I’ve known that I want to be a writer since I was six years old. I’ve often told the story of winning a state-wide writing contest about children’s rights, traveling to the capital to shake hands and collect my $50 savings bond and thinking “Whoa! You can make money doing this? I’m in!” (the essay for the record was pretty bad)
Of course, that dream has taken many forms over the years, and while I’d still like to be a best-selling novelist someday, I know that it’s never as simple as “someone liked something I wrote so now I’m going to make a living doing this.” Especially now. Over the last decade I’ve become a master of adapting my expectations, and thinking about my goals and plans in different ways. I wanted to write novels when I was 6 years old, I wanted to write for magazines in high school and college, I wanted to be an investigative journalist. I wanted to win a Pulitzer. OK, I still want all of those things. But I also know that the end game isn’t that important. I know that I may or may not accomplish those things, and I’ll probably accomplish a lot of other things.
When I was a little girl I had an image of myself at 23 (because that was the age that I considered “adult”)—I was essentially “Career Barbie.” In this vision I lived in New YorkCity, owned a home, had a briefcase, a husband, and was the Editor in Chief of a magazine. You should be laughing at this little girl version of myself (or at least patting her on her head). I am. At 23 I was living in London, sharing an apartment with 4 other women, dating the wrong guys, making no money at a job I didn’t really like, and loving life. I’m glad my little girl vision didn’t happen (also what magazine is hiring a 23 year old as EIC?)
All of this is to say, a successful life happens when you let go of your vision of what a successful life is. I read a quote today in an article about a yoga teacher who filed for bankruptcy: “The #1 difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is their willingness to fail over and over again.”
This is really hard for a lot of people—especially me—I have this deep need to be “the best” at things. I’ve always known what I want to do and I work really hard at it.
But that willingness to fail and to look like an idiot and keep trying—or keep trying something different is the key to an interesting and successful life (also re-defining what “success” is, is an important step)
There’s a fantastic article on Forbes by Jessica Hagy called ” 20 Ways to Find Your Calling” she makes some great points and illistrates them with awesome hand-drawn charts. Here are a few of the ones that resonated with me the most and my 2 cents.
1. Ignore the future, deal with the present.
“The question, ‘What should I be when I grow up?’ is wrong. Ask instead, ‘What is next today?’ We become adults one hour at a time, so what we do today matters.”
I mostly agree with this–I think it’s still important to have long range goals (see my list of life goals) and think about the future, just not get hung up if it doesn’t work out. But the “work backward” advice is something I’ve read in a lot of career guides–you can’t accomplish any big goal if you don’t take small steps everyday.
3. Say yes to odd opportunities.
“Say yes to the things that intrigue you, instead of the ones that bore you.”
A friend of mine is very creative and is a huge risk taker–as a result she had the most interesting life of anyone I know. Her singifigant other is the same way and is a very sucessful artist. Once when we were talking about how he got where he is, she said: “he literally never says no to anything, even if it seems like a waste of time.” I like the above spin on that because not everything is worth a yes, but I certainly do need to need to think about why I’m saying no before I say it. Almost all of the interesting and valuable things in life come from a “yes.”
4. Find a problem to solve.
Most great ideas are also things that are useful–plus it feels great to make something (anything) better. What do you think needs to be better and can you do anything about it?
5. Burn your plans.
“Your life will not go according to plan. Nobody’s ever has. So don’t worry if you get off track. The track was imaginary anyway.”
What’s that line? “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” or “You want to make God laugh? Make a plan.” I have so many plans for things in my life and of course things almost never happen the way I planned–and it’s both wonderful and horrible. I love her line “Don’t Worry if you get off track, the track was imaginary anyway.” Someone needs to put that on an inspirational poster!
8. Seek out people you actually like.
“It’s more satisfying to dig a ditch with friends than to design a skyscraper with a team of sociopaths.”
This is so true–liking your work environment and co-workers is almost as important as liking the work that you are doing. I’ve had some not so great jobs that were made better by good people, some not so great jobs that were made worse by not so good people and thankfully some great jobs that were made even more awesome by good people.
12. Seek support, not tolerance.
“Make sure you have people in your corner who do more than just nod and say, “that’s nice,” when you tell them your dreams.”
Huge and hard to come by, even the most loving family and friends may find it hard to get as excited about your dreams as you are, especially if it’s not something they are passionate about themselves. But finding a partner (in any form) who really listens and offers advice and feedback and is there for both your highs AND lows is so important. I’ve gotten a lot of “that’s nice” over the years, starting when I announced my intentions to be a novelist at 6 years old. Will Smith of all people said something great along these lines: “If you weren’t present during my struggle, don’t expect to be present during my success”
13. Spend time before you spend money.
Good advice–feel out a new career as much as you can before diving in to a degree or move. Thinking about becoming a teacher–spend some time in a classroom.
17. Don’t keep score.
“No one will be at the top or bottom of their game forever, and who you perceive as your competition is a constantly changing cast of characters. Keeping score can become a full-time job if you let it, and that’s an awful way to spend a day, much less a lifetime.”
This is a big problem for a lot of people–myself included. And you ever notice you only seem to keep score when you feel you are on the bottom? When things are going well, people rarely say to themselves “wow, look how good I have it!”
18. Change course if you find yourself coasting.
Right now I think most people are just happy that they have jobs, and thoughts like “Am I coasting at this job? Could I be doing something more challenging?” seem luxurious but the people asking those questions are the ones doing great things.
“There’s no right answer, but there are thousands of viable options.”
Again, put this one on an inspirational poster, stat. There is not one thing you can “be,” happiness and success aren’t only achieved one way.