If there’s something I’ve gained over the past few weeks, it’s a serious respect for the successfully self-employed. Even if (or perhaps “especially if”) they’re not making money yet, the discipline and resolve it takes to work for yourself is intense. It’s hard to stay consistent day after day and “show up to work” when there’s no supervisor wondering where you are when you’re late, no customer holding you accountable if your write-up doesn’t arrive on-time…it’s amazing, the motivation we feel to complete a task for someone than ourselves, even if it’s something we hate.
Or maybe I shouldn’t say “we.” Maybe I should say “I.”
My contract in healthcare IT ended mid-September, and since then I’ve been focusing on personal projects with varying degrees of success. I think I’d usually call this point in life “hitting the reset button,” but I think maybe that’s the wrong perspective to have while walking into this next phase of my life. Sure, it’s a blank page, a clean slate in many respects to be writing for myself, but resetting implies that I’m wiping away some aspect of the past, starting afresh. And if there’s one thing I’m learning, even this early in the game, it’s that you need to leverage every skill you can from your past if you’re going to make working on your own any sort of success.
I was unhappy during a lot of my tenure in healthcare IT, but I can’t deny that the experience gave me tools that I’m better off for having: exposure to professional project management, mobility to experience working in a number of different atmospheres with people of varying backgrounds, a chance to see my personal strengths and weaknesses when put under pressure in important projects. I know the importance of a deadline and a timeline, and how much more beneficial it is to walk in to a situation with specific, actionable goals instead of just aimless milling. I think I’m to the point where I could even go back in to healthcare IT and ask the right questions, create the right situation where I could be happy with my work.
I almost wrote that “those experiences shaped me for the better.” I think that’s true, but only to an extent. See, we’re each presented with a set of circumstances, and it’s up to us to decide how to look at the situation and how we’ll react to our new normal. So yes, I think they shaped me for the better, but I also think that I’m shaping myself for the better too.
Changing your position in the world requires changing how you look at yourself. More often than not, this happens due to the influence of another person…and more often than not, I think it’s the negative influences that sink in, Someone criticizes us, says just a couple words or takes an action that cuts to the core, and then we start to feel like we deserved what came to us…and the downward spiral begins. I’ve played victim to that plenty of times, and I’ll admit it’s one of my biggest vulnerabilities. But I’ve been working on trying to change that internal narrative, to stop myself from talking about how stupid or ignorant I am when I mess something up, and to acknowledge where I’ve made progress in my life towards my goals. It’s slow work, and it’s hard…but more and more I start to believe that I’m not such a screw-up after all. But it helps that I’ve stopped fighting that fight in a vacuum.
I’ve got a friend/accountability partner who keeps me on-track and motivated; we’re both working on business ideas, and we meet to keep each other on-track and accountable. Neither of us are perfect, but we believe in each other and are willing to call each other out on BS. I think I used to feel that working with another person would equal admitting some sort of weakness, one that I needed to eliminate, but now I’m ok with admitting that I’m not great at working alone. By acknowledging weakness instead of obsessing about eliminating it, I can take action to compensate for it rather than running into the brick wall that ended in self-deprecation and depression.
Setting a new mentality allows me to set new expectations, ones that I might not have succeeded in fulfilling before, but that I can expect to meet now. This is usually the part of the story where I talk about all the times that I’ve messed up in the past, about how this time will be different…but I’m pretty sick of talking about it, especially since talking about it hasn’t helped in the past. So, enter my Results Calendar.
Remember how the characters in Inception carried around totems to keep them focused while working through their dreams? Well, I think we need physical reminders to keep us centered and focused in our goals and dreams in reality, too. I think I’ve talked about Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain before; I’ve actually tried it before as well. But like I was apt to do back then, I set the expectations way too high from the beginning: I think I remember having 7 tasks of various intensities to do daily, with another that was every other day or something like that…as you can imagine, that didn’t work out. So this time it’s simple: post writing, take a picture, and journal. Every day.
It’s worth noting: expectations and goals need to be realistic and achievable, otherwise the guilt can push you further from success. I’ve created my goals so that they give me the flexibility to work around life: I may not post for the same site every day, and I can write a couple days’ posts in advance and schedule them to go live if I know I’ll be busy over a weekend or traveling. The picture takes virtually no time to take, but I look forward to having a year’s worth of images to look back on. And though journaling will be hard because nobody will see the results, the time for reflection is critical to growth and I see it as an investment. It’s a habit set that’s going to be three days strong in a couple of hours, and I’m pretty excited about even getting this far. Plus, I really like putting those stickers on my makeshift calendar!
I hope you’re all working towards your goals and dreams, too. So, TL; DR if you need it:
- If you feel stagnant or that you’re underperforming, change your perspective and think about your strengths. View weaknesses through the lenses of your strengths, then develop tactics to succeed even with those traits.
- Grab an accountability buddy. That person doesn’t have to read the same book or go to the gym with you, but they should care about your progress and check on your regularly.
- Set a daily, achievable goal to make a habit, and mark your progress physically. Whether it’s reading a book for a half-hour, exercising, meditating, or whatever, pick a part of your life to focus on. It can really get you out of a rut. And everyone should get a calendar and watch their progress grow! Even just a couple days worth of consistency can feel like a medal when you know you’re working for it.