“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” – Stephen King
Take one step, however small, today. Now. It works.
Let me elaborate, I live in an isolated town in Northern British Columbia, Canada. We are best known for the manufacture of aluminum and snow drifts. Other than snow, bears, and fish, we don’t have much else – no movie theatre, Starbucks or even a bowling ally. And sometimes the hope of achieving one’s dreams dwindles with the miles and latitude.
I have felt this most acutely when working as a school counsellor. Of course, issues of money, opportunity and education create obstacles in any location but this is doubly so in an environment so removed from urban living and post-secondary education.
So when working with students, I emphasize to take one step, however tiny, today. As in now! And take another tomorrow. This step must, in some, small way, bring the individual closer to the dream. It could be a google search for possible programs, or writing an e-mail to a local singing teacher.
All pretty standard stuff, I know. But this post is not about my work with others, but rather what I learned when I stopped doling out advice and, instead, looked inward. As I settled into the role of motherhood, travel proved even more difficult. and negative thoughts started to lodge in my grey matter. Phrases like ‘I can’t get that graduate degree because I live miles from anywhere surrounded by snow and bears’ became a familiar soundtrack. Similarly, I told myself I couldn’t work out because I didn’t have time and I certainly couldn’t move forward on my personal goal of writing a novel. I mean what full-time school counsellor and mother of two has time to write a book? Reading a novel was enough of a challenge!
And then, while working with a student, I heard and really listened to my own words. I saw that I was not being true to my own belief system and was certainly not leading by example.
How could I hope to inspire others to achieve their dreams, if I was not prepared to chase my own?
So I tried my own strategy. I committed to writing for ten minutes every day. I wrote the goal down. I identified a suitable time of day. I set a timer. Having once completed the ten minutes, I ticked it off. (Yes, I am one of those annoying people who love checking things off. In fact, I have been known to write things already completed – just for the joy of ticking.)
The only criteria for success was to write for the allotted time. There was no right or wrong, no good or bad. It didn’t matter if my prose was worthy of a Pulitzer or destined for the computer’s trash icon.
And it worked. A rough draft emerged. As I achieved success, I lengthened the time period and sometimes changed up the goal. However, I always made the goal very specific, measurable, daily and doable.
And, of course, I always ticked it off.
This was not the speediest way to do things, which is probably why my first middle-grade book, Everyday Hero, was released only a few months ago in March 2016. My oldest daughter turns 19 in August, which gives you an idea of the timeline. Similarly, my first Harlequin was only recently published in the Historicals category (September 2015). A second is due out this Christmas and I have recently signed another two book contract for two subsequent manuscripts.
But my point is that it happened.
And life is a journey, not a rush to the finish line – and every goal within that journey starts with a step… a single, solitary, doable step. Too often our fears paralyse us. We don’t know where to start or even how to start. We blame others for our own confusion. And the key is not that ten minutes is ‘magical’ – the key is that the goal feels non-threatening for the individual, allowing him or her to take those first, small, critical steps.
My personal journey, like most, had successes, along the way. A non-fiction article was published by Highlights for Children and an essay made it into a local publication, Northword. Such moments gave me that wonderful thrill, like glimpsing a spectacular view before achieving the summit.
I had setbacks also, rejections. Again I went back to setting a goal, aimed at developing resilience and continuing my journey.
I have used this strategy to achieve other aspirations. Exercise, for example. Going to the gym or training for a marathon felt too big…too overwhelming… So I started small… I ran for 10 minutes every day (written and ticked). I eventually adjusted this to 20 minutes and later successfully increased my training to include 10 k.m. and a 21 k.m runs.
And I am convinced that making one’s own hopes and dreams important in some small measure and feeling a sense of ownership and agency is healthy for all.
As middle-aged parents, we sometimes forget or ignore our own goals. They’re mired in ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I’m too old’, ‘I can’t afford it’. This is a negative both for ourselves as people and for our offspring as it relegates us to the role of spectator in our own lives. This leads, I think, to an increased number of parents living their hopes and their dreams through their children.
Is it not infinitely better to role model goal setting and resilience and that dreams are not only for the young but are an integral part of the human experience throughout a lifetime?
So name your goal and identify one small, tiny, non-threatening step to start your journey. Write it. Tick it off. Repeat.
And remember wherever you live, whatever your age, whatever your income, whatever your responsibilities, your journey continues.
And every journey needs dreams.