Are Your Dreams Actually Goals?

AreYourDreamsYourGoals_SimplyPutStrategiesI recently said the following: “I’m leaving my position at this company to pursue my dream of starting a business.” Then I read Bullish: Some Dreams Are Stupid and realized that starting a business isn’t a dream. It’s a goal.

People say dream when they mean goal. Maybe it’s because dreams are unintentional – you can’t help what your mind comes up with while you’re sleeping.  Sleeping dreams can’t be chosen. Daydreaming often happens by accident, too. Do you call your ambitions “dreams” because it’s less of a commitment? Does it make you feel safe?

We have a dream complex: “The American Dream” is a Big Cultural Thing that involves freedom, money, bootstraps, and some other stuff. We’ve learned that the United States is the land of dreams, and people have them and there’s some unwritten rule that people should respect dreams because they’re dreams, and you’re not supposed to crush someone’s dreams

But “dream” sounds sort of fluffy and maybe unattainable. When you’re a kid, that’s expected: “your dream is to be a rockstar? You can be whatever you want!” When you’re an adult, it’s different: your dream is to travel to all seven continents? Well, you can actually do that. You can make that happen, if that’s what you want. So does that make it… a goal?

Dreams aren’t tangible. They suggest an alternate reality as a counterpoint to your real life. Goals have weight, and goals imply that you’re actively pursuing them – not that it’s a lofty hope.

It’s been my “dream” since I was a kid to go to Italy with my cousin. But actually, it’s a goal. We realized we were waiting for the right moment (professionally, financially) and that such a moment would never appear unless we made it. So we did. We’re going to Italy in June. You could say we’re making our dream come true, but I prefer to say we’re realizing our goals.

Language is powerful.

To be clear: dreams are great! Sleeping dreams, day dreams, waking dreams that are goofy or amusing. Dreams are fun and funny – sometimes I wake up from a dream and feel like I already had a great day. It’s fine if you want to keep talking about your life dreams, but how does your relationship to those dreams change if you call them goals? Does it make them seem more real? More scary? Does it make you want them less? Does it make you think about what it will take to achieve them?

Your dream goal could be to have a walk-in closet, speak several languages, never have to clean your house again, rise to the top of your company, homeschool your children, learn to paint, take a road trip across country, write a book, etc. Your goals will change, and they should. You’ll revise them as you grow and learn and your priorities shift. Some of your goals may truly be dreams – scenarios it’s fun to think about because imagination is enjoyable. But I bet there are some “dreams” that never go away. They keep coming back and poking you in the forehead.

I bet those dreams are goals.

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Think Big AND Small

Big_Goals_SimplyPutStrategies

Conventional wisdom is to set small, achievable goals. It’s great advice, and it works. You need goals that are attainable soon. These can be chores like laundry or steps for setting up your website. It’s satisfying to check things off your list. As you accomplish each item, you feel good about your progress and motivated to keep going.

Yes, but also no.

What if your small goals keep you busy enough that you put off your big goals?  Small goals can be distracting. If they aren’t tied to your Big Audacious Goals, or if your Big Audacious Goals aren’t in sight, small stuff will keep you feeling productive but not take you to ultimate glory.

What are your Big Audacious Goals – starting a business? A family? Taking a trip? Writing a book? Writing a blog? Applying for a reach job? These goals are attainable in a sequence of small steps. So break your Big Goals down into achievable chunks, and keep those on your To Do list. Prioritize them and as soon as one is done, do the next. As you complete each step, you get closer and closer to your Big Goals. This is David Allen’s favorite thing. If an item on your to-do list is “write a book,” it will never get done. That’s too big for anyone to do in one go. Break it down instead: start by writing for one hour every Monday.

Don’t sell yourself short with only small goals. Think big. Think huge. Keep Big Audacious Goals in sight – on your fridge, closet, at the top of your Year Plan (see How to Plan Your Best. Year. Yet). You will need to break goals down in order to achieve them, but don’t let the small stuff crowd out or overwhelm the big. Even if your small goals bring you closer to your big ones, keep those big ones visible. They are the ends while you’re in the midst of the means.

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Live on <$20k Month 2

vintagedollar_SimplyPutStrategies

The experiment continues. February spending was very different from January! A big purchase was made, as well as more discretionary spending now that No Spend Month is over.

Spending:
Rent: $425
Utilities: waiting for all bills to come in
Groceries: $55.96
Public transit: $18.46
Restaurants: $43.62
Coffee shops: $16.80
Gift: $20
Donation: $60.00
Clothing: $240.21
Personal care (dentist: $15
Travel: $579.58
Shipping: $7.70
Total: $1,482.33
7.4% of $20,000
Remainder to spend: $17,898.32

The unusual purchases this month were clothes. I bought two pair of second-hand shoes and two pair of second-hand jeans. I also bought a dress and crinoline for my cousin’s wedding.

My saving’s rate took a dive compared to last month, to 36.89%. This is something I will get used to. With leaving a full time job to start a business, my income will change.

How was your February? It had fewer days for spending – did that make a difference in your financial recap?

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Are You Mitigating Your Speech? You Can Do Better

Some Great Idea Have you ever shared an idea by starting with, “this may not be true, but…” or “this might be a bad idea, but…” or “this might sound crazy, but….”

This is called “mitigating speech,” or “selling your ideas short before you’ve said them.” Women do this more than men. It feels self-protective (I’m not wrong! I knew it wouldn’t work!*) and deferential (you know more than I do). We’re socialized to be agreeable and non-threatening to others, powerful people in particular. Coming forth with an idea while self-deprecating feels like one way to make yourself agreeable.

But is it in your best interest downplay your ideas? What message does that send? Wouldn’t it be in your favor to stand behind your ideas with confidence?

Pitching ideas with confidence demonstrates that you know what you’re talking about. That you’re willing to take risks (even if it’s sharing an idea that’s only partially developed). That you want to contribute value, and that you’re comfortable trying and failing. To higher-ups, it shows that you are a candidate for advancement. Your idea might be bad. No one’s ideas are 100% awesome. But if all your ideas are bad but one, that’s a good day! And if someone is uncomfortable because your idea is great and you know it, well… haters will always hate.

Also: mitigating speech can send the message that you need validation for your ideas. Annoying.

Strong ways to introduce your ideas:
“what if we** tried….” or
“have we considered…” or
“I was thinking…” or simply
“I have an idea.”

If you’re brainstorming and realize that your idea isn’t working, let people know: “now that I think about it, this won’t actually work for x reason.” Or better, “as I think it through, I realize that it would be better if it were like this.” Put forth your ideas with confidence, show that you’re critically thinking them through, and that you’re not afraid to acknowledge when your ideas need tweaking.

*There’s nothing wrong with being wrong and admitting it. Know when you need help or input, or when you can improve upon your own ideas. This is a valuable skill in all relationships. Inability to be flexible will annoy everyone more than expressing great ideas with gusto.

**If you want to emphasize collaboration and teamwork without mitigating your speech, use the first person plural.

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Adjustment Oddness

Delta-symbolMy grandparents are getting ready to get ready to move from their home of fifty+ years to a retirement community. It’s a big transition. Their new place will be small, and thirty minutes from the neighborhood they’re used to. They won’t have to cook as often. They won’t host family holidays or out-of-towners.

“It’s going to be an adjustment,” my grandmother says. “Big changes are so… odd.”

She’s right. Even transitions that we look forward to are disorienting: new jobs, new homes, having children. Adjustments take time.

What can we do to ease transitions? In the midst of new, make room for the familiar. Keep your favorite books on hand. Cook a favorite meal or visit a favorite restaurant. If you’re moving to a new area, check out the cultural activities you enjoy that your new town offers. If you’re starting a new job, use a familiar method to keep your schedule.

When I moved out of my parents’ house this summer, I felt comfortable in my new home sooner than I expected. As soon as I settled my things – books, clothes, pictures, cookware – I felt right at home. Now I feel like a guest at my parents’. None of my things are around.

Physical objects are important. Watching my grandmother plan what to bring to her new home reminds me how much comfort we get from our things. “I like all these things,” she says. “But we just won’t have room for them.”

My grandparents have never been minimalists. The house where they raised six kids has plenty of space for their things. Now they must minimize to downsize their home, and it’s challenging. It’s hard to let go of the things that have been your background for years! If you feel reluctant and emotional about big changes, that’s normal.

Whatever your reasons for minimizing, there are some things that you won’t want to let go, and that’s fine (it gets easier over time as you adjust to the idea of having fewer things). You don’t need to get rid of everything. Keeping what you love around confers a sense of familiarity and belonging, and this goes a long way in making you feel comfortable wherever you are.

Thanks for reading!

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Just Keep Swimming

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It’s week 3 of structure, work, and schedule as I make them, and it’s still weird! There’s no regularity or rhythm unless I set it up. It can be uncomfortable. From school to most traditional jobs we are told by others what to do and by when. When you strike out on your own, all of that changes.

It’s easy to feel insecure when taking a risk, even if it’s a calculated one. When you leave the confines of a regular job, the world opens, full of possibilities. It’s exciting, but invites second-guessing. Will anyone hire me? Am I being productive enough? Will I be able to support myself doing this? Will I fail? What mistakes will I make?

The answer to all of these questions is shrug. No one knows. But with resources, ideas, self-advocacy and hard work, the odds are in our favor. If you’re anxious, that’s fine! There are many ways to motivate and coach yourself:

Give yourself time: I envisioned slamming through tasks as soon as I finished my day job, but give yourself time to adjust. If it’s your first experience working on your own, it will take getting used to. Besides, many decisions you need to make take time and consideration. A big one for me is what to name my business. I can’t build my website until I choose a name.

Create a schedule: One morning I slept until 10:00 because I didn’t have plans and I wasn’t sure what to do. That day was enough. I didn’t like the lethargic or aimless feelings that came with it. Create a schedule of what you will work on the day before, or in the morning when you wake up. Keep a list of To Do’s, and choose several to complete each day. Even if you change plans, the it helps to start with goals for the day.

Be forgiving: When your business and livelihood is solely dependent on you, it’s a lot of pressure. Be kind to yourself. Just like in school or a traditional job, you may not be able to get everything done that you plan. Allow yourself to enjoy the perks of a flexible schedule by running errands during the day, or reading books. You don’t have to work 8 hours every day anymore. Maybe you can be just as productive in four! Either way, go easy on yourself as you adjust to your new situation.

Get out of your damn house: Try to leave your house every day, even if just to walk to the mailbox. Go outside, to the gym, to a coffee shop, the library, anywhere to shake you out of the sluggishness that can come from being in one place all the time (especially if it’s your home).

Find an accountability partner/work buddy: If the isolation of working for yourself bothers you, find a partner. Do you have any friends that are students? Any friends that work a home? Get together at your house, a cafe, the library. Structure these meet ups like a working brunch, with social and work time (See Bullish Life: How to Hold a Ladies’ Working Brunch). Sometimes all it takes is someone working beside you to get your mind to focus.

Keep on keepin’ on!

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I Spend a Stupid Amount of Time Searching for Things on The Internet

Wheres-Waldo2Today I did it again. I remembered a tiny phrase from an article I read within the last week, and now I want that article. I want to reference it. I want to reread it. I have no idea what it was called or where I read it.

The Internet is vast, ever growing and ever changing. No one curates it, which is part of what makes it amazing. There’s no index other than the ones we create on our blogs and websites. (Everyone’s Twitter feed is their own index of what interests them on the Internet.)

To avoid falling into the black hole of searching for that one article with that one phrase that is so perfect to send your friend or link in your blog, I’m adopting these practices:

Use Evernote (or something similar): Clip everything that’s interesting enough for you to read. You don’t have to read it! If it’s a topic you’re into, save it so you can reference it later. Categorize it. Tag it in a way that makes sense to you. Did the article remind you of David Allen? Jane Addams? Even though it wasn’t about them? Tag. Tagging now means you can search by keyword later, and saves you the trouble of digging through the growing world of your Evernote files.

Bookmark or Copy+Paste if it’s easier on the fly than Evernote. Have a notepad open where you paste links you like but don’t want to categorize and tag right now. But make sure you go back and sort them regularly. Purge your bookmarks or notepad every week. If this seems like a dumb use of your time, do it when you’re tipsy (How to Be Productive When You’re a Little Tipsy) or too scattered/tired to focus on big projects. There are always things to do when you don’t feel like doing anything. Save the mundane work for those times.

Create New Notebooks/Folders in Evernote and on your harddrive to save links and files. In other words, avoid having a zillion unrelated links in one “Miscellaneous” Evernote Notebook or files in your Downloads folder. If I don’t know how I’ll use an image I like, I name and save it to an “Images” folder. Later, when I have the opportunity to use the image, I know where to find it.

You have good taste. Trust your taste and interest, and save things that you like. I may never find that one article. I hope I do, but as this is the fourth time this has happened recently, I’m  changing my ways: clip everything, categorize and tag, bookmark or paste, name and download.

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Do Your Thoughts Stress You?

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Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which marks the 46 day period before Easter Sunday. Today some Christians (and secular people like me) observe this period by giving up something they enjoy, or taking on an action that challenges them. Sometimes these actions are religious, but they do not have to be. Lent is an opportunity to change habits, to work on an aspect of yourself, to be more giving, or to focus on your faith.

This year for Lent, I’m doing The Work. Also known as inquiry, The Work by Byron Katie is a method of questioning stressful thoughts to free yourself from believing them. We all have stressful thoughts: about love, approval, appreciation, fear, justice, and on and on.

Katie says that “the worst thing that has ever happened is an unquestioned thought.” As spring comes and 2015 waxes on, I can think of no better project than questioning my thoughts about productivity, money, success, global climate change, and more.

Is there anything you are giving up or taking on this season?

Thanks for reading! Read Lent: a minimalist exercise for Lent in 2013.

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Define Your Own Success

emptyschedule

Six weeks ago, I gave my notice at work.  Two Fridays ago was my last day in the office.

It’s exciting! It’s been my goal for years to start a professional organizing business, to help people create systems to keep their professional and personal lives running smoothly. I’m also doing marketing consulting. It’s an experimental professional year as I try solopreneurship and freelancing and see what I like.

However, the transition away from a 9-5 job is tough. I knew it would be an adjustment, but I didn’t imagine the isolation or insecurity. I love to work hard, and I know I can do it. But it is not an automatic skill set (for me).

I read a lot of articles about entrepreneurship and consulting. There are many resources for self-starters. While I find these articles inspiring and exhilarating, I sometimes find them them overwhelming and intimidating.  These writers have done it already. They’ve started businesses, created blogs, published books, and made themselves known.  They’ve made it.  They’re “there.”

I am impatient and anxious to get “there” myself. But where? Where is “there”? A friend said,

And the whole “there” thing anyways? I want to save you a lot of time and energy: IT IS AN ILLUSION. I mean, what is it anyways? Having money? Well, how much? Being recognized for awesomeness? By whom? Having your own business? When you move over from where recognition/feedback is coming from an external source (school, grades, your boss, quarterly reviews) and move to where you have a blank slate, you get to define success. And I think a big part of that is realizing that right now, you are a success. Trust me: YOU ARE GOING TO LAND ON YOUR FEET.

Here’s to defining success.  What’s your definition?

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Should You Work More? Quality & Quantity

leafcutterants

Once upon a time I was addicted to my job. I stopped doing anything else. I worked before work and after work. I went back to the office late at night.

I reasoned that it was an investment in my future because I planned to be with the company for a long time. I would power through the tough stretch, feel the satisfaction of productivity and accomplishment, and get a raise. Besides, I loved my job.

I believe that if you want to work less at some point in your future, it makes sense to work more in your present (see Bullish: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE). This is true in the short term (if you’re taking off two weeks in June you’ll work more in May to prepare) and long term (if you want to work less while raising young children, you can work more now to write your book, establish a blog following, or learn new skills before you have an infant living with you).

Working more now means not only quantity but quality - the kind of work you’re doing. As Jen Dziura wrote in Bullish: What’s Your Business Model? (If You Think You Don’t Have One, You Probably Just Have a Bad One):

If your business model is working 40+ hours a week for a salary — something that you suspect may not be compatible with the way in which you want to raise children or write books or live your life — then I don’t blame you for not leaning into that.

This is exactly what I was doing. I was leaning into my job, but not in a way that was benefitting me or reflecting how I want my life to be. I was working more, but I wasn’t working smart. I wasn’t innovating in the company, I wasn’t developing other sources of income, I wasn’t expanding my professional network, I wasn’t teaching myself new skills.

Work for yourself, by challenging yourself, keeping your edge, and developing skills and products that you can showcase no matter where or how you work. If you’re devoting not eight but twelve hours a day to one job, those may be hours you’re not working smart for your future self (See Bullish Q&A: I Like My Job – Do I Really Need a Side Gig?).

I was wrong about my career in that company. A few months after I became obsessed, I resigned from my position. (Life will always surprise you.) I worked hard there, I loved it, and I learned a lot. However, I wasn’t always working smart.

Work hard, work more, but work smart.

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