On the podcast this week, Carrie and I talked about our goal-setting strategies. This guest post from our friend Shannon McNay couldn’t be more timely and adds even more food for thought. Enjoy!
One of my favorite things about Cait is that, no matter what she does, she either goes big or goes home. She got fed up with her debt so she tackled that beast faster than most people manage to accumulate it. She wanted to change her view on spending so she went on a one-year (then two-year!) shopping ban.
Every time Cait takes a swing, she aims for the fences – something I think we can all learn from.
So many articles will tell you to take small, sustainable steps to a better life. And I should know – I’m often writing this advice myself. But as I get older, I’m finding it harder to fit it all in (even when all of the “it”s are small things). And I’m starting to wonder if real change is better taken in one huge fell swoop – like ripping the bandaid off.
Rather than bunting and going for first base, what if we took a big, fat swing every time? What if we forgot about trying to score first base, then second base, then finally home? What if instead we always went for the home run?
As I thought about this idea some more, I realized that every goal I achieved happened in the midst of massive change…
I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of moving to New York, so, at 25, I moved to New York. Sure, there was some planning involved – I saved vigorously for three months. But at the end of those three months, I had a job and an apartment and was living in New York in a matter of two weeks. Boom. Suddenly I was a New Yorker.
Then I wanted to focus on my writing. Instead of thinking about it and talking about it all the time the way I used to, I just did it. I read Stephen King’s On Writing. I created a habit of writing for 30 minutes every morning before work and for several hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Three months later, I had written a novel. A first draft – but good enough to submit to literary agents.
A few years later, I realized that I wanted to have more impact in my work. I did some research and discovered that startups could help me do that. In about as long as it took to convince my now-husband to move to San Francisco (a few months), we made the move. I didn’t get a job or apartment as quickly, but I had more money saved up and a stronger network. It all worked out.
During my time in San Francisco, I finally boosted my small monthly efforts to pay off debt into overdrive. I changed my leisurely payoff pace into a goal with unmitigated focus. Within 1.5 years, I was consumer debt-free.
A few more years later (after moving back to New York), I contemplated a career as a freelance writer. I knew the best way to go would be to build contacts, but my work hours were way too long to take on any extra work (one downside of startups). Then, my company was acquired and I had a choice. I could either work at the new company, find a new job, or attempt to become a freelance writer. With some money saved and a thumbs up from my husband, I took the leap into freelance life.
Focus is a powerful thing.
Moving to New York, writing a novel, getting involved in startups, paying off debt, becoming a freelancer. These were all big dreams in my life. And I accomplished them all through a willingness to try and fail and with an intense, relentless focus.
…you know, kind of like the unrelenting focus it takes to maintain a two-year shopping ban.
I can’t speak for Cait on her shopping ban, but I can say that, for me, I enjoyed the process of striving for these goals. They didn’t feel as unsustainable or as hard to manage as they originally did. In fact, diving in head first was invigorating. I felt more alive than ever before.
In trusting myself to achieve, I felt freer than ever.
In that tunnel vision, I enjoyed the security of knowing that I had a plan and nothing could stop me as long as I didn’t take my eye off the prize. In understanding my own resourcefulness, my confidence to reach even greater heights grew. As I pushed myself, I realized how much more I could do and how much more I was capable of. I never would have learned any of this through tentative baby steps. That’s what I’d been trying to do up until that first big swing at 25 – and those baby steps never worked for me.
I’m not trying to say that you should dump everything in your life in service of one goal, consequences be damned. I still had to think about other things like health, finances, and relationships. But I learned how to manage them efficiently so I could maintain my focus on the largest goal at hand. Everything else was like sleeping and bathing – things we do every day but don’t overanalyze.
What I am trying to say is that, in all these instances, I set my sights on one thing and prepared for the dive. I didn’t prepare too much (lest I begin to treat the preparation as if it’s the action itself), but enough to be ready for worst-case scenarios. Then I took my swing. I didn’t let myself fear failure, because in my mind the only true failure would have been inaction.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West
In a culture telling us to strive for balance at every turn, I’ve learned that balance is often one of the most difficult things to achieve. In fact, I’ve often felt more pressure in trying to reach balance (the very thing that’s supposed to relieve the pressure).
We could then knock our goals down one by one – enabling us to efficiently achieve all of them.
Now that I’ve reached large financial goals, I know what I need to do to continue to reach new financial goals. I don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. And now that I’ve changed careers several times, I can do so with minimal cognitive load.
(In fact, life recently threw me another, very pleasant, curveball with an opportunity that I never saw coming – leading me away from freelance writing and into a full-time position that will serve as a great learning and growth opportunity. Just goes to show the importance of being ready for anything, and seeing challenges and opportunities as one and the same.)
When we figure out how to achieve one of our goals, we can use what we learned to achieve new goals. But if we keep trying to make it all work at the same time, we end up spinning our wheels in frustration. So, why not take the big swing so you can take it again and again as your life and your goals change?
If you could take a big swing at one of your goals or dreams, what would it be?
Shannon McNay is a writer, community builder, and content strategist. She spends her days running content at MyBankTracker and the rest of her time mentoring creative women through Off The Rails. You can follow her on Twitter here.