How Taking a Step Backward Can Be the Way Forward

Moving Forward

“Your dream doesn’t have an expiration date. Take a deep breath and try again.” ~KT Witten

As I said goodbye on my last day of work, I couldn’t help feeling smug. When my colleagues turned up for work on Monday morning, I’d be at home, free to do whatever I wanted with my day.

I’d resigned to explore the possibilities of a career in writing. With no clear idea of what the immediate future held, I was both nervous and excited.

I imagined myself in a few years’ time, happily making a fortune from all my creative endeavors, living a life of adventure, appearing in magazines and on TV, chatting with Oprah about my latest project and my fabulous life.

I was so cool.

About eight months later I was back. My “bestseller” was still waiting to be published; I’d abandoned the blog that was going to take the world by storm; I’d dropped several other ideas that had barely even started; and my bank balance was looking very sorry for itself.

Not so cool.

Thankfully, I successfully managed to ignore my inner critic, who was doing her best to tell me how stupid I’d been. Nevertheless, I felt confused about what had happened.

Over the past couple of years I’d been hearing how we should all have the courage to go for our dreams—that we should trust our instincts, follow our hearts, embrace uncertainty, and dare to believe in ourselves.

And that’s what I’d done. I’d followed my heart, which had told me to resign from my job and pursue writing. Then I followed it back again to the same job I’d spent a year telling myself I had to leave.

If I was supposed to follow my heart, why was I back to square one? On reflection, I realized the answer was simple; I wasn’t back to square one at all. In fact, I wasn’t even back to square two.

When we try something new, when we dare to take a risk, it rarely, if ever, works out as we imagine.

When unexpected challenges arise, when things go “wrong,” it’s tempting to tell ourselves that we’ve failed; that we should stick to what we know. That we should just play it safe and leave dream-following to those who have what it takes.

Don’t do it; don’t let the negative thoughts and self-doubt bring you down. Instead, consider the following questions to keep you focused on your goal and going in the right direction.

What have you learned from the experience?

I knew becoming self-employed would be hard work, but I wasn’t prepared for the psychological shift it would take.

I’d always worked for other people, and I’d always pretty much done what I was told in every other area of my life, too. It takes a huge change on the inside to be able to go from one extreme to the other.

But if I hadn’t left my job, I wouldn’t have known that. I’d still be at work, resenting every moment, wanting to jump but not daring to do it and always wondering, “what if…?”

I’ve learned that I don’t have to sacrifice everything to go for what I want. I don’t have to eat baked beans and live in a squat until I’m discovered.

Going back to work has meant that I can afford to invest in myself, both in terms of my physical well-being and getting my ideas off the ground.

Prioritizing your dreams doesn’t mean you mustn’t ever work a day job again. It means making time for the things that are truly important to you.

I’ve also learned that taking a big risk isn’t always that risky after all. Before I left work, I procrastinated for months, alternating between excitement at the thought of going for my dream and fear over what would happen if I ran out of money.

And what happened in the end? I ran out of money and went back to work. No biggie.

Very rarely do the calamities we imagine happening come true.

What have you achieved?

It can be all too tempting to focus on the things you haven’t done, but try instead to focus on what you did manage to do.

I finished the project I was working on before leaving my job and researched the world of publishing, which I didn’t have time for when I was working. I started a blog, and while it didn’t work out as I’d hoped, the experience gave me some more ideas to work on. It also led me to discovering that people liked my writing, which gave me the confidence to believe that I had something to offer.

Even your “failures” can be achievements, as when you know what doesn’t work for you, you’re one step closer to finding out what does.

How have you changed?

Going back to work has shown me just how much my mindset has changed. For so many years, work was something I had to do to survive, and everything else had to come second.

Now I understand that life isn’t supposed to be about cursing the alarm clock on Monday morning and living for the weekend. I can see the pointlessness of arguing over who gets the best parking space (especially since I don’t even drive) or complaining about things we’re not even going to try to change.

Use the negative as a positive. Sometimes, a healthy dose of what you don’t want can help remind you of what you do want and where you want to go.

Once you’ve taken the first step toward your dream, there really is only one direction to go in. Keep your eye on the goal and use any step you take backward as a tool for moving forward.

Photo by Simon

Editor’s Note: Louise has generously offered to give away two free copies of her book, Stop Making Your Life a Misery. Leave a comment on the post for a chance to win! You can enter until midnight PST on Friday, July 25th. 

UPDATE: The winners for this giveaway are Amy and MAustin

About Louise Watson

Louise Watson is a writer and meditation teacher living in Hampshire, UK.

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