On Setting New Year’s Resolutions

Ah, January. The time for New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t actually do resolutions, but I am a habitual goal setter.

Recently as I was cleaning out old papers and files, I found goals I’d written going back to 2011.

I’m sorry to say that many of them are still unfulfilled, all these years later.

Yes, some of the very same goals that have been on my list each year for the last five are still there, wondering when they will get the honor of being crossed off, silently mocking my inability to achieve them.

After the goal review, I had a bout of self-loathing so profound I was inconsolable for the rest of the day, unable to do anything but lounge around in my pajamas and eat Ben & Jerry’s straight out of the carton while watching re-runs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Then, as I was driving over to a New Year’s Eve party a few days later, I got to thinking about this. I thought, hmm, if I want that satisfying feeling that comes from getting to the end of the week, month, quarter and year with a whole slew of targets hit and objectives achieved, I should set goals I know I will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, achieve.

So I came up with a list of such goals. To wit:

:: I will NOT begin a regular yoga practice.

:: I will NOT lose 10 pounds.

:: I will NOT attend a writing retreat this year.

Etc.

Then I remembered a piece I once read by my favorite writer, Nora Ephron, in which she talks about not achieving her New Year’s resolutions the previous year. She figures she’s aiming too low, so she decides to set goals that are “completely out of reach.”

After all, she figures, she has as much chance of achieving the out of reach goals as she does the more “realistic” resolutions. Thus her resolutions for 2008 include things like “End the war in Iraq,” “Make sure a Democrat is elected president,” and “Start a universal health care program.” 

Brilliant, I thought, that’s exactly what I’ll do!

So I took a page out of Nora’s playbook, and came up with my own big, lofty, unattainable, yet highly desirable, goals.

My Top Five “Completely Out of Reach” Goals for 2016:

:: Get Donald Trump to apologize for all the heinous things he’s said and people he’s egregiously and wrongly insulted this year: immigrants, women, Mexicans, disabled people, journalists, Muslims, and on and on and on, AND ON, because the list is long. So.Very.Long.

:: Solve the refugee crisis. I know this is a complex problem and finding a solution won’t be easy. But if the world’s wealthiest nations come together, I think we can get it done. After all, it’s a massive humanitarian crisis that impacts the entire globe, not just our little neck of the woods, where narrow-minded fear-mongering has caused people to lose their damn minds. Amnesty International has some good ideas for how world leaders can work together to solve the crisis.

:: Stop deportation raids against women and children from Central America. Central American immigrants, many of them children, are fleeing extreme violence and poverty, and they should be treated like asylum-seekers and allowed to stay in the U.S. This isn’t about politics, it’s about treating people with basic human decency, rather than resorting to inhumane fear tactics like storming into people’s homes in wee hours to round them up and deport them.

Again, this is another complex problem. But there will always be people who attempt to escape terrible conditions in their home countries and find a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S., even if it means risking their lives to get here. And no wall, and no draconian, inhumane border patrol “tactics” will ever completely put an end to it, as long as there is poverty, violence, and lack of opportunity to escape from.

:: And, as with Nora’s 2008 resolutions, I want to get a Democrat elected this year. I’m pretty sure this will be a slam-dunk, but you never really know, do you? I mean, just a couple of months ago I was saying there was no way on Earth Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, and now he just might be, the way things are going. But I must admit, as much as it scares me for our country that any of the Republican choices still in the race could be the nominee, or even more terrifying, end up President, it sure has been an entertaining comedy freak-show on the Republican side, hasn’t it? Ah, silver linings.

:: And as a Southerner, I must confess, I’ve always wanted to learn to make the perfect biscuit. I’m a pretty decent cook, but I’ve never mastered baking. In fact, every time I’ve tried to bake, it’s been mostly disastrous. As a Southerner, what does it mean that I can’t make a proper biscuit? It’s positively shameful. It will not do. So if anyone has a newbie-friendly biscuit recipe, send it my way.

Happy New Year!

My Three Words for 2016

Ever since I read about Chris Brogan’s “3 Words” approach to yearly planning a few years back, I’ve used the practice to help ground and guide me through the year. 

The goal, as Chris says, is “replace resolutions with something a bit more useful.”

I love the idea of choosing just three words to filter the choices I’ll make over the coming year. The simplicity of it all. The ease and grace of applying 3 simple words to all you want to be, do and have, how you want to approach life, well, it feels . . . light and easy.  

And this year I’m all about light and easy. 

I still want to get things done, mind you, and a whole lot of ‘em, but I want to do it this year without my heretofore customary emoting and (over)dramatizing. The goal is a lot less weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a lot more calm, cool, “it’s all good” vibafication.  

Now, I often fall off the “3 Words” wagon at some point during the year, tumbling into a pit of distraction, but how easy is it to simply remind myself what my three words are and get right back on track? 

Pretty easy, I tell you. That’s because I have my three words written in large black letters at the top of my big ass wall calendar, the one that hangs just above my computer screen and stares me in the face for 10+ hours a day. 

Now that we’ve gotten the preamble out of the way, here are my three words for 2016: 

:: ONE: Work on one thing at a time – from big projects to small to-do list items and everything in between, one, one, one, is the name of the game.  

:: COMPLETION: Complete big projects, and smaller action items too, before moving on to the next thing on the list. If I had a nickel for every uncompleted project sitting on my hard drive right now . . . sheesh!  

:: ENOUGH: Let what I do each day, each week, each month, and each quarter, be enough. No more beating myself up with a metaphorical Cat-o’-Nine-Tails for what I didn’t get around to doing. I’m weary of never measuring up to my boss’s (ahem, my) unrealistic expectations, and it’s stealing my joy. 

So here’s to a 2016 full of completed projects, knocking out the most important things on my to-do list, celebrating everything I get done, and being A-OK with everything I don’t! 

Quest 2016: Unmistakable

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 13: Unmistakable, from Visionary Srinivas Rao 

Today’s prompt comes from Srinivas Rao, host and founder of my favorite podcast, The Unmistakable Creative, author of WSJ Best Seller The Art of Being Unmistakable, and avid surfer.

Today’s prompt:

What will you do in 2016 to assure you and your best work are unmistakable?

I will make time to work on non-client-related writing consistently, beginning in 2Q, once I’ve achieved some of the business goals I’ve mapped out for 1Q. (This, by the way, is an entirely new way for me to handle things. In the past my M.O. was to work on 8-10 major goals at once; as a result, I felt scattered and overwhelmed and made little progress on any of them. Which lead to burnout, discouragement and lots of incomplete projects.)

I will prioritize this commitment by scheduling a solid chunk of writing time, in ink, into my day planner weekly. Committing time, energy and focus to my “true” body of work consistently & repeatedly is the only way it will ever have a chance to become “unmistakable.” I already have my 2016 writing goals and timeline mapped out, and I’m feeling good about my plans.

This weekly time commitment shouldn’t be that difficult to make (she says hopefully), because I’m already part of a writer’s group that meets virtually for a four hour “write-in” each Monday. To date I haven’t participated, because for the last 5 years, Mondays have been dedicated exclusively to doing client work for my longest-term retainer client. As a result, I’ve always told myself, “I can’t schedule anything else on Mondays.”

But I have to ask myself, is this really true? If my non-client related writing is, in fact, a priority, and I already have this organized, built-in time container each Monday in which to write, can’t I schedule the day of the week I have reserved for this particular retainer client to a day other than Monday? Why, yes. Yes, I can.

It’s just that I’ve become so conditioned to setting aside Monday as this client’s “day,” that it hardly occurs to me that I have the power to move the work to another day of the week. D’oh! Habits, they are nasty buggers.

And while I’m at it, I also resolve to pursue more fun, frivolity and adventure in my life. And to continue avidly following my curiosity about the enormous number of things I’m interested in, without attaching the label of, “How does that fit into your business?” to any of it. These things will allow the more playful and fun-loving side of myself I feel like I’ve had on lockdown for the last few years to show up again. Which I think can only help me with my writing.

And that’s how I will assure that my best work becomes unmistakable.

Quest 2016: Two Stories

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 12: Two Stories, from Visionary Jen Louden 

Today’s prompt comes from personal growth pioneer Jen Louden, who helped launch the self-care movement with her first book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s the author of 7 additional books on well-being and whole living, including her most recent book, A Year of Daily Joy.

Today’s prompt:

What’s the story you most desire to bring to life in 2016? What’s the story your just-right client most desires to bring to life in 2016? Where do your two stories overlap?

The story I most desire to bring to life in 2016 is to become more creatively fulfilled and financially empowered through the work I do with creative entrepreneurs, and through my own writing projects.

The story my just-right clients most desire to bring to life is exactly what I want to figure out in 1Q 2016. Currently, I write web copy and other marketing materials for clients, and work with them to develop web marketing strategy that will help them achieve their online presence goals.

But in 2016 I want to offer something . . . more. Something beyond standard copywriting and marketing consulting services.

Because I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last 2-3 months, and not everyone is in a position to invest in professional web copywriting or marketing consulting services. But everyone deserves to have compelling website copy and a unique marketing message that feels good to put out into the world, and that sets them apart in their niche and helps them attract and sign on more of their ideal clients and customers, or attract and engage more of their ideal readers.

So I want to create something accessible, fun, and creatively fulfilling to help clients achieve that result without them having to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars to make it happen.

With that in mind, I’m going to develop a few ideas for a budget-friendly minimum viable product to fulfill this need, poll my audience to find out which of the 4-5 product ideas I present would be the most useful to them, and create an MVP version of this product by late March/early April 2016. This plan has been taking shape in my mind since early October this year, and I’m excited to put it into motion in 2016.

And that’s where the two stories of what I desire and what my just-right clients desire intersect.

Quest 2016: Your Brave Race

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 11: Your Brave Race, from Visionary Todd Henry 

Today’s prompt comes from Todd Henry, CEO of Accidental Creative and author of the books, Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, and Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice.

Today’s prompt:

It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you running your race, or someone else’s?

I am running my own race in some ways, in others, not so much.

When I decided to leave my corporate writing gig in February 2015 to go out on my own with my copywriting and marketing consulting business, that was about running my own race. Decisions that were previously made by someone else – from the schedule I would keep to the kind of projects I would take on to the deadlines I would have to meet – were now mine, all mine, to make. Which felt very liberating.

And terrifying, because now there was no more regular paycheck every two weeks.

But I much, much, much prefer the sometimes stressful nature of the self-employed hustle to the grinding stress of working for someone else, even if the organization is a wonderful one (it is) and the “someone else” I reported to is a stellar person (they are).

I consider letting go of this solid, reliable income stream to focus on what some days feels rocky and uncertain, but is nevertheless way more happiness-inducing than working for others, one of my greatest achievements of 2015. I did something I was terrified to do, but knew I had to do if I wanted to put my happiness first – and I’m not living in my car yet, ha ha.

But . . . .

The way in which I’m not running my own race is by devoting close to 100% of my time right now to client writing projects and my business in general, and hardly any time to my “Bucket #2 writing,” which I talked about in the last post, #Amplify.

Bucket #2 writing consists of essays and narrative non-fiction pieces I’m developing/want to develop, work I consider to be my true “body of work.” This is writing I want to polish and perfect, and eventually publish some of, someday.

But as I mentioned in the last post, I feel a powerful shift in priorities coming on for 2016.

Quest 2016: Amplify Your Best Work

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 10: Amplify Your Best Work, from Visionary Charlie Gilkey 

Today’s prompt comes from Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing and best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle.

Today’s prompt:

Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year?

Instead of considering simply doing more work, take the time to consider which elements of your work would most light you up to amplify. What’s holding you back from amplifying it? Is it that obscure little thing no one will care about? Or is it that if they see it, they’ll care too much and call the Imposter or Weirdo Police?

There won’t be a time in the future where it’ll be easier to amplify that part of your work.
p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I make plans for world domination in 2016, ha ha.

The simple answer is, I want to devote more time to the craft of writing this year, and actually begin submitting my work.

I think of my writing as two separate “buckets” – bucket #1 is the marketing communications, web copy, and other writing I do for clients as part of my copywriting business, and the writing I do to support that business – blog posts, newsletters, and guest posts, etc.

Bucket #2 consists of essays and narrative non-fiction pieces I’m developing/want to develop, work I consider to be my true “body of work.” This is the writing I want to polish and perfect (which it needs, badly, oh boy), writing I’d eventually like to publish some of, someday. Alas, this is the writing that always gets the short end of the stick, as in, I spend time on it only if/when I feel like the writing in bucket #1 is under control, which happens almost never.

I’ve experimented with focusing on bucket #2 writing first thing in the morning before I start the client work, all day on Sunday, and in the p.m. when I finish the client work, but none of these three writing times has stuck. Yet.

But I feel a powerful shift in priorities coming on for 2016. Not just in devoting more time to working on the writing in bucket #2, but also in figuring out what additional service offerings I can create that are less marketing and copywriting oriented, and more aligned with . . . well, what, exactly, I don’t know yet. I’m still trying to puzzle that one out.

Quest 2016: Who Do You Serve?

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 9: Who Do You Serve?, from Visionary Chris Brogan 

Today’s prompt comes from Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Media Group, professional speaker, and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including the forthcoming, Insider: Strategies and Secrets for Business Growth in the Age of Distractions.

Today’s prompt:

How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016?

The answer to this one feels so easy, relatively speaking, compared to the previous questions.

That’s because I’ve already been thinking about this for weeks, at least since the end of November.

What I’ve been doing, and will continue to do over the next few days/couple of weeks to clarify who I serve and what I do for them, is go through all my copywriting and marketing consulting client intake questionnaires from 2015, every question I got from prospective clients via email, and every project I completed for clients, to determine what my ideal clients really struggle with, and what they’re really, truly looking for when they bring me on to work with them.

Because I know it’s about more than simply copywriting or marketing help, it’s something deeper than that. And that deeper “thing” is what I want to tap into this coming year. So as I’m poring over my intake questionnaires from this last year, I’m reading and reading the responses to all 25-30 questions (I ask a lot of questions), but I’m paying particular attention to the answers to these two questions:

:: What are your biggest dreams when it comes to your business?

:: Just for fun, if you were stranded on a desert island or in a Buffalo snow storm, which 3-5 books, movies, podcasts, websites, blogs, t.v. shows or magazines would you absolutely have to have on hand?

I think of all the questions I ask, those two are the most fun for my clients to answer, and yield some of the most heartfelt and interesting responses.

Step Two would be to put together some insights from this process, then circle back around with my 2015 clients to get their feedback on how I can better serve them, and new clients, in 2016.

Quest 2016: 1 of 3 Qualities

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 8: 1 of 3 Qualities, from Visionary Sally Hogshead 

Today’s prompt comes from branding expert and best-selling author of How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination, Sally Hogshead.

Today’s prompt:

Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now: quality of life, quality of work, or quality of compensation?

For me it’s impossible to separate these three qualities, because each is part of a larger whole working in my life right now, where each quality feels equally important.

On the work front: This last year has been about work, work, work and more work, and that will likely continue in 2016. Having left my corporate writing gig in February of 2015 to go out on my own, I’m still finding my footing in my copywriting business. Things are going well, but based on lessons learned in 2015, 2016 is going to require an even greater amount of focused effort and determination to get the business to where I want it to be.

On the compensation front: Compensation wants improvement in 2016, so it’s a big focus, and inextricably linked to quality of work/output mentioned above.

On the quality of life front: Of course when you’re trying to get a business off the ground, other areas of your life will likely suffer and that’s ok in the short term; I’m down with that. Still, I wrestle with this weekly. I work 6-7 days per week, and feel like that’s ALL my life is about right now, so I sometimes find myself feeling cranky because there’s not enough time in my life devoted to simple pleasures like fun and downtime.

Of course, I realize this is just the way things look right now, it’s not permanent, and besides, I love my work. But I occasionally rebel by, say, doing what I did one recent weekday morning: lolling about in my pjs until 10:00 am, drinking coffee and reading a book. As if it were a Sunday, the one day I allow myself leisure time. I finally moseyed over to my desk at 10:30 am to start my work day. And let me tell ya, the beating up of myself that ensued for the rest of the day was not worth that extra time spent relaxing in the a.m.

What I need in this category is balance – getting my most important work priorities ticked off the to-do list by the end of the week so I can take ALL of Sunday off without guilt, and someday – someday, someday, someday – being able to take full weekends off. Because as we all know, when we allow ourselves time off, we come back to our work with more energy, creativity and joy.

So at the end of the day, finding the balance between these 3 qualities is the most important thing in my work right now.

 

Quest 2016: Payoff

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 7: Payoff, from Visionary John Jantsch

Today’s prompt comes from John Jantsch, marketing consultant, speaker, and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, and other books.

Today’s prompt:

What can you stop doing in 2016 such that it would allow you to focus on higher payoff activities?

:: First and foremost, I can stop saying (and thinking) “I don’t have time.”

:: I can stop my ingrained habit of doing client work first each day, with the promise that, “once I get that out of the way, I’ll work on my own writing & creative projects.” Ha! Because invariably, by the time I’ve put in 5-6 hours of focused time on client deliverables, my creative energy for the day is spent. Better to give myself one hour in the a.m. to work on the creative projects that are meaningful to me before I do work for anyone else.

:: I can stop checking my email a dozen times a day (at a minimum). That’s what trips me up. Not Twitter, not Facebook, not any social media platform whatsoever, BUT EMAIL.

:: And while I’m at it, I can unsubscribe myself from at least half of the newsletters I receive, because that list is looooong (and because I’m curious and I love to read, I actually read most of the newsletters that come into my in-box). Huge, huge time-suck.

Overall, I can spend much less time consuming, and much more time creating.

Quest 2016: Miss You

Quest 2016 Theme, Day 6: Miss You, from Visionary Seth Godin 

Today’s prompt comes from Seth Godin, author of 18 bestselling books, including two of my personal favorites, Tribes, and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.

Today’s prompt:

Would they miss you if you were gone? What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?

This one was painful to contemplate. But I’m glad to have the opportunity, because connection and fellowship is something I deeply desire to have more of in my life, and it has to start with me.

Family and friends would miss me, I’m sure. But I also know that I am not nearly as connected, involved and there for my family and friends as I would like to be.

As an introvert and a writer, I spend lots of time alone. But the truth is, much of the time, I simply don’t make the effort to connect with others socially; I’m far too passive in that area.

I wait for the invitations to get together to come to me. And they do, often enough.

But when they don’t? I’m happy to spend time on my own, reading, writing, and indulging my addiction to Bravo TV. And I don’t feel lonely, which keeps me mired in the same habit of always being the responder to, and never the instigator of, plans.

I’m not proud of this.

Going back to my response to the last prompt, one of my core desired feelings is connection, something I have less of than I’d like in my life right now, but only because I don’t “put myself out there.”

For example, at the end of 2014, I promised myself I would visit with out-of-town family and friends at least 6 times in 2015, and I made those visits just twice this year. I could have easily planned a couple of additional short trips, but didn’t.

In many ways, I’m a ghost already. A present ghost, but a ghost.

So, if I’m so seldom around to start with, how much would my loved ones actually miss me if I were gone? Maybe not so much, and maybe the missing would evaporate quickly.

Hmm, that sure doesn’t feel too good to write.

What would have to change to lead to a better answer to this question then, is for me to follow through on my commitment to be “there” more for my loved ones, both the local ones and the distant ones. To call them up, just because. To visit them, even when it’s not a special occasion or holiday. To regularly inquire how they are, what they’ve been up to, what they might need. To write them letters. [Oh, how I miss letters!] To send cards on birthdays and graduations and other important milestones. To reach out much more frequently, and be the asker and inviter, rather than merely the passive accepter, of invitations.

Essentially, to be less cadaverous and more present & alive to the important relationships in my life.