When we’re sidetracked from our goals

One of my coaching clients recently shared that she felt like an “imposter” because she wasn’t meeting her freelance business goals. She went on to share how her family dynamics had changed recently, due to her husband’s job change; how her childcare was not as reliable as she’d originally expected; how resistance to her requests for help from family made her feel under-valued. Her daughter was having problems in preschool, and Mom was worried about the girl’s sense of well-being. There was more, and she listed what was happening around her.

I started off by validating that she had a lot on her plate. Many of the women I coach share similar stories: they carry the lion’s share of the household responsibilities, the emotional well-being of their children and spouses, the childcare coordination and, on top of that, they’re trying to build a business. It’s a lot to manage.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story, however, was that an instructor in a class my client had recently taken brow-beat the attendees: if you aren’t working daily toward your goals, you’re failing, she’d more than implied with her instruction. My client walked away feeling guilty and unsure whether she could even call herself a writer.

Are our goals important? Is it essential to work toward them daily to bring them to fruition? Are we imposters if we have to set aside some goals for others?

Are our goals important? To this question, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Our goals and all the tasks that are necessary to fulfill them are important. However, I frequently encounter clients who use their goals as yardsticks against which they find themselves continually falling short. Our goals are important, but we need to remember that they are our goals. We make them. We make them in order to build a life and a business we can love and that will satisfy our callings and financial needs. If our goals aren’t fitting with our existing lives, we are the CEOs of them: we can change them, adjust them, put them on hold. The most important thing we need to do, if we do adjust them, is to do it intentionally and to keep the dreams alive that fueled them in the first place. 

One client I coached wanted to revive a side business, one that was based on her primary career. However, in our coaching, she had a heart-to-heart with her heart. It told her that the two deaths and another life-changing tragedy in her immediate family (in a very short period of time) still needed some time to heal before she launched into a new venture. She decided, as a result of this work together, that she would write her ideas on pieces of paper and tuck them into a box, to use later, when she was ready. Her solution kept her dream alive, but it also gave her time to wrap-up unfinished emotional business, first. 

Is it essential to work toward our goals on a daily basis? My answer is this: yes and no. 

Our goals, if we’ve done them well, include more than our business success. We have bodies that sometimes have health problems; we have families that sometimes experience emergent challenges; we have hearts and spirits that sometimes need us to slow down and pay attention to their needs; we have unforeseen financial challenges that require us to take a part-time – or full-time – job in order to address the problems. We are more than a one-track goal machine. We have many aspects to ourselves, and our goals need to reflect this. Do we need to work on our goals daily? Sure, we do. But sometimes the part of our lives that requires attention now may not be our freelance writing. Work on your goals daily, but know that it’s no less legitimate to focus on your health and well-being or your family’s well-being for a time so that, later, your freelance writing business can have your full, energized attention.

Are we imposters if we set aside some goals for others? My previous answers address this question, in part. One other thing I would add, though, is that the “imposter” label also reflects our paradigm for how we view ourselves. Our language and our perspectives that fuel it are essential elements to weathering a change in our immediate goals. When we have to change our goals or their timing in order to deal with something else, we may grieve the loss of that goal. How do we treat our friends and colleagues who are grieving? Most of us tend to feel compassion. My questions for the “imposter,” are these:

How can you see yourself, your current situation and your newly-adjusted future with compassion and kindness?

What words would you use to describe a friend or someone you love dearly who found themselves in a similar situation? Can you give yourself permission to use the same words for yourself?

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Strategy or heart: what does the writer need?

This title is a trick question. Of course, we need both. But most people tap into one more easily than the other, and it is often by working with one first that we run up against its limitations.

Strategies include things like a business plan, networking, marketing, knowing to whom to send our queries, creating a calendar and task list that help us fulfill our goals. People who strategize easily will do so, first. 

The breakdowns come when they find themselves procrastinating inexplicably; they find their energy is just not there to fulfill the very tasks they created; their results aren’t what they want them to be.

For others, the heart comes more easily. These are the folks who are passionate and visionary. They know who they want to be in the world, and they can easily express their feelings. They throw themselves out there and wait for success to come.

The breakdown, for them, happens when heart-driven activities don’t pay the bills, or their passionate communications don’t get them the business results they desire. Where is the abundance, they wonder? 

One of the things I do as a coach is to help them ascertain which mode is easiest (and that’s usually an easy thing to do), and then help them to use the other, less comfortable aspect of themselves to figure out where they are blocked from success.

Strategists will often resist heart-oriented conversations for a while. They can easily tap into what they should do, but they may have a harder time tapping into what they deeply desire to do. Part of the work we do together is to recognize the role that the heart has in practical matters: it energizes us, sets us apart from every other business that wants someone to buy something, and it reminds us that we are more than money-making machines. Our heart beckons for self-care, for play, for creativity, and for an integrated experience. Our minds, bodies and hearts are meant to work together, and they fuel one another. Once strategists grasp this, it helps them to find the reason for the heart and to learn to heed it. 

Heart-driven folks balk at strategies. Strategies seem too confining and cold. They seem to block the creative Spirit that flows through them so easily.

For these folks, we work on their beliefs about strategies. Disciplines and tools can be supportiverather than confining. Planning, sales, and marketing can be joyful, we learn, when they are fueled by our hearts. Our daily disciplines don’t need to choke us. They can help us to create a work style that works for us, body, mind and spirit. 

What is your comfort zone? Have you integrated your strategic plan with your heart’s desires and your calling? 

Overcoming Blocks to Writing: Overwhelm (4th & last in the series)

Overwhelm strikes both when we’re starting a new writing business and when we’re hip-deep in clients and projects. Whether it’s the “Where do I start?” lament or “How do I stop?” complaint, many writers I know deal with this one eventually.

We’ve got two perspectives from which to look at the issue: our internal world and the tasks before us.

Our internal world

Before we start looking at tasks and managing them, we’ve got to look at who we are and how we handle overwhelming situations. We can only strategize well from a place of calm and resourcefulness, and so getting there is our first goal.

Most people go one direction or the other (and some people go both at different times) when they’re overwhelmed:

1. Some people focus their overwhelm internally. They blame themselves for being stupid, lacking creativity, being too sensitive. These are the folks who often sag beneath the weight of their own self-talk. They feel depressed, and they experience somatic pains and discomforts: irritable bowel, tight, painful muscles, fatigue.

2. Some people focus their overwhelm externally. They blame the client, their boss, their circumstances for the problem. They’re angry and short-tempered. They get demanding and critical of others.

Some of us do both, but most people tend to have a favored direction for their overwhelm.

Where do you see yourself? 

Whether we tend to attack ourselves or others, we’re still in a state in which we’re trying to fix a problem by destroying someone. And, ultimately, we either lose relationship with ourselves or with others in the process.

Remember the tools I mentioned in Part II on Perfectionism? 

When we’re overwhelmed, we tend to think we don’t have time for using tools – we just need to fix the problem. But our problem, first and foremost, is that our creative selves are shut-down, and our warrior selves are in full battle armor, ready to go. The pen is mightier than the sword, but the sword will destroy your writing muse faster. It will run for the hills and for safety and leave you to face the now daunting task of writing without it.

Go back to simple tools. No matter how insultingly simple they may be, they will preserve and protect the muse. (Read Part II on Perfectionism, if you haven’t already, for a list of some great tools I and my clients have used.)

Our external world

Strategies are different than tools. Our tools are things we can pick up in a second, literally, and change our whole perspective. I have notes around my house. Connect, one says. Check back in, says another. When I see those notes, I can continue doing what I’m doing, but I’m reminded to connect with my heart and spirit while I do them.

However, while strategies absolutely do come more freely and intuitively when we’re connected with our hearts, spirits and creative selves, they require planning.

Planning is one thing an overwhelmed person will find incredibly difficult to do.

I just need to get to the writing, I hear from clients.  I have a deadline, and I can’t stop to plan. I already have too many things to do – I don’t have room for one more task.

And yet our planning time is one of two things that will make our writing more effective and less overwhelming.

In our planning, we need to:

  • Figure out our purpose. Whether it’s our writing or a clients, what is the end goal? What are the pieces that must be there to accomplish that goal?
  • Figure out their order. What steps need to be taken – and when – to make the whole project come together?
  • Figure out where we’re stuck – and why. We often just get stuck, then we flounder around, trying to get through it. We have to pause long enough to determine the nature of the problem and what can shift to get us unstuck.

I’ve talked about groups before, but this is another place where they come in handy. I was stuck on my own memoir. I’d gotten to a point, and I couldn’t get past it. In interacting with a group I belong to (rather than one I lead), I realized that I had two big problems: one, I had no deadline (and I am very motivated by deadlines). I also need accountability. Out of those group conversations, I realized I needed to talk with my editor, set a deadline with her, and use my group accountability to move forward. I broke through writer’s block that had stymied me because I used the group support to ferret it out and to make a plan.

The second strategy that works miracles with overwhelm is the use of good questions.

Whether I’m questioning myself or a client, taking some time with the questions around a project is critical. If the project is feeling vague, unwieldy or stuck, it’s time to start asking good questions of others and ourselves. Ideally, we learn to ask good questions upfront, to avoid falling into these traps mid-stream, but good questioning strategies can revolutionize our process, even in the thick of it.

Before I mention some of those questions, I want to address one hesitation that comes up frequently. If I ask questions, won’t I look like I don’t know what I’m doing?

It’s a legitimate question. As writers, we’re supposed to be professionals and know all the answers, right? Won’t we look like amateurs if we ask a lot of questions?

Most people in American culture have witnessed the person who knows all the answers. They can go on and on about themselves and what they know, and we usually want to run the other way when we see them coming.

How do we feel when someone thoughtfully asks us a good question? And then really listens to the answers? I tend to respond to such people much more warmly. It seems so rare and refreshing to have someone really want to know me, know my project. I wish all salespeople could learn this lesson! 

Take some time to ask yourself these questions about the project you’re working on. It is a kindness you deserve, as much as any client you write for.

  • Is this project really within my passion and interest to do? 
  • What is my goal with this project? 
  • What is my timeline, and how can I sanely move through that?
  • What kinds of supports do I need from within myself to get past overwhelm (breaks, creative stimulation, connection with my purpose, etc.)?
  • What motivates me, and how can I remind myself of that motivation as I go along?
  • Do I need outside accountability with a writing partner, a coaching group, or some other person to keep me working sanely and steadily?

Some questions we can ask our clients:

  • What problem do you want to solve with this project (this question may take some sensitive probing to unearth)?
  • Have you used a writer before on a similar project? What problems did they or you encounter in the process? How did you both deal with those problems?
  •  What’s the best way for us to communicate as this project progresses? How may I reach you (or the best contact person) for questions and discussion? (This ensures you have someone at the client’s who is available to support you.)

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of questions, nor are these the only tools and strategies for working with overwhelm. But they are some of the key ways I and my clients have found to overcome this common and show-stopping block to writing.

What have you tried? What helps you? Leave a comment, and share with all of us the tools and strategies that help you overcome overwhelm!

 

 

Overcoming Blocks to Writing: Fear (Part III)

Fear is one of the roots of procrastination, and I’d like to take a look with you today at why that is, and what we can do about it.

Most people can understand fear of failure. We may wait to start something until we know we can do it absolutely right (and thus, the link with perfectionism and procrastination). We don’t want to be humiliated by public mistakes, poor quality writing that’s out there for the world to see. We may not start a writing business for fear that we’ll fail: we’ll fail to find clients; we’ll fail to keep up the pace required to run our own business; we’ll fail to pay the bills.

One of the first things I like to remind my coaching clients is that some fears are totally legitimate. If you have a family to feed, quitting your day-job and launching into that much desired career as a poet may not pay the bills. In terms of larger life issues, you may put off going to the doctor, and it’s true that he or she may find a serious problem. Some fears are legitimate. Putting off dealing with them, however, does not make the underlying problems any better, and it saps our energy with the constant drain that anxiety has on our emotional, mental and physical selves.

I’ve found some great tools I’d like to share with you to help distinguish the false messages from the true; to get ourselves into a space from which we can hear the true messages; and how to build supports in our lives that help us to get past our fears faster and more effectively.

This is the point at which I ask my clients to take out a piece of paper, and start listening to the voices, first. Take it as a creative writing assignment, I ask. Before we can shut off the voices, we have to identify them. Give the character, names, appearances. What does the voice sound like? What is it saying?

Is it the high school teacher who said you wouldn’t know a dangling participle if it hit you?

Is it the critical (if anxiously loving) parent who said you should get a real job?

Is it the editor or editors who ripped your writing apart, and they told you you couldn’t write? 

Do a little creative writing on this one.

It’s important to give these characters life before you kill them. Or at least, if you don’t kill them, you need to find a nice, secure place to lock them up so you can look at other options.

Before we talk about that step, however, let’s look at the fear of success.

I have coached many writers and entrepreneurs who are afraid of the results of their successful efforts. They are concerned they will get too much work to do it all well. They are afraid they will lose their lives or their sanity if one more project lands in their laps. They are afraid of a greater level of success because they don’t have the time and energy, or they lack the ability to say “no thank you,” or, just as common, they are afraid of the steps involved to take their business to the next level: hiring others to work for them or firing clients who don’t pay well or are a pain to work with.

Go ahead and add to your characters and their voices, given this fear. 

In Part II of this series, we talked about finding your True Voice. This is the Voice that speaks calmly, realizes there are other resources available, and can help you to get past the fear to a place from which you can write and build a business. I recommend you read that post, if you haven’t done so already.

One of the places where I find writers breaking out of the spiral of fear and anxiety is in groups. We’re a society (at least here in the U.S.) where we get lots of kudos for “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” and doing things independently. We don’t typically have a lot of experience with groups, and we miss out on their wisdom and their support.

Many of the writers and entrepreneurs I work with have years of experience, training and knowledge. They’ve gone to classes. They’ve read the books. And still, they’re stymied by the pervasive anxiety that taints their creative process and their professional success.

Good groups bring knowledge together. Great groups bring knowledge and wisdom together.

In the groups I run, I seldom give advice. I ask questions. And people come up with solutions that work for them. They already know more answers between them than I could impart in a lifetime. But they haven’t figured out yet how to apply them in ways that break down their false beliefs (those voices that are always talking them down from the ledge of success) and get them moving forward.

Here are some of the things they’ve found:

  • Accountability isn’t a dirty word. It can be empowering, compassionate and effective when going it alone isn’t working.
  • It’s okay to have fear, and to do it (whatever “it” is) anyway.
  • It’s important to take time to work with our fears, our blocks and our limitations so we can be free of them when there’s so much more we want to accomplish.
  • When others point our our strengths, we realize how many of them we have. We get in touch with our own resourcefulness.
  • We don’t need to impress anyone there. We’re already impressed with one another – and our courage to speak with authenticity and vulnerability are far more impressive than how much money we’re making or what honors we’ve received in our field.
  • Cheerleaders help. I used to despise cheerleaders in high school (probably because I failed to make the cheerleading squad!), but it’s important to pause, let others celebrate the successes we experience. We often don’t take time to do this alone.

All sorts of writing groups exist locally (www.Meetup.com hosts many such meetings in local communities), many of which are free. Skilled coaches host group coaching sessions both in-person and over the phone, making coaching groups accessible to people who may not have groups available in their geographical area. And while I love individual coaching, I love group coaching more: the connections people make outside the group as they build relationships do far more than I can do alone. 

To wrap up, our fears tend to lose their power when:

1. We identify them for what they are, rather than identifying with them.

2. We practice some of the tools I mentioned in Part II of this series.

3. We connect with others who have shared our fears but can also support us in finding a way beyond them.

What have some of your fears been? How have you dealt with them successfully? We’d love to hear!