“What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.” ~Dalai Lama
Five years ago I had a brilliant idea. Since I was pretty good with social media, I decided to start my own business helping companies develop their online presence.
My goal was to work for myself, and the plan was that I’d quit my job, travel the world, create my own schedule, and earn a living doing something I’d seen others have a great deal of success doing.
After spending weeks brainstorming I came up with the perfect name for my company. I wrote my mission statement, designed a logo, and purchased business cards. I took as many courses as I could in social media marketing and signed up for every newsletter available on the topic.
At the time I thought my goals were clear. But after spending hundreds of dollars setting up the company and countless hours reading articles and taking trainings, I felt completely stuck.
Every time I’d try to talk about my mission, I felt like a fraud. Every time I’d try to reach out to potential clients, something would stop me. I couldn’t even blog about social media marketing because my mind would go completely blank.
After several months I decided to step away from the business and spend time volunteering in Brazil. It didn’t take long to gain clarity about what the issues were.
For starters, just because I understand how social media marketing works doesn’t mean it’s something I should be dedicating my life and time to doing.
I also realized that my reasons for starting this particular business had very little to do with bringing value to others, or even with my personal goals.
I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t being authentic, and as long as I felt that way, I knew I’d continue seeking outside of myself for answers from trainings, articles, and books.
It became clear that social media marketing was not what I truly wanted to do. It could potentially be a means to an end—an easy way to make money to facilitate the life I wanted—but that was missing the point completely.
Yes, I wanted the freedom to create my own schedule and travel the world, but more importantly I wanted to feel fulfilled and contribute to something outside of myself.
So let’s say you have a goal and know what you want. This can be a personal or professional goal. You wrote a mission statement and got together all the necessary “stuff” you think you need, but for some reason you can’t seem to move forward.
Take a step back and ask yourself what’s really going on. Externally, you may have everything you need, but internally something probably isn’t adding up. Here are six steps to help you move forward:
1. Be clear.
Most people think they know what they want, but when they close their eyes they can’t visualize what that really looks like. Oftentimes, they can’t even verbalize what they want in a way that makes sense.
If your “mission statement” contains a lot of fluff and jargon, this is a sign that you aren’t clear.
If all you see are logos, titles, mission statements, and web designs, it’s time to dig a little deeper. How do you want to feel when you accomplish this goal, and what will the result look like once it’s completed? What value will this bring to you and those around you?
2. Understand your “why.”
“Why” is your reason for wanting to work toward this specific goal. It’s your motivation for starting on this journey, and it will continue to be the factor that pushes you through the moments when things become difficult or scary.
Without a clear “why,” it becomes easy to lose focus, make excuses, and become stuck.
What painful problem will accomplishing this goal solve for you, and “why” is that important?
When I decided to start my own business, I was working in a job where I could no longer grow and felt completely unsupported and underutilized. My real “why” for wanting to start my own business was that I wanted to contribute to something outside of myself and bring value to others.
Once you’re clear about what you want and the “why” behind it, it’s important to focus 100 percent of your attention on it. All aspects of your life are intertwined, and every decision you make is either in alignment with that vision or not. So even small and seemingly unrelated decisions will have an impact on your goal.
Yes, your exercise habits impact your work performance, your personal relationships impact your sleep, and your decision to have a cup of coffee in the morning impacts your ability to focus on your mission.
If something you’re doing isn’t in alignment with your greater vision, you need to be clear with why you’re doing it.
4. Be willing to have difficult conversation and make difficult decisions.
Difficult isn’t “bad.” In fact, when you’re clear about what you’re working toward, these “difficult” situations become purpose driven because they’re in service of a higher purpose.
“Difficult” is often synonymous with “scary.” Embrace “scary” because it often means you’re at a breakthrough point. You’re stepping into the unknown, surrendering to something outside of yourself, and trusting in something greater.
Walking away from my stable job was scary. Walking away from the business I’d started was even scarier. These were “difficult” yet necessary decisions to help me gain clarity on my real life goals.
5. Let go of “Plan B.”
While having a backup plan (or multiple) can be tempting, and even seem “responsible,” it’s often nothing more than a safety net. “Plan B” is your first loser, your second place option. But why have a goal if you’re willing to settle for second best?
Having a “Plan B” will remove some of your urgency toward “Plan A.” It also means that you have to split some of your efforts away from your primary goal to ensure that your backup plan remains in tact.
But if you really believe in what you’re doing, any energy that’s not being used in direct support of that primary mission is energy not well spent.
When I decided to start my own business, I also decided to leave my job. While this was a scary decision, by not having that stable job to fall back on, I was pushed to get creative and find other ways to maintain my lifestyle while I gained clarity. This is how I ended up as a volunteer in Brazil.
6. Show up and do the work.
Words have power, so stop referring to yourself as “stuck,” “lost,” “unmotivated,” and as a “procrastinator.”
Do the work to gain clarity on your goal and your why, then focus. Spend time visualizing what the outcome of your hard work will look and feel like, then use your words and actions to demonstrate your intention, belief in, and commitment to your purpose.
Instead of calling yourself “stuck,” “lost,” “unmotivated,” and a “procrastinator,” start referring to yourself as focused, driven, motivated, and excited. If you’re going to do something, really do it—or don’t. But don’t live somewhere in between.
Spending time working in Brazil was a huge eye opener. By volunteering, I was contributing to something outside of myself and as a result felt more fulfilled and purpose-driven.
As it turns out, it doesn’t matter if you have a website, logo, or business cards; if you want to live a meaningful life, you have to learn from your personal experiences, show up, and provide real value.
Stuck image via Shutterstock