Saturday, 21 May 2011

On The Right Road

A couple of years ago, I lost 40lbs of weight I didn't need. I'd put it on over many years - just a few lbs a year; not enough to really notice or worry about. Until it was. I put off losing weight for ages, not because I didn't care, but because I thought I couldn't. I love food. I hate exercise. I don't have a lot of self-discipline. I'd never done anything like that before.

Then I discovered a website called SparkPeople. And then, weightloss was easy.

SparkPeople has some really great tools for tracking your food and your exercise and your progress and for pushing you towards your goals. It has hundreds of useful and interesting expert articles. It has a lively community of like-minded folks always on hand for support and encouragement. But at the heart of it all is an ethos far greater than the desire to be thin and attractive, or even to be fit and healthy. The heart of SparkPeople is about motivation, systematic achievement of goals, and the belief that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. And I may have put a few pounds back on since a couple of years ago, but the principles I learned at SparkPeople will stay with me for life.

The most important thing SparkPeople taught me was this. To climb a mountain, you've gotta take a lot of steps.

Simple, huh?

The mountain may be huge, but each step is tiny and easy and ordinary. The mountain may seem a scary, insurmountable goal, but each individual step is absolutely achievable. Even when the going's tough and your steps are smaller or slower than you'd like, well, it's still progress. If you stumble and fall back a few steps, no need to throw yourself off the nearest ledge; just pick yourself up and take those few steps again - you've done it before, after all. And each step, though it may not bring its own rewards, is an investment in the future; a step in the right direction.

 Photo by Kerem Barut, taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Last August I finally got sick to death of slaving my life away for a company that didn't appreciate me, doing a job I didn't care for any more, and packed it in, promising I'd find a way to work for myself, or at least on my own terms, and start to work towards achieving my dreams. I was only able to do this because of my cheap living situation at the time, and I realise not everyone's so fortunate. Now, I'm not claiming to be any kind of success, nor any kind of expert. I'm scraping a few hundred pounds a month right now, at best. I said I'd be a proofreader but I haven't really applied myself to getting the work. I bought £100 worth of materials last year to have a go at making greetings cards to sell, but the box of materials is still sitting untouched under my bed. I have a couple of casual jobs, but shifts are really few and far between. So I'm not recommending all those unhappy with their jobs pack them in right away - not at all. But if I hadn't taken that first step last summer and quit my job, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be on the way now to getting my first screenplay produced.

Sure, the screenplay will make me some money, assuming it makes it to production (and there's always a danger it won't), but I have to wait for that. And I'm writing my butt off at the moment trying to get a few more scripts polished before someone asks me "so, what else have you got?" but there's no guarantee of any returns on that hard work either...

Basically it's all a massive gamble. Every day the time when we'll have to move out and stand on our own four feet again gets nearer, and if that time comes and I'm still not making enough money, well, back to the daily grind I go. But you know what? I'll still have achieved the things I've achieved during this time - I'll still have learned the things I've learned, and earned what money I've earned, and written the stories I've written, and made the contacts I've made, and certainly added a few things to my CV. I'll still be a few steps closer to my dreams.

It's easy to leave things the way they are, and it's easy to make excuses. Change is scary. Sacrifices are hard. Risks are... well, risky. But we only have one chance at life and if you're on a road that's wrong for you, the time to change it is NOW. You see, it's the road that matters, not the destination, because they all lead to the same place and it's too late then.

So what are your dreams? Write them down, each on a separate sheet of paper. Now pick one and list ten steps to achieving it. Now take that first step and break it down further; list ten steps to achieving that. Now break those down even further... Stop when you've got a list of dead-easy tasks. Tasks you could do in moments. Baby-steps. Be specific, and consider how or where each task would be done. If you don't know how or where, make finding out one of the steps. If you need to save up money in order to do something, include a step-by-step plan. And assign points along the way to celebrate your progress.

What are your first few tasks? Maybe find a phone number. Ask a question. Send an email. Buy some materials. Book a course. Get a book from the library. Do some sums. Skip the morning coffee and put the money you save in a jar. They're not so unachievable, those steps, are they? No - they're easy.

And one day, if you keep taking one step after the other, that final step will be the last one, and it'll be just as easy as all the others.

So tell yourself you don't want to, or you can't be bothered, or you've got more important things to do, or you're scared, or you don't want to make the sacrifice.

But never, ever tell yourself you can't.

A list I'd be well advised to follow is this:
  • Find proofreading course folder.
  • Complete final assignment (not a problem).
  • Phone academy: check final assessment cost.
  • Write cheque and envelope.
  • Photocopy assignment.
  • Send assignment off.
  • Contact previous customers for testimonials.
  • Compile and proof testimonials.
  • Update website with testimonials and qualification.
  • Alter phone number on business card design (online at VistaPrint).
  • Order new business cards.
  • Apply to SfEP's 'Associates Available' newsletter.
  • Book further training through SfEP - use vouchers.
  • Print 500 flyers (flyer is already created).
  • Distribute (to local businesses, universities, libraries, print shops, writers' groups, community noticeboards).
  • Research (online) ways to increase my web traffic.

The list goes on... These are all things I could do in a day - many of them in just a few minutes - and if I'd done so back last summer, I'd probably be earning a lot more cash by now. The "Buy some land and build a strawbale house" list starts with the plan to save up some money, so it's stupid of me to put it off. But I'm making excuses. Screenwriting's more important to me right now. I don't enjoy proofreading as much as I thought I would. I'm stressed. Stupid excuses. If I chose to apply myself, I could have the satisfaction of crossing off eight of those within an hour or two. Eight! And I'd be that much further along!

So go on, what's stopping you? If you want to write, polish up a few pieces and send them off. If you want to sell plants, go out and buy some seeds. If you want to be a singer-songwriter, grab your guitar and book yourself in at the local open-mic night. If you want to sell secondhand records, sell some secondhand records. If you want to sell greetings cards, turn that box of materials into the cards you flipping designed years ago and get 'em online!

No-one starts out with a retail empire or superstardom. We have to get ourselves on the right road first.

Do it!


Amy said...

Fantastic post! It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day, always thinking you don't have time to do anything. I'm going to make my list today.

Still keeping my fingers crossed for your screenplay!

Paul and Melanie said...

Great post, and you're so very right. thats exactly what I need to do, make the small steps and let the rest follow on after...
Good luck with your screenplay too, how exciting! :)

Nome said...

Thanks guys. :) You go for it.

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