You are reading this post because I wrote it. I wrote it while stuck in the middle seat in coach on a cross-country flight. Cramped and constantly threatened with apple juice spilling onto my keyboard. But I still wrote it to keep my deadline, because I take my self-imposed blogging commitment as seriously as I take any professional commitment I make to other people.
Most of us strive for professionalism in our jobs. It wouldn’t occur to us to blow a deadline, tell a client that we don’t feel like having a call today, or show up to an important meeting unprepared.
Yet, so many of us don’t extend the same courtesy to our own ambitions.
We don’t have a set schedule devoted to advancing our careers, much less a thought-out set of helpful conditions, such as the right place, a favorite notebook, the appropriate soundtrack.
We don’t explicitly set aside the daily hour or the weekly afternoon to deepen our professional networks or systematically read beyond what is immediately required for our jobs. We don’t have a periodic appointment on our calendar to take stock of whether we’re closer to our goals now than we were three months ago.
Because our priorities are not scheduled, they are shunted to the bottom of the list, and any external demand on our time takes precedence.
While some of this cavalier disregard of our own interests is just a lack of habit, some of it is willful neglect. Thorough preparation signals that we’re about to ask hard things of ourselves, and who wants to do more hard things than are strictly required. But avoiding doing the things that can make our dreams come true – especially the very hard things – is no way to get ahead, is it?
I learned all these truths by experience, through an accidental controlled experiment. A few years ago, I decided to write a novel. I treated it like a job, with set hours, predetermined places where I’d be writing and editing, and always having the necessary instruments at hand. Not writing because I did not feel like it was not an option. The result: a published legal thriller.
But embarking on my second novel, I forgot to consider myself a professional. I didn’t have a schedule nor a word goal per day. I wrote when inspiration struck. The result: I’m still a one-novel author, despite having killer material, and a very strong desire not to be a one-novel author.
Granted, there were mitigating circumstances with the second novel: a new job, family obligations (let alone a plot hole that you could drive a double-wide through)… But these are the circumstances that derail any project, if care is not taken to support it with the proper scaffolding of a schedule and favorable conditions.
So if you’re at a career standstill or your momentum isn’t what you’d like it to be, take a look at whether you’re treating your goals with the professionalism they deserve. Setting out the when, where, and how of your process will do wonders to support the promises you make to yourself.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.
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