“Doing your best means never stop trying.” ~Unknown
As a teacher, the summer season is special, sacred time when I recover from a busy school year and prepare for the next one. The bonus is that I also use the time as a personal blank slate to be as productive as I can be in the other areas of my life that got neglected when all of my energy went into teaching.
June began with a long list of goals and a meticulously planned schedule for every day and hour of the week. I had big eyes and high hopes about what I’d accomplish. I thought I would definitely finish that novel I had been working on for ages.
And then I became pregnant and none of it materialized as I sank into a pit of nausea and chronic fatigue. I couldn’t believe all of my plans were falling apart.
In my “normal” state I’m a productive person who extracts a great deal of personal self-worth (for better or worse) based on the progress of my to-do list. Once I was pregnant I wasn’t able to continue at the same speed.
I couldn’t believe the injustice of it all. I felt like a complete loser, and it was a difficult, never-ending process trying to forgive myself.
In life, we inevitably encounter obstacles that are discouraging and make our goals feel unattainable. It doesn’t have to be pregnancy—it could be illness, a new job, a relationship, unexpected stress, an overextended schedule—anything that diverts our attention away from a goal.
Often the obstacles in our path can be temporary, momentary glitches. Other times they are more complex and formidable and can threaten to delay us indefinitely.
We have to be able to objectively assess the roadblocks and step away from our emotions in order to identify a new route and keep moving forward. We must always, always move forward, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. It’s a lot easier said than done.
After months of hating myself for not writing, not exercising, not doing the chores I used to do with efficiency, I had to sit back and strategize. I got tired bemoaning the failure of my plans. There came a point in time when I realized I just couldn’t accept defeat.
The first step was to embrace the idea that it’s okay to have a change in our path as long as the destination is the same.
We can all start off with the best-intentioned plans, but inevitably life gets in the way. When that happens we have to be able to go back to the drawing board and think of new ideas to keep moving forward.
I’m back to writing. It’s not much, but in light of the fact that I feel like a giant slug, work full time, serve on three different committees, and oh yeah, I already have two small children, I feel okay with the progress I’m making. I feel confident that when the time comes for me to re-calculate a new route that will take me to my destination faster, I’ll be able to do it.
Many people mistakenly think the path to achieving our goals is supposed to be direct and easy, and consequently when they encounter the inevitable detour they don’t know what to do, and their unanticipated disappointment undermines their momentum.
In reality, achieving our goals has more to do with our determination precisely in those moments when the universe gives us every sign that we should give up. Those are the times when we have to force ourselves to keep moving forward.
We have to calibrate our expectations and become creative with our strategy, embracing the inevitable ebb and flow of productivity. In a world where nothing is ever perfect, we have to settle for fighting for our very best and turning challenges into unforeseen opportunities.
When I have to re-think my strategy, this is what I do:
1. Nurture your desire.
It’s easy to lose focus of our end-goal, especially when something unexpected is thrown our way. Despite any obstacles, it’s important to keep your desire alive and well. If you’re spending your time criticizing yourself, try to re-frame the situation and channel your energy into something positive that will move you forward.
If you find yourself losing enthusiasm, do something to rekindle your desire. Sometimes something as simple as reviewing your goals on a regular basis is enough to spark a renewed sense of interest.
2. Take time for yourself.
I’m the worst at this, but at the height of my morning sickness I tried really hard to embrace the idea of kicking back with my feet up and indulging in something relaxing. I did a lot of reading, plowing through several Stephen King books that I never usually have time for. Now that I’m back in “work” mode, I appreciate the time I had to read for pleasure.
We will always have the valleys and peaks in our lives, and although we want to be on top, it’s important to take the time when you are stuck in the valley to relax, rejuvenate, and strategize your next move. It will only make your journey back to the top more successful.
3. Re-evaluate your goals.
Halfway through my summer of disappointment and after a lot of denial, I finally realized my list of goals weren’t going to materialize. They were unrealistic for me at that moment. It’s difficult to admit to yourself that you can’t do something.
When I was ready to embrace the reality of the situation, I sat down and listed what I knew I could handle. I reminded myself that something was better than nothing as long as I was doing my best. Then, I added a little bit more to the list to challenge myself but at the same time make it manageable.
As a teacher I love to teach my students the concept of chunking. When confronted with a large task or assignment, an effective strategy is to “chunk” the assignment, doing a little bit at a time. This will increase your chances of successfully completing the task and also doing a good job at it.
Prior to my disappointing summer, I was writing 1,500 words a day. I had hoped to write 2,500 words a day. Today, I don’t have time for either of those goals and settled for a manageable 500.
As I find myself able to handle more, I know I can always move up or down in my personal quota, but for right now my “chunks” are a realistic measure of something I can reasonably accomplish. While challenging yourself is never a bad idea, you shouldn’t set yourself up to fail.
5. Log your efforts.
One way to help yourself see the “big picture” is to keep track of what you do. I have a small journal where I log my effort each day on a particular project. By the end of the month I can see on paper what I’ve accomplished and it serves as a reminder that I am moving forward even when it feels like I’m not.
Taking the time to celebrate means you are taking care of yourself. You are the most important vehicle in accomplishing your goals and as such you should treat yourself with love and respect. When you’re making progress, big or small, never forget to take the time to celebrate your efforts.
At the end of the day you must be your biggest fan. Put one foot in front of the other and keep walking forward, but don’t forget to pause and celebrate the small victories throughout the journey.
Woman looking into the distance image via Shutterstock