On Taking a Big Swing

On Taking a Big Swing

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.

  • I totally agree Shannon. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and God helps those who help themselves (to quote a few cliches). Mostly I’m a “slow and steady wins the race” kinda guy but sometimes there comes a time where “going for broke” and take that risk is the only way to go.

    • I am like you Rob! Slow and steady and sometimes one step forward and two back! It works for some things, but not others! I love the attitude of take charge and get it done! It helps is there is reflection during the process, but the action orientation is fantastic!

  • I believe that you can’t have it all at once, but at different periods in your life you can focus on the things you value. I am focusing on building a business and a skill to double my income. Once the income doubles, I will focus on debt reduction and savings for a few short years. Then I will switch to my business and life-balance that I’d prefer.

    • Chelsea,
      Maybe your next big thing is to focus intensely on figuring out what you want by saying, “Yes!” To lots of things and reflecting on what you loved when you were a kid. Go for a hike? Yes! Adopt a dog? Yes! Go see something new? Yes! I am also partial to writing as a way to find new Yeses.

  • I think taking the risk is worth it. It seems scary and when I quit my job to blog full time, I was nervous. I was worried that maybe I wouldn’t have enough work to keep me busy and to pay my bills. But it worked out. It is a leap of faith, but the payoff is huge.

  • Cait thanks for letting Shannon share her thoughts with a guest post on
    I’m definitely a fan of go big or go home. I’m not sure if this is because I am impulsive or that I have a bit of OCD when I decide I want to do something. Still, with anything we do it comes down to dealing with fear of the unknown and making a choice.

    • Yes yes yes. Like my road trip! I’m a little nervous about being alone on the road… but I’m also REALLY EXCITED, and the excitement trumps the nerves. Just gotta go and see what happens!

  • An inspiring post I really needed right now! I have taken a fair share of big swings. They always lead to new periods of growth, even if they come with some hiccups. I think it’s important to prepare yourself, but eventually you have to step up to the plate- so why not point and aim for the fence?

  • “As I thought about this idea some more, I realized that every goal I achieved happened in the midst of massive change…”

    Oh wow, this really hit home for me. The past year has been full of these – lots of upheaval and big changes, ending in the accomplishment of a lifelong goal (buying my own place). Sometimes I thought I was crazy taking on so much, but there are times for balance and then like you say there are times for focus.

    • I also find that periods of intensity – while we should’ve live in them permanently – have a way of showing us how much we are truly capable of taking on, when we are going after what we want. <3

  • I love this. Yes, it’s good to plan, and sometimes we’re too overwhelmed to think the big thoughts and dream the big dreams, but when we come up for air everything seems clearer about where we should go next.

    It’s often the things out of our control (being laid off, deaths of close loved ones, major illness or injury) that shake us up, and after we realize we’re still alive we appreciate what that means more and want to make the most of it.

  • Ah this post is EXACTLY what I needed today! :)
    I’ve just quit my (comfortable but boring) job in Cape Town and I have a one-way ticket to Stockholm in two weeks’ time! (!!!!!!) I’ve been dreaming of studying overseas for years, and I applied in January to a master’s course in a field I’m really passionate about , I got in (yay!) and now I’m going. I’m absolutely terrified; I’m leaving so much behind and moving across the world all alone with only a few bags, enough money to keep me going for a couple months, and a room to stay in found on a type of Swedish Craigslist (holding thumbs that turns out ok haha).
    I am so excited too though; this is such a fantastic opportunity and I absolutely agree that big leaps are often the best way to make a change, especially ones that are difficult or scary! There is no better feeling than jumping into something terrifying and then looking back later and realising: holy crap, I DID IT!

  • To Jessica; I’m from Stockholm but moved to the island Gotland ( 3 hours from the mainland by ferry) . I am attending the law program at Stockholm university and going back and forth every weekend. If you have any problems with your housing, i probobly know someone that has something to offer. Welcome to Sweden and i wish you have succes with your deegre.

    • Wow, thanks Madeleine, that’s so kind! I’m super excited to come to Sweden :D and I’ll definitely contact you if I struggle with housing :)

  • I have to start going after the “big dreams!” Sometimes when I take baby steps towards achieving my goals, I end up staying complacent in the slow pace because I never feel uncomfortable….but if we think about it, change tends to come out of discomfort.

    Thanks Cait and Shannon!!!!

  • I wish I could take a big swing at my fitness goals! It always seems to take a back seat to other priorities: family, work, household chores. And since I’ve tried and fail so many times, it’s almost like, “What’s the point?” But perhaps instead of wasting so much time picking apart the reflection in the mirror and wishing I looked different, why not give my all and swing hard? Very inspiring post.

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