When It Feels Like You’re Not Making Progress on Your Dreams

by | Aug 5, 2014 | Achieving Balance | 20 comments

I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines.

On the one hand, they stress me out. I worry I won’t be able to finish in time, that the quality won’t be up to my standards, that people will be disappointed in me.

On the other hand, those exact fears are what drive performance. Disappoint people who matter to me? Shoddy work?

Not this overachiever.

Before I left London, I made myself a schedule and a commitment. I would get up at 6 AM every morning and write for about 2 to 3 hours. After that, I could do whatever I wanted. But the writing came first.

I made the necessary arrangements. My daughter would spend two weeks with her Grandparents while my husband turned over our flat in London.  Then I committed to my Luminaries Club members that I’d report on how many words I’d written by our next call–just two weeks after the big move.

When I arrived in Seattle, it was 4:30 PM locally, which meant just after midnight London time. I’d watched three movies on the plane instead of napping. My in-laws picked us up, got us fed, then dropped me off at a hotel for the night before I headed to the new house alone the next morning.

The time change made it easy to get up at 6 AM, but it wasn’t easy to start writing. There were so many tasks I felt drawn to do: call the cable company to get the internet set up, find a folding table so I had something to eat on, learn my way around the neighborhood.

My husband told me to forget about all of it and just write. That was my only task.

With nothing else to do, no one to see, and a bunch of people expecting something of me, I started writing.

I hadn’t worked on the book in weeks, so I was out of my flow. I was convinced the entire concept was dumb.

But I forged ahead anyway, starting with one of the many interviews I’d already completed. I tried to make sense of that one story.

After a few days, I got into a rhythm. I got up at 6 AM (still bright-eyed thanks to the time change), turned on my computer and then made a quick, healthy breakfast. Then I wrote for several hours, basically however long it took to get about 1,000 words on the page. I started calling my husband around noon, telling him my work was done for the day.

In this way, I was able to create a (very) rough draft of an entire chapter within a week. And because I was done with my work so early in the day, I was able to start knocking off items from my to-do list as well. I even decided to sign up for a beginner’s Crossfit class. Why not tackle my fitness goals in the same structured way?

That’s when I got sick. 

I was determined not to let my illness slow down my progress. I walked about three-quarters of a mile to the grocery store (we’re also trying to go carless) to get medicine and some tissues. I looked at row after row of cold/flu medicine and found I was having a hard time concentrating. The next thing I knew, I was having to grip the cart very tightly to avoid collapsing.

I felt the blood drain from my face. I thought I was going to throw up. I had no idea how I was going to make it back to the house. I realized I didn’t know anyone I could call to help me. My in-laws lived 40 minutes away.

It was possible, I had to admit, that I’d overdone it a bit.

Did I really need to move halfway around the world, write my book, move the cats, get settled in a new house, take care of my clients, and start Crossfit all at the same time?

Not this overachiever.

I let myself rest. I slept until 9 AM, then took a nap after lunch. I watched movies and read books. I sat on the bare floors and stared out the windows with the cats (still no furniture). I asked my new neighbors for help, who kindly fed me soup and made sure I didn’t take any more walks to the grocery store. I postponed my Crossfit class another two weeks.

For an entire week, I didn’t write a word.

In the past, I might have mentally beat myself up over all this. This time, I thought about how grateful I was that events unfolded the way they did. Here’s what I learned:

1. I never thought I could write an entire chapter in a week. Doing it (even at a significant cost) was worth the motivation boost.

2. Resting doesn’t mean you’re weak—you’ll be weak if you don’t rest when you need it.

3. Turning your life upside down is a great time to create new habits, but don’t be surprised if it’s harder to maintain than you think. That’s okay, because the process you build is more important than short-term outcomes.

4. Public accountability works. I couldn’t stand to disappoint my Luminaries. Find accountability partners who are also doing something hard and it doesn’t feel like a burden to use them.

Yesterday my daughter shook me awake at 6 AM as requested. I grumbled a bit, but after a good breakfast and getting her out the door for science camp, I was at my computer writing. I cranked out a thousand words in a little over an hour, faster than I’d ever done before.

Then I went to restart my beginner’s class at Crossfit. I shaved two minutes off my time for the workout of the day.

Two steps forward. If I’m being realistic, I know I’ll take one step back sometime in the near future.

But it’s progress.

And I’m grateful for it.