Have you ever had a goal, or challenge, or obstacle that you’ve been trying to tackle for a while but somehow manage to put it off in some form or other, for YEARS?
This happens to me every now and then. I excuse myself out of doing a lot things I really want to do. I’ve excused myself out of writing/blogging since we launched Picture This Clothing because I was convinced no one would care about the personal kinds of topics I typically wrote about. I thought it all needed to be somehow work-centric, rooted in how we built or run the business, or useful business-building tips, etc. The reality is, though… I write about goings-on in my actual life and if that’s not a part of running a small business I don’t know what is. Last month I posed a self-challenge to write and post once per month for three months.
It’s month and post number two of three and I’ve struggled badly since the first post to land on a topic I thought would be worth posting, when I finally decided to take the advice of Ray Bradbury:
“Work. Relax. Don’t think.”
–Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury.
I followed this advice, sat down and just started writing. Here’s what followed:
One significant time I recall holding myself back was for a self-imposed challenge called NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month), which happens every year in November. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I completed this challenge in 2015 but it took a lot of effort to solve the obstacle of talking myself out of it for years prior to committing and following through.
The novel I completed didn’t land in a publishable state, which is pretty normal for the NANOWRIMO challenge and writing anything that quickly, but it gave me a foundation that I was really proud of. Something I knew I needed to finish.
I’d planned to use NANOWRIMO in Nov of 2016 to work on it again, but we launched Picture This Clothing in August of 2016. If you’ve read our story, you know it went viral and basically turned our family’s life on its head, and I’ve been using it as a perfectly solid excuse not to finish my book ever since. I’ve been busy, distracted, tired, exhausted, unmotivated, overwhelmed, depressed, and just about every other thing you can think of.
I documented my NANOWRIMO experience in a daily journal that was separate from my 1667-words-per-day word-count. My expectation was that I would fail, and if I documented it I would be able to learn what/where/how/when I went wrong so that I could do better the next try, but I ended up succeeding – and I did it in fewer than the allotted 30-days!
Documenting my progress all those years ago, whether a success or failure, learnings are recorded there, so why not go back and see what I learned and apply it to my current challenge?
I’M SCARED, BUT…
Content below was originally written on October 24, 2015
It’s been almost a full year of 1-month challenges for me. Tiny 30 or 31-day sprints (28 days in February) of things to push me outside my comfort zone and stimulate ideas and creativity in my lil’ ol’ brain. It’s become something I love and look forward to every month.
We’re very rapidly approaching NaNoWriMo month, which is one of those things I’ve been excusing myself out of since 2011 when I first learned about it. Last year instead of feeling guilty about it and waiting a full year to try again, I decided to start my own “tinychallenges” as a sort of training effort – to build up the muscle of taking on and completing bigger challenges. NaNoWriMo still feels daunting and intimidating. I’m not ready for it at all but like most things in life, if we wait until we’re ready, it’ll never happen.
Through my monthly challenges I’ve learned a lot of really valuable lessons that I think may apply, especially in the department of mental preparation. Here are five things my “tinychallenges” have taught me:
- I HAVE TIME
I can make excuses why not to all day long. If I really, REALLY want to do something I do have the time, I simply need to make it happen and stop telling myself stories about why I can’t.
For me, waking up a little earlier than normal was the key. There are days when it’s really hard. To be perfectly honest, there are days when all the desire in the world to accomplish my thing is still not enough to peel me from the comfort of my cozy, warm bed. I miss days. I kick myself for missing days. I remember to celebrate the days I actually accomplished my goal. I start again. I seek the finish line. I cross it. New challenge. Rinse. Repeat.
- I AM GREAT AT STARTING
Monthly challenges that are so small I can’t avoid them have helped me get really good at starting things. I’m no longer afraid to start. I’m starting things all over town. I’m not always super great at finishing, but the practice has certainly made me better at it. I’ve become pretty good at completing my monthly challenges. When I scale the challenge, sometimes I leave it hanging. Unfinished. A list of domain names. A 90% completed idea. I know that becoming an even better finisher is my next step.
- I MIGHT FAIL
Maybe I end up overwhelmed, or full of excuses. I’m scared I won’t finish. I’m scared that if I do “finish” I’ll end up with a pile of embarrassing, un-shareable drivel. And you know what? I’m scared, but… I’m exhausted at being scared.
For all the unknowns there is one very certain known: If I don’t do it now, I’ll never really know what it takes to start or to finish this challenge.
- COMMUNITY SUPPORT IS WHERE IT’S AT
If I’ve learned anything at all it’s that there are a few people out there that have been huge supporters of my “tinychallenges”.
To each and every one of you, I thank you so sincerely. Sometimes it feels like I can do it all on my own, maybe I can, but you make it better. You make it exciting. You hold me accountable and you encourage me to cross the finish line.
- DOING THINGS MAKES YOU BETTER AT OTHER THINGS
Even though the focus for each of my “tinychallenges” has been wide and varied, it has electrified my creative juices. It’s almost like I have the opposite of the problem I had before. When I had burnout, the thing that started me on this journey in the first place, I had very little desire to even live, let alone do productive things. I started with daily gratitude and it literally opened floodgates in my little brain and made me hungry to create more.
The more I do in my small monthly experiments, the more doors of opportunity, the more ideas, the more excitement, and inspiration seem to flood in. That can get overwhelming too, but I’ll take that any day over what I felt during burnout. Because the more I experiment, the more I learn, and the more tools I have in my magical Mary Poppins bag of problem-solving skills. Those tools apply to every aspect of my life.
All this is to say, I’m openly committing to participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. I’ll begin on Nov. 1, 2015.
I figure the best thing I can do is to document where I’m at, share what happens along the way, and follow up with how it went when I’m done. I land where I land. Most importantly, I need to remember I’m doing this for me. No matter where I land, I come out on the other side having learned something, who knows what that will be.
I’m doing a bit of planning now. I would love for anyone else interested in participating – go sign up at NaNoWriMo.org and “buddy” me, my username is: ” jaimeejaimee”. We can support and encourage each other, maybe even poke fun at each other’s excuses if we want to get silly. Let’s keep it fun! But let’s DO IT.
And the new, 2021 edition SO THEN…
With my new challenge I have material to keep posting in this blog, so meeting my three-month, three-post challenge no longer feels daunting like it did just hours ago. (Hooray!)
I’m using the learnings from my journal as a guide on my next challenge of finishing that darn book to the point of self-publishing, and blogging my journey as I go.
Whether I succeed or fail, I’m going to learn out-loud along the way.
I’m scared that I’ll fail, or keep putting it off like I have for the past almost five years… but I have to try. I have to start now!
Is there a goal, challenge or obstacle you’ve been putting off or overwhelmed by? Share it with me! Let’s chip-away together!