Hey there reader! I write this hotly-anticipated third blog post to the sound of springtime birds on this Easter Sunday, 2018. A hot coffee is my fuel and a snoring Doberman has draped her velvet ears across my bare toes under my blanket; I’m fairly sure this is the definition of heaven.
Now that we know each other so well, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you a recent exercise I invented. The background here is that, as you have probably have guessed, I suffer a little from imposter syndrome or as I like to say “holy fuck what the hell am I doing here?”. Recognising the toxic nature of this mindset, I decided to grab life by the pig-tails and drag some order into things. From a young age you are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Well…here I am. 33. I guess I’m a grown up now, right? But yup. Still haven’t got the first clue how a grown up navigates and plans their own career path or ambitions. How do you put order on the chaos?! Making a plan is terrifying…what if it actually happens?!
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It was all this chaotic noise that made me sit down and think out a system for putting some order on all the thoughts. Now. Get ready. Because this is dead easy. And so far I have found it extremely useful in putting a frame around some short and longer-term goals.
Stuff you will need
- 5 sheets of paper (just to headline the sections)
- A book of post-it notes
- Marker pen
- A mindset open to some introspective self-exploration (this is not optional)
Section 1 “The Hopes”: The short-term picture
Using your post-it’s slap down some short-term goals for yourself. Think; things to be achieved within the next 12 months. I’m talking about immediate things that you can action today to make your life more interesting and fulfilling. Do you need to get some up-skilling to be better at your job? Learn how to swim? Ride a bike? Meet new friends? Bake a flan? That’s where this stuff goes.
Section 2 “The Dreams”: The longer-term landscape of an ideal world
This is the bigger stuff. Very much living in the “what I want to be when I grow up” space. Think big. Think bold. And don’t let any of your fears or self-doubt hold you back (we’ll come to that…). Do you want to be a dancer? Write it down! It doesn’t matter if you have 2 left feet right now. Just write it down. Do you want to write a book? Run a marathon? Learn to fly a plane? This is your deepest darkest secret goals that you have never expressed or really entertained before. Let’s take them out of the box and play with them for a minute.
Section 3 “The Bullshit”: The facts and fiction that block your way
Every time you have an idea, there will be that little voice that says “you’re too old”, “you’re not creative”, “you can’t do that”, “you will have no money” etc. Some of these fears will be real, practical issues that you have to give time to. Others will not. But by writing them down you are engaging with every single blocker and giving it time to dance around in the plain light of day. It will very quickly become clear which ones are real and which a perceived. Have you been self-sabotaging yourself all this time because you are afraid to succeed?! Maybe…but if you never engage with your fears they will sit on your shoulder for the rest of your life and your “hopes” and “dreams” are the things that are going to suffer.
Section 4 “The Plan”: Bringing life to your “hopes” and “dreams”
So this is where it gets interesting. This is where you have to cut your cloth and start making some commitments to your own future awesomeness. This is also where it gets a little tricky for me to describe in general terms…but I’m hopeful that you are with me this far and you get a sense of the journey. In acknowledging your “hopes”, “dreams” and “fears” you will have unconsciously began carving out a bit of a 3-demensional picture and your “plan” should actually begin to unfold pretty organically.
I will give you an example from my own workshop. One of my “hopes” is to win a professional award for some of the advertising work I am involved in. A “fear” related to this is that I am horrendous at public speaking, so how would I ever be able to pitch my work strongly enough to an awards judging panel? So the plan I have set myself in working towards this hope is to seek public speaking coaching. While it won’t win me an award, I will be investing time in myself with the distinct intention of supporting my own short-term goals.
The “dreams” may begin to take a bit of shape here too. When you map out your short and long-term ambitions, you will notice that there can be some interplay between the two. Maybe your dream is to write a book? No idea where to start? How about a blog?…how about starting by naming your blog?…here you have something for your plan section!
Section 5 “The Truth”: Owning your bullshit
Remember that section “bullshit” where you bashed the hell out of yourself? Well it’s time to own it by separating the facts from the fiction.
These are the things that you have to face, and they will allow you to put some genuine expectation-management on your “plan”. Let’s break it down. Your “dream” is to work for NASA as a US astronaut. BUT you hate maths, you can’t name the planets and you have no intention of leaving your rent-controlled gaff in Drumcondra to go start again in Florida…or wherever NASA is these days…You are going to have to face some facts here and reassess the reality of that dream. Is it really for you?
Or perhaps a little more based in reality; your “dream” is to start your own business but you are tied to a heap of debt and payments through car loans / mortgage / kids. This is a hard one. You can’t simply throw caution to the wind and say you’re going do default on your mortgage or stop buying food for your kids. No. You need to think laterally about this dream. Accepting this fear as a fact will allow you to think around it and try to see alternative ways to approach the issue. Is there any way to renegotiate your loans or combine them? Is there any small business owner you could approach for advice or tips on how they established themselves? Is there a networking breakfast you could pop along to and pick some business brains? If you answered “yes” to any of that, then it goes onto your “Plan” section immediately and BOOM! You are working towards your dreams. Well done.
By telling yourself you’re not good enough, you are committing yourself to never becoming good enough.
This is arguably the hardest bit and I will ask you to be ready and honest. Because at the end of this you get to own all your “bullshit”. And we all know that when you own your bullshit, it can’t be used as a weapon against you. You need to be ready to stop letting it interfere with your process. Things I am talking about…
“I’m too old”. Unless you are 45 and you want to enter an under 12’s football game, then I’m very sorry to say, that you are not too old. You are making excuses.
“I’m not good enough”. This is a vague, non-specific self-criticism and by saying that about yourself you are giving up on the idea of learning. That is really sad. You may not be very good at something now, but I assure you if you want it enough you will be prepared to learn and become better. By telling yourself you’re not good enough, you are committing yourself to never becoming good enough.
“Everyone will care” / “No one will care”. Who are you doing this for? Stop trying to shape your “hopes” and “dreams” around other people. Start living your life with intrigue and curiosity! Start living for yourself.
For every piece of fiction we spin ourselves, there is a truth just waiting to be brought out. But you have to be prepared to take ownership and recognise the facts from the fiction and stop letting yourself stand in your way.
At the end of this exploration of facts and fiction I want you to write out your “truths”. This is going to be very personal and specific to you but it is the important step that will allow you to maintain focus and motivation in achieving your goals. Yes you might feel “too old” sometimes. But all those years have given you more experience and insight, which makes you a fearsome opponent. So maybe you write “I am fierce”. That’s yours. You own it. Don’t forget it! Let that sit on your shoulder and scream in the face of the little voice telling you that you’re too old.
It might not be an exercise that you get through in one session. I am still taking my time and working through it myself, adding thoughts or plans or ideas and coming back to them. It’s a process so be patient with it! Investing in yourself is the most valuable thing you will ever do. It doesn’t have to be rushed.
I hope this has been some help to you. If you try it out, leave a comment or drop me an email to let me know! I would love to know how you find it.