Hard work is turtles all the way down.
Now, if you’re not familiar with this expression, it refers to the ancient idea that the world is supported on the back of a turtle, which is in turn supported by a larger turtle, under which is a larger turtle, which is standing on a larger (and presumably Schwarzenegger-strong at this point) turtle, and so on. Turtles all the way down, man.
Again, work is a lot like that.
That annoying-but-entrepreneurially-necessary chore you did today depending on a skill set or knowledge bank you built yesterday, or last week or two years ago or in high school. That particular skill set was founded on other skill sets, which rest on still others.
While your career prowess is not quite as infinite as the mythical turtles, it is nevertheless pretty far-reaching. At each “turtle,” you had to put a lot of time and TLC into earning that particular skill or bit of knowledge or arena of competence. If you hadn’t cared, you wouldn’t have done it – and you couldn’t have leveraged it to do that shitty task this morning.
(Side note: Is anyone else seeing Morla in their head right now? Because I am. Just saying.)
At this point, you’re probably wondering about … the point.
It is simply this: Everything you have accomplished up to now is the result of serious time and energy spent. It’s the product of putting off daily pleasures in favor of a greater goal. It’s the natural conclusion of not settling for “good enough.”
But all of that stuff takes time. If you focus on too many projects and skills at once, you can’t develop any of those skills effectively.
This is a major character flaw of mine; I have major shiny object syndrome, which I discussed in my last book, so I often get caught in too many projects. They’re all good projects, but they are too numerous. They lead to overwhelm, then failure.
So I segment them out. I schedule them out. I set things aside, but I make plans to pick them back up.
This is critical. The more you succumb to the whims Shiny Object Devil (again, an unlovable character from my last book), the more you dislike yourself and your own body of work. The answer is to make a plan with all those new urges so that they’re still part of your life but are not taking over your life.
I’ve learned to handle this well. First, I give in to the urge. I don’t try to put it off, because that doesn’t work. It just eats at my brain and my creativity, convincing me all my current projects are shit and that this amazing new project is everything.
Instead of letting that go on, I pull up a doc and write down all my ideas immediately. The business side, the prose, the selling points, the branding. If it’s a creative venture, I’ll experiment with the artwork. If it’s a novel, I’ll outline it in Scrivener.
Case study: I have a super good idea for a candle biz. These are all the rage on Instagram, where I spend a lot of my time, and once the desire to throw my hat in the ring took hold, it was hard to shake the idea. For a while I pushed forward with it: figured out how to get more writing done, bought the supplies, convinced my hubby, spoke to a potential business partner.
Truthfully, it was a good idea. It would have worked. What I didn’t have: the bandwidth. The willingness to set aside writing projects at that point in my life. An ability to take away from the clients I love to serve a whimsical urge.
But now I have the groundwork. I have the documents. I have somewhere to put new ideas. I did so much research that the glitz faded and Realism was able to creep in with its icky Realism voice, saying, Um, are you sure you want this right now? Do you understand how hard it is to ______? Do you really want to devote your weekend to filling Etsy orders? Wouldn’t you rather, you know, go to the farmers market?
Which is when I realized: Yep, I don’t want this right now. But someday? Probably.
Even if I can’t start this business for 10 years, I don’t really care, because I know it still matters to me and that I can do something about it when I’m ready. Using this system, I’ve forced myself not to respond to my brain’s inner insistence that YOU MUST EXECUTE ALL GOOD IDEAS IMMEDIATELY.
Does it sound counterintuitive to do less by doing more? Maybe. But by giving in and making room for this new idea when it strikes, I can comfortably keep less on my plate – and keep more long-term projects going – than otherwise.
How does this relate to failure, you’re wondering?
Simply this: The fewer projects you take on, the fewer at which you will fail. Much more importantly, the less competition you create for each of your current WIPs – whether we’re talking your latest novel or a new diet – the more time you’ll have to focus on and succeed at those current projects.
To a lot of people, this still feels like failure. Often, until you have enough successful projects to put the not-right ones aside, you will continue to feel as though you’re letting yourself down.
Don’t. Success only comes when you funnel your heart and your intention toward what really matters.
Otherwise, your goal of writing a novel is about as likely as your goal of bedding Ryan Gosling. If you want to accomplish either, you’ll have to pursue it at the expense of pretty much everything else – although fair warning, one of those is much likelier to get you jailed than the other.
Minimizing is hard, though, especially with those insistent voices in your head telling you that this new idea is the best idea.
When that happens, the only thing for it is to get the idea out on paper so that it’s no longer knocking around in there. But … what then?
Now it’s time to create a to-do list that works. (I talk about this in my systems course.)
Here’s the secret, though: Your to-do list should include all your new project ideas, course corrections and processing after you experience a failure.
Want to start a candle biz? Need to figure out how to get more writing done? Schedule in an hour to do a brain dump, so you can set it aside – or pursue it – in a reasonable timeframe.
Just got 20 rejections from 20 book agents? Schedule in time to draft a new list of agents or edit your book.
Recently watched your latest business idea collapse in flames? Give yourself two weeks off, and fill your calendar with self-care. But – and this is crucial – schedule your return to work as well. Put a project on your to-do list that you will carry out, no matter how small, after a certain amount of time.
Once you fill your to-do list with the most important things, stop. Remember, turtles all the way down.
Success stems from one source: Effort. You have to give yourself room to engage in what you want, or you’ll never see wins.
I mean, it takes a long time to cut out all those magazine letters and glue them into poems for Ryan. Don’t sell yourself short, friend.
Oh, wait … that’s terrible advice.
In the meantime, why don’t you just check out that systems course to learn more about how I put the Shiny Object demons to rest and finally started working smart? I’m betting you’ll love it.
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