“Let go of the past and go for the future. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I’m guilty of looking back. I mean really guilty.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done instead of what I actually did. I catch myself nearly every day wishing I’d done something differently ~ said the things I needed to say before it was too late, listened when people wiser than me told me not to do something, had the courage to make a better choice, and on & on the list goes. Sadly, all the wanting and wishing in the world won’t change even a single moment of what was. And all the energy you spend wishing is all the energy you’re not using to move forward. And all the time you spend wanting is all the time you’ll never get back. All the thoughts about it, desire for it to be different, and beating yourself up over it saps your enthusiasm for the present, yes, but changes the past not one bit.
So . . . here’s my New Year’s resolution, the only one I promise to keep: I’m going to look forward, proceed confidently, aim for & achieve my dreams. I’m going to take Thoreau’s advice and live the life I imagined. I truly hope that you do the same.
What about you? What are you going to do with your life in the New Year? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.
“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” ~ Mohandas Gandhi
So in last week’s post about stepping out in faith (find it here), I told you about how I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was five years old. Here’s my earliest memory of writing: crafting a story in the first grade & having it be selected by the teacher to be read to the Kindergarten class. I don’t even remember what it was about. But I do remember thinking that writing stories was all I wanted to do. I also told you how I wasn’t doing it. What I didn’t touch on was how it made me feel. All those years when I wasn’t doing what I knew I was supposed to be doing I felt off, not at home inside myself, basically living a lie.
I started having health problems. I had knots in the muscles of my back. I had stomach cramps that medication wouldn’t make go away. I had chest pains that no testing could explain. I never equated what was going on with my body to what was going on in my mind ~ the battle between what I wanted to do versus what I told myself was the sensible thing that I should do. Odd, yes, that it never occurred to me but true. As if somehow my body & mind weren’t connected. When I finally quit my full-time job & took off after my dream, those health problems faded away.
I’m here to tell you that living out of alignment with your beliefs can be detrimental to you not only mentally but physically, too. I’ve been a licensed massage therapist for over a decade. I started doing it because it was a job that had flexible hours & had nothing to do with writing (since I found that writing professionally all day made me less eager ~ read: it felt like work ~ to write fiction in my free time). I stayed with massage, though, because I enjoyed helping people.
YOUR BODY KNOWS THE TRUTH
What I’ve learned after working on hundreds of clients over the years is that people hold emotions in their bodies. They’d say: “I’m fine, really.” But then I’d work on them and find huge knotted muscles and fibrous bands and tender points that made them wince with the slightest pressure. Why? Because they really weren’t fine. Look, your body doesn’t lie. That bears repeating: Your. Body. Doesn’t. Lie. So you should listen to it.
Here’s an eye-opening book I came across that hits that point home: Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss. In it, she talks about how every single thing in your life ~ what’s going on around you, the choices you make, the relationships you have, all your beliefs, every attitude and opinion you have ~ impacts your physiology. I know this probably sounds like New Age, crazy stuff. I used to think that, too. And then I saw my own health change as a result of finally choosing to do what I wanted.
SO WHY AM I TELLING YOU ALL THIS?
Because I believe if you’re not pursuing your dream in some way, if you believe in something and you’re not living it, if you’re hiding your gifts & talents, if you’re making excuses because you’re afraid, eventually that’s going to catch up with you. Maybe not this week or even this year, but at some point down the road it will. If your body is trying to tell you something ~ get out of this job, go take a class, write that poem, paint that picture ~ you should listen to it. That bears repeating: You. Should. Listen. To. It. Your body, more than your mind, will tell you if you’re living what you believe.
So do you live what you believe? If not, why not? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never ~ in nothing great or small, large or petty ~ never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”~ Winston Churchill
One of the main reasons that people fail to achieve their dreams once they start pursuing them, according to a variety of seminars I’ve attended, is that they give up too soon. They either underestimate the time it will take to achieve their goals or their ego gets in the way and they’re not willing to grow slowly. So they quit.
Following a dream is sometimes a rough undertaking. You have to expect obstacles from the start. If you know they’re coming, you won’t be thrown off-guard when they finally show up. And, most likely, they will show up. They’ll come in the form of: other people’s negative opinions, rejections, a bad decision you made, fear, lack of sales, lack of money, bad reviews, just to name a few.
It’s your job, as the dream follower, to face them head on, to not back down, to keep moving forward in the direction of your vision no matter what gets thrown at you. Many people get stuck when they hit opposition. They slow down, then stop. Finally, they give up. Here are some things I’ve run into, just to give you an idea:
- I’ve been rejected more than 100 times. I kept sending my work out; I just simply stopped counting after 100.
- There have been years ~ yes, you’re reading that right, years with an s ~ I made a grand total of $0 (yes, zero) from my fiction writing (so, yes, I still have a day job).
- In total, I’ve spent thousands more on my writing than I’ve actually made.
- I juggle a lot ~ working, taking care of my family, cooking nearly all the meals, cleaning the house, paying the bills, writing novels, reading, blogging, keeping my social networking sites updated, parenting my kids ~ and sometimes it’s just exhausting.
- I spend countless hours away from my family. Both of my children have asked me, at one point or another, when I’m going to be done writing so they can see me again.
- I’ve lost many, many hours of sleep because I started either working late into the night or getting up at some crazy early hour in the morning to minimize the time I miss with my kids.
- The traditional publishing route doesn’t seem open to me, so I changed my vision & am now an independent author.
Is it worth it? you might ask. Yes. Because, overall, I’m happy & I love what I’m doing.
If you know opposition is coming, if you mentally prepare for it, then it won’t sidetrack you when it finally shows up. If Winston Churchill had given up, we might all very well be speaking German right now. He didn’t, the tides of World War II turned, and Hitler was defeated. Churchill was facing down the Nazis. You’re just following a dream.
Do you believe persistence matters? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.” ~ Toni Morrison
I kept getting told as a kid that when I grew up, I needed a good paying job with great medical benefits. That, my father said, is something to strive for. He meant well, I’m sure, but what it taught me was: don’t risk. Fiction writing, of course, doesn’t have the reputation of being either good paying or offering medical benefits. So I opted to be a journalist. Steady, risk-free career, yes. Did it satisfy my soul? No.
THE CHOICES YOU MAKE
Because of my parents’ voices banging around in my head, I didn’t follow my heart. I spent 8 hours a day in a newsroom, chasing down stories & writing up articles. At home, I wrote fiction in journal after journal but didn’t let anyone see it. I equated I-can’t-make-money-with-it to it’s-not-worth-pursuing. For a lot of years, I felt like I needed someone else’s permission to follow my bliss.
Then, one day, I met this great woman, a total stranger, whose name I don’t even remember now. I don’t recall what we were doing, other than I was in California at the time. We were both milling around, waiting for something; that much I know for sure. We got to talking, small talk mostly just to pass the time. She talked about her job & then asked what I did.
Out of the blue, I said, “A reporter. But if it were up to me, I would be a novelist.”
And she cocked her head a notch then said, “It’s your life. Who else is it up to?”
I didn’t have an answer for that.
A few minutes later she got what she came for & I never saw her again. But that brief conversation, less than 5 minutes really, sparked the beginning of a change in me. I got to thinking: She’s right. I don’t have to keep waiting around for someone ~ parent, sibling, boss, spouse, whoever ~ to say it’s okay to follow my dream. I started sending out my work after that. I applied & got accepted to graduate school for fiction writing. I wrote a novel then another and another. I didn’t look back.
Don’t spend anymore of your life waiting around & hoping that someone will give their blessing to your goals. You’ll be wasting time ~ days or weeks or maybe even years ~ that you can’t ever get back. Or, even worse, that approval may never come. Give yourself permission & let that be enough. Like that sage woman said: It’s your life. Who else is it up to?
Well, last week’s post got a lot of hits so I figured it’s probably a topic that people struggle with or at least are interested in. This post expounds on what I learned during EntreLeadership, not just for writers but also for anybody wanting to overcome their fear & pursue their dream.
For starters, Dave Ramsey said that the number one reason people don’t follow their dreams is fear. He, too, was terrified in his life (a story he told: he was in bankruptcy, with a wife, marriage on the rocks, 4 kids, mortgage they couldn’t pay, being sued) but he kept moving forward.
People are looking for a risk-free environment. They come to seminars and want someone to take the fear from them. They want the risk to be gone. I know because that’s why I wound up at Dave’s event. In fact, 3 out of the 4 people at my table that day were there because they were afraid to follow their dreams (the last guy was there because he “just liked Dave Ramsey”). I wanted someone to make it easier. I wanted reassurance that it would all work out fine. When there’s no risk, you might say, well then I’ll follow my dream. That, the no-risk part, Dave said, is never going to happen.
What you have to do instead is keep moving forward. What I mean by that is to take the next step in the direction of your dream, then the next, then the next. It doesn’t matter how big the steps are. The more terrified you are, the smaller you probably ought to make them in the beginning (but not forever). The point is that you have to move—and keep moving—through the fear.
When you stay stagnant, motionless, your thoughts get the better of you: I can’t, I won’t, I’ll fail, it’s too hard. And so you back off. You lower your expectations. Maybe you stop altogether. But when you keep moving, keep making goals for yourself and then reach them, there’s a little piece of strength added to your plate and a little piece of fear taken away.
HOW THIS LOOKS IN REAL LIFE:
- I wanted to make my novel, Small as a Mustard Seed, available as an eBook & I had a shoe-string budget, which meant I had to do most everything myself.
- I broke it down into tiny do-able steps (redo my website, start a blog, make a Facebook fan page, get a Twitter account & learn how to use it, do the cover, format the book, etc) that I did one at a time.
- Was I scared? Absolutely. At every step I felt out of my comfort zone: who am I kidding, I don’t know what I’m doing, what the #$@#! did I get myself into, why am I doing this.
- But I kept going. Sometimes, I took a day in-between decisions to take a breath, but I knew that I wouldn’t give myself more than a day off, that I would keep going forward.
- I set an end date, May 29, 2011, and promised myself I’d have it done by that day.
- I, who knew nothing about HTML, CSS, jQuery, or any kind of web-design language, cruised through forums & learned & made a website myself (www.shellijohnson.com) that I think turned out pretty good.
- I took an online class and learned Facebook & Twitter (& am still learning).
- I learned about royalty-free vs. rights-managed images & licensing agreements for cover photos.
- I took another online class when the formatting of my novel into an eBook fell to pieces a week before the book was due.
- I dealt with problems (yes, there were a lot) as they came up. I did my best not to back down. I took a breath, sometimes two, and made a lot of decisions.
- Did I make mistakes? You bet.
- Were any of them fatal to my dream? No.
- Most importantly, I made my deadline. My book went up for sale & the fear I had when I started in early April was all but gone by the end of May.
Dave said you can’t reach your goals waiting for a time when the fear will subside or the risk will be gone. I can attest to that. Really, in 2 short months, I went from being fearful to being empowered. There’s strength in living boldly. And the best part is that once you knock down the first wall—the one you might’ve thought was impossible to scale, that you didn’t have it in you to beat—the rest of them don’t look nearly as high.
So, a few months back I went to a 1-day Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership event (more on that in another post). It was a motivational class for people who wanted to learn more about owning their own business. But I figured it probably applied to writing, too, since working on a book is usually a solitary event, no set hours, no boss looking over your shoulder and telling you to write more.
One of the first things he talked about is why people don’t following their dreams: simple fear. Fear of opposition, yes. Fear of failure, sure. But also fear of success, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of other people’s opinions. As you already probably know, fear will paralyze you. You won’t write. Maybe you’ll feel guilty about that & beat yourself up, but still you won’t write.
Here’s what Dave suggested: Keep moving forward even if it’s only in bite-sized chunks. Here’s what I say: If you keep making the decision to write, to show up every day and work, even if it’s only a sentence or a paragraph at a time, eventually the fear will lessen and will probably subside altogether. You’ll find yourself writing for longer and longer stretches. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself looking forward to sitting down and working. Eventually, you may even miss hanging out with the characters even if they’re only real in your head.
He also talked about looking at options and the worst-case scenario. So what’s the worst thing that can happen if you spend an hour working on your book (you had fun, you learned something, you wasted your time)? Okay, so what options do you have if you think your writing stinks (hire an editor, take a writing class, join a writing group for feedback)? What’s the worst thing that could happen once your book is done (you don’t find an agent, you do find an agent, critics hate it, critics love it & you have to come up with something just as brilliant the next time around)? What options do you have if you can’t get it published (self-publish, put it in a drawer & work on another to hone your craft, give it as a gift to your friends/family). Dave’s point was that if you take the time to make a list of your fears, walk through what could (not will) happen & have a list of options available so you don’t feel trapped/stuck, you can nearly get rid of all fear.
Hope this helps you. Happy writing!
Grand Prize Winner, Grant Winner, & Silver Medal Winner