Redefining Success – Part I

At the end of the day, most people I know do not feel successful. Despite the fact that they’re working non-stop and reaching many of their goals, they don’t feel successful. I’d like to offer some thoughts from both my coaching practice and my personal experience to help us all feel more successful at the end of the day. 

What and who defines success for you?

Most of us think we know what success is, until we try to put it into words. Then it starts to sound ridiculous. Is success really about ticking off every item on your to-do list? Is it really about getting everything done perfectly? 

One of the things I ask my clients to do is to is to ask themselves what defines success at the end of their day. If you work for yourself (and a lot of my clients are freelance writers or otherwise entrepreneurial), you’ve got to meet a couple of metrics at the end of the day in order to be successful.

1) Your own standard of work. If you work for yourself, you no longer have a boss telling you how much to produce each day, either in terms of product or money. You set the barre. Where is that barre for you? How much money? How many words? What does a “productive” day look like for you? Are you a tyrant, or are you being reasonable with yourself? What makes your work meaningful, and have you taken some action toward producing that meaningful work or planning for it to become a larger part of your workday over time? 

If you are familiar with SMART goals, you know that vague, unrealistic goals don’t even count as goals. They need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive. These metrics are meant to keep our goals truly reachable – and workable in the larger scheme of life.

2) Your client’s standard of work. There’s a reasonable argument that can be made that you no longer have a boss, but now every client is a boss. Personally, my own standard here is this: I have to please enough of my clients to meet my financial goals and professional goals. Sometimes, I will run across a difficult client. Maybe I could please them, if I twisted and contorted myself to meet their unrealistic expectations. Maybe they are only difficult because they are difficult for me to work with. Does it mean I’m a failure if I can’t please them? Perhaps the best thing I can do for myself, my sanity and for that client’s project success is to fire the clients who don’t work well for me (and for whom it’s way too emotionally or time expensive for me to work well for them) and to find better clients. I feel good at the end of the day if I’ve referred them to a better fit coach or writer. I don’t have to please everyone, but I have to please enough of them to reach my goals, and I want to do that in a way that makes sense for me.

What about the Big Picture?

At the end of the day, success is about more than work and money. What other parts of life need to be nurtured for you to feel successful?

I’ve got two big areas of life that I need to attend to. I’ll share them with you, and I ask you to consider what needs to be on your list in order to feel your life has been successful, apart from your work 

1. Self-care. If I don’t attend to my self-care, I will eventually cease to be of use to myself, to my family or my clients. On the physical side of things, I need to eat well, drink enough water, exercise, and sleep enough. If these things are in place 95% of the time, I’m going to be a sustainable operation. If I don’t, I risk breaking down. If my self-tracking shows I am neglecting these things more than 5% of the time, I need to put on the brakes and re-evaluate, pronto. 

The other aspect of self-care is my emotional and spiritual self. I need to journal, create art, pray and meditate at a frequency that nurtures my emotions and spirit. If I do these things with 95% success, I’m going to chug along really well. If I break down more than that, I’m headed for trouble.

2. Family. My husband and my son are my two top people. If at the end of the day I have connected with them, know what’s happening with them and been present and supportive of them, that is a successful day. I will not always connect with them at the same depth, but we have times scheduled together that are vital to these relationships being solid and working. If I’m showing up for them in space and time, with my attention fully engaged, then that is critical aspect of a successful day.

What about the rest?

There’s a lot more on my list to do every day. It includes things like house cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, financial tracking, getting dressed, shuttling my son to karate and piano lessons, and so on. I’m going to get a lot of those things done on most days. However, if I’ve taken care of my self-care, my primary relationships and the core values of my business, the rest is gravy. I can rest at the end of the day knowing I’ve been successful. There will always be more to do. However, my success does not depend on getting everything done in perfect fashion. It relies on furthering my core directives in life and business. 

Questions for You

What is success for you? How can you redefine success so that it works for you and your life as you find it now? Is someone else’s standard of success driving your sense of satisfaction? How can you take back ownership of your satisfaction with your life?

Redefining Success: Part II – The Tyranny of the Inner Perfectionist


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?

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? 

Biggest blocks to writing: Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fear & Overwhelm (Part I)

I coach writers on a daily basis. I know very well that  it’s important to know your goals, your genre, your audience; to build your brand, your website, your business model. It’s important to learn new skills and to organize your time. You have to market, network, set up our accounting systems, form our LLC or C-Corp or S-Corp. All of these things are great, and they’re critical to a functioning business of writing. And, of course, we need to do the actual writing! Most writers I work with, however, face the specters of their own inner workings as they attempt to accomplish the outer work. The first one we’ll look at together is procrastination (and in later posts, we’ll work with its roots: perfectionism, fear and overwhelm).

Procrastination is a great place to start. It’s the most visible, outward indication of our inner workings. We see it: it’s the Facebook page open in front of us instead of our word processing. It’s the load of laundry in our arms instead of our laptop. It’s the email we’re staring at instead of our task list.

We can find a lot of advice about time management on the internet and in books. Those tools are all helpful, but they often sidestep the fact that the roots of procrastination go beyond those tools: those tools attempt to chop the head off the dandelions, when we need to dig out their source from the bottom-up.

Some key questions to ask ourselves about our procrastination follow. Take time with them (now!). You have to understand the weed and its nature before you can effectively destroy it:

1. What do I procrastinate on? Make a list. Notice if it’s just the dreaded stuff of your life, or if it also includes the positive, life-affirming stuff. Get to know yourself here.

2. What is the cost to me of procrastinating in these areas of my business and life? Write it down. If you want to change something, you have to find your motivation for doing so. If the costs add up to more than you’re willing to pay, you’ll have the motivation you need to change them.

3. What would my life look like if I didn’t procrastinate in these areas? This question often leads to some interesting information. Yes, your life might be more peaceful – but would it also be a little boring? Yes, you might move at a more steady pace, but is the shot of adrenaline you’re getting from last-minute work covering your underlying fatigue?  Would you be unable to work without it?

Now ask yourself one more question, and answer it honestly: is this something I want to change, or am I happy enough, productive enough with it in place? If the answer is that you’re fine enough, don’t go any further. It’s not always the time to fix everything, and if it’s working for you, why change? Just because someone, somewhere thinks you should isn’t a reason enough to do the hard work of changing habits and their causes.

If you do want to change, and you’re ready to do the work, it’s time to look at the roots. Our next topic will cover perfectionism, one of the most common roots of procrastination.