a famous author. And I had absolutely zero prior experience or expertise to rely on. But I had the conviction to follow my heart. And so, I want to share with you what becoming a published author has taught me about accomplishing your goals – for I know they live in your heart too.
Have the Right Mindset
First and foremost, I needed to change my mindset. You see, I have wanted to write a book for many years. Well, truth be told, I didn’t want to write a book – I wanted to have a completed, fully authored book with my name on it. I wanted to be an author; I didn’t want to write a book. I have never liked the process of writing (yet here I am writing a blog) and had many starts and stops over the last decade.
To get over the psychological hurdle, I needed to shift from seeing an end point to embracing the journey. I wrestled with knowing versus learning, and had to move from finding joy in knowing how to do something to getting joy from learning how to do something. I needed to embrace getting there rather than being there. Allow me to give you another example. In addition to always wanting to write a book, I had also wanted to know how to play the guitar. I had tried to learn a few times over the years and found it to be too hard and gave up. I couldn’t play the guitar. Finally, I needed to adjust my mindset and believe there is joy in learning how to play the guitar. Now, about a year and a half after beginning a concerted effort to learn to play, I still don’t know how to play the guitar. However, I am learning and find enjoyment in the process.
What goals do you have? Let’s say, for example, your goal is to earn a MBA. You should focus on the individual classes, personal development, and connections you make along the way rather than on the final credentials hanging in a frame on the wall which will likely be a few years and thousands of dollars down the road.
Achieving your most wild and exciting life goals requires having a plan. Instill intermittent milestones where you can celebrate success along the way. This creates discipline by addressing two things: it makes the challenge seem less daunting, and it renews your commitment to forge on. For me, I ultimately decided I wanted to give it a try and whether I succeeded or failed, at least I gave it a shot.
I chose to begin in autumn knowing that it would soon be winter and I would be writing at a time of year when it is too cold and snowy for my liking. I challenged myself to have the writing done by spring. My first milestone was to have a completed manuscript – not the final draft, but a completed manuscript from first chapter to last. My second milestone was to have a few trusted advisors read the manuscript and provide feedback. Then I attained confirmation from the publisher they would accept the manuscript, I added the foreword and some illustrations, and so on and so forth. Each milestone of the journey was affirming. I learned to appreciate the process of writing a book and managing the publishing steps.
If your goal is to run a marathon, concentrate your efforts on form, routine, and gradually building your way up to 26.2 miles. Perhaps complete a 5k and then a half marathon first, and celebrate those successes. Work on improving your time even if you haven’t increased your distance. If you only see yourself as a “marathoner,” you may give up a few miles in because the challenge seems too daunting. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”
Eliminate Your Greatest De-motivator
I mentioned earlier that I had a number of starts and stops over the last decade or so. The biggest deterrent for me was the act of plunking away at the keyboard and putting thoughts to page. This killed my motivation to write. Finally, I installed a dictation app on my phone. I could speak my thoughts and ideas, anytime it was convenient, and the app would convert it to a document. I only needed to then edit, shuffle paragraphs around, add details, and polish it up. From there, I was off to the races.
What is the greatest factor demotivating you from working towards your goals? If you can name it then you can eliminate it. Reflect on this and be sure you have gotten to the heart of the matter. This is a little different than the common philosophy of doing the least desirable task first. I suggest you find a way to remove it, abolish it, destroy it. Once you do, remaining tasks begin to build momentum.
Use Your Network
One of the more joyous outcomes I realized from working towards my goal was learning how many people in my network wanted to see me succeed. I expected that writing a book would be a solitary activity left to me and me alone. I learned for me to succeed I needed the help of others – and plenty of others were ready to offer their help. There are people you know who would be happy to help you, too. There are people who want to see you succeed.
For example, I got help with tasks like selecting a publisher, editing, photography, and marketing. I am confident if you stop to think about it you will find that there are people you know who can help you based on their experience and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only can these connections help you with elements of your goal you are not experienced in, they will be some of your greatest cheerleaders and can serve as accountability partners to keep you on track.
Overcome Your Fears
Fear of failure is something I have wrestled with most of my life, as many people do. This fear generally fuels me into action rather than paralyzing me, so I don’t worry about it too much. In this case, I had lingering self-doubt about whether or not a publisher would take on the project. I wondered if anyone would read the book. I worried about readers finding grammar errors. I had angst over what my family and friends would have to say about it. Eventually, I found the courage I needed to put myself out there, embrace vulnerability, and allow readers to learn about what is in my heart. I decided that the book did not need to be perfect, it merely needed to be authentically me.
And then came another, and perhaps more important, fear. I needed to overcome the fear of succeeding. I needed to be vulnerable enough to accept success and failure with equal amounts of grace. I needed to get comfortable with having my name on the cover of a book, with having my name show up in online search results, and with the attention I would get from people who learned I had written a book. I have never been one to self-promote or seek attention. Authoring a book has taken me out of my comfort zone. I continue to remind myself that it is not about me; it is about the message of the book and trying to help others. What about you? What if you actually earn that MBA or finish that marathon? How will you respond to the achievement? And is that response standing in your way?
We all have hopes, dreams, and aspirations. What is one of the most wild and exciting goals on your list? What are you doing to prepare to attain it? I am confident with the right perspective, discipline, courage, and a little help from your friends you can do anything you want to. And in the unlikely event you do not achieve your goal, I am sure you will at least be happy you tried. No regrets!