As I write this, I am on a sabbatical from full-time work. I’m taking a necessary breather after launching my first book, KNOCK: How to Open Doors and Build Career Relationships that Matter, a couple of months ago. This was a six-and-a-half year project that took tons of energy, focus, working through concepts and book covers, and critical over-analyzation of word combos and book structure, and late night text polls to friends about the subtitle, even. I recently wrote about 10 Steps to Set and Achieve a Long-Term Career Goal. Now, I’m taking stock of every interview, every email to those I interviewed to fact check, every conversation about selecting a path to publishing, and how much work this long-term goal really involved – and how much fear and doubt it involved too. And, it might seem like once the book is out, the work is done, but that’s when another wave of work begins – marketing and sharing and distributing the book!
And so, now, I rest.
And, while I rest, I take time to write – an activity that fills my cup that had run empty from producing a published work I’m proud of in more than half a decade while juggling full-time work. While that may seem crazy, full-time work kept my mind active, my skills sharp, my career relationships rich, and provided some valuable anecdotes and real-world examples of career challenges and experiences that made it into the pages of the book to help my readers.
The opposite of instant gratification
I’m not a patient person. I like efficiency, I like to see and feel progress. I like to create things – art, blog posts, peach pies. I love the experience of something existing that didn’t before, or something taking on a new form from disparate ingredients to delicacies. So, why I decided to write a book is ironic and amusing. There’s nothing instant about writing a book, even if it’s self-published and downloaded by the click of a button on an Amazon Kindle. To my readers who are still waiting for an audio version of the book, it takes four months to record and produce and make available to listen to — that’s about 175000 minutes. (Yes, the RENT song comes to mind as I write this…) As I said, not instant. Thank goodness I have readers who are more patient than I.
So, how did I manage to push through, to persevere, to have hope and believe that I could achieve this monstrous, not-quick-to-arrive goal? What did I do when the going got rough, when life threw me a curveball, when I literally did not have time to think about the book or to write down a word?
How to squash doubt and fear for a long-term goal
It came down to ten strategies (which I did not think of as strategies at the time) that helped me minimize the fears and doubts and result in eventual progress, rather than abandonment of my dream.
- Focus on the bigger picture. What impact will I create? When frustrations creeped in or I started to get self-conscious about how long it was taking me to achieve the goal, I focused on the end result, and how it would help others. There’s a social psychology principle referenced in KNOCK by Bibb Latané called ‘social impact theory‘, and it’s all about the factors that influence individuals in social settings. One of those factors is the number of people who will be impacted. Thinking about who this work will help and make a positive impact on kept me going.
- Break it into smaller pieces. Then, focus on tiny pieces of those pieces. Most of my writing until the book had been short-form blog posts and articles like these. Putting lots of passages together in a section, then a chapter, then putting the chapters together in the format of a book was very overwhelming to me and where I got stuck most of the time. But, once I found my brilliant editor, and sat down to put all of my research and interviews and thoughts on paper — I wrote the full manuscript in three-and-a-half months — we did it section by section, chapter by chapter. In fact, we started with individual stories from the professionals I had the privilege of interviewing. I wrote one story at a time and sent them to my editor to review. Then, eventually, we came up with an outline that would be consistent for every chapter. Then, I wrote one chapter at a time for his review. When I had a section in a chapter that I wasn’t ready to complete yet, we left it open until I was ready to go fill it in. Starting small helped me achieve something big.
- Research. Seek help. Ask for advice. A big part of writing the book was figuring out the publishing path that was best for me. I knew self-publishing wasn’t the right path for me because I was not interested in spending my time formatting pages of the book or learning how to do that — I knew it would take me too long and I wouldn’t enjoy it, plus, that activity would take me away from spending time on what I did enjoy — writing and marketing the book. I put together my book proposal in a format I found through researching other book proposals. I shopped it around and got lots of feedback – most of which was, it wasn’t ready for a prime-time publisher. I didn’t feel I needed to work with the most prominent publisher for my first book since I was ready to get my ideas out into the world and had field-tested them in dozens of professional workshops. In fact, I met my editor when researching hybrid publishers — they fall somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I reached out to him because he wrote about publishing paths and he had worked with a publisher I was looking for a referral on. I was curious what his experience was like working with a particular publisher in the past, when we ended up clicking, and I learned that he was an accomplished editor. I still remember writing an email from a hotel room on a trip to him asking if he would consider working with me — I just had a feeling he was the right one. But, I wouldn’t have found him had I not done my research and reached out to him to get his advice about publishers.
- Talk to people who have been successful doing this. One of the most helpful, validating approaches I find when I’m in moments of doubt and fear is asking others who have walked a similar path before about their experience. I am so grateful to those who are generous in sharing what they learned, what went wrong, what they wouldn’t have done if they had the chance to do it again, and what to expect. It’s often almost an immediate source of reassurance, camaraderie, and community. It makes me feel like I’m joining a club of people who have done this before, rather than being isolated and on my own.
- Lean on support from your believers. No great feat is achieved alone. I was fortunate to have family and friends who cheered me on and waited for the book to go on sale. Having people ready to buy it even before it was printed was a huge boost of confidence when I was unsure what to expect as the publication day approached. I was hard on myself when I took long periods of time to put the book work down and then pick it back up. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t finished the book when I sent over the interviews I had recorded with prominent individuals three or four or five years prior — I put words in their mouth, assuming they’d think, “she’s still working on this? Well, that’s taking her a long time.” When, in reality, every one I reached out to responded to fact-check our prior interviews. Most people respect and understand that large projects take time and they were grateful I included them. Leaning on that support was instrumental in providing extra fuel I needed to keep going.
- If you hit a wall, confirm it’s a wall, then find another way. If it’s not a wall, it’s a hurdle, and there are ways over it or around it. Sometimes I hit a wall — someone I was seeking a quote approval from didn’t respond, or I tried to convey an idea several ways and my editor said it still didn’t come through, or I received another discouraging piece of feedback on my book proposal. Some of these responses were true walls – I was hindered with that path. Other times, I validated this “no” was just a hurdle and I could find another way. Either way, I made progress, and either way, walls or hurdles, I progressed forward and achieved the goal.
- Create space. (trade-offs, sacrifices) As I mentioned earlier, it took me about six years to gather all the ideas, validate The Knock Method concept – 5-steps to building high quality career relationships, to conduct interviews, to find a publishing path and my editor, and only three-and-a-half months to write the manuscript that is now published. I wrote the manuscript during a period of time that included time off from work, and dedicated space just to write. Granted, there was a pandemic taking place and there wasn’t much of anywhere to go. No travel, no dining out, no temptations to go out with friends. That’s not how I would have pictured writing my manuscript. But, it highlighted the value of creating and having space to focus. And, I watched significantly less Netflix than those around me — not a huge trade-off, but there’s always something else you can be doing instead of working towards that big goal. Balance was important – I still needed to connect with my husband, and have fun, and prioritize our health, and cook, and check in with family and friends. But, I blurred a lot of distractions out to remain hyper-focused on my big goal, especially as the finish line came into focus. I will also say, because I was so passionate about achieving this goal and the eventual impact it would have on others, it didn’t feel like sacrifice at the time. I was compelled to focus my time and energy in this area before and after work, and I was excited to review the next edited version of the manuscript and the book cover designs.
- Rely on experts. Writing a book is like running a mini business. There are so many moving parts and pieces — the manuscript itself and timelines, the page layout, graphic design, the Table of Contents, the book cover design and spine, the print schedule, the distribution plan, the marketing plan… There was no possible way I could achieve this on my own without expert help in many areas in which I was not an expert. I learned and picked up new skills, but my publisher and my editor and my graphic designer were all experts that I needed and I relied on them where their expertise lied so I could focus on the words and building community and momentum around book launch and the marketing plans. I did spend an inordinate amount of time talking to UPS and FedEx on shipping costs and distribution plans for signed copies that I’d be sending out myself. I learned a ton, and have packing and shipping almost down to a science. But, I rely on my publisher for most distribution efforts — this is what they do.
- Visualize the end result. Even though I didn’t know what my book cover would look like until about three months before publication date, I continued to visualize what it would be like to have my book on my office book shelf, to be introducing myself as an author, and to be highlighting all of the amazing individuals who took the time for an interview in conversations about career. Visualizing the end result kept me going and helped keep me excited, even during moments of questioning myself “will it ever be finished?”
- Celebrate your successes and rest. Along the writing process, my editor and publisher were instrumental in helping me take a pause to acknowledge and celebrate the milestones I had achieved. Once my manuscript was finished, one of my editors emailed me and said, “you wrote a book!” I still didn’t believe it. Until I saw it in print, it felt like an intangible thing I had done but couldn’t see. But, I needed to hear it. And, I needed to acknowledge how far I’d come, and even when finishing one story, one chapter, or one section, celebrating those wins were critical to fuel me to keep going and to give me confidence that I could do it.
- BONUS: Trust. I had to trust myself, trust the process, and know that if it was taking my longer to get my book published, it was because that was just the right amount of time my book needed to be complete. Long stretches without any work on the book were needed to teach me lessons in my career and in life that I would refer to later or that would shape my ideas that would go into the book.
I hope sharing my experience in achieving a long-term goal — especially as an impatient, likes-to-see-results-quickly efficiency nut — inspires you to keep going, make small strides, and achieve your BIG goals.
What do you think? Which steps will help you the most when working towards a long-term goal? Where do you need a bit more confidence or fuel to propel you to the final result?