For the past few months I’ve been trying to bring clarity to my life. This is by no means an easy process. As with anything worthwhile, it takes time, hard work, and dedication. Oh, and that little thing called not giving up, AKA tenacity.
The sad truth is most people don’t turn their dreams into realities because they give up too soon. They lack tenacity. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be most people.
The question I ask myself is: How can I simplify my life to become more focused and successful, doing the things that matter most to me?
Yeah, it’s a tough egg to crack.
If you want a quick backstory, I’m currently working three jobs: I have a part time job as a designer/marketer, I operate a photography business, and I do freelance web design. And yet the thing I’d really like to try to find the time for is my first love: writing.
It’s a conundrum. After all, there are bills to pay.
My attention is divided, and clarity is the cure. But while most cures, you know, make a person feel better, clarity can be a painful antidote.
On a recent episode of the Igniting Souls podcast, host Kary Oberbrunner said something rather poignant: He said we all say we want to find clarity in our lives, but it’s really the last thing we want, even if it is the first thing we need.
Why? Simple. Clarity brings all our worms out of the woodwork and puts on display all the things we don’t really want to face: the ugly reasons why we aren’t as successful as we’d like to be, or the real reasons we aren’t tackling that big idea that has us so excited.
Clarity can hurt, because it reveals the time we have squandered. We discover our ineptitude for bringing to life the things that are most important to us.
Good thing we have the power to change that.
You just need to __________
A few days ago, I finished reading Jeff Goins' delightful little book You are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). Here’s a passage from the introduction I’m rather fond of:
One day, a friend asked me what my dream was, and I told him I didn’t have one. Which was exactly the wrong thing to say.
“That’s too bad,” he said, baiting me. “Because I would’ve said it was to be a writer. I guess I was wrong,” he shrugged and turned away.
I began to steam. Swallowing hard and working up the courage to speak, I finally uttered, “Well, I guess it is. I mean — I suppose I hope to maybe be a writer … someday.”
My friend looked at me without blinking and said, “Jeff, you don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write.”
Jeff discovered the same thing that day that I’ve been discovering over the past few months. All any of us really needs to do is stop saying what we want to do and just do it. Our excuses for not starting our desired enterprise are nothing more than excuses. Someday. Maybe. I wish. Those are our excuses. They’re our way of avoiding getting started now.
Your goal may not be to become a writer. That’s fine. No matter what your dream is, you can still fill in the blanks:
You don’t have to want to be a __________. You are a __________. You just need to __________.
It’s time to declare it. No one will declare it for you.
Pursue clarity now, discover it later
As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
The only way to create the dots in the first place is by, well, creating them. So get to work each day. There’s no gift like the present. A month from now, six months from now, maybe a year from now, you’ll be able to look back and see how it all fits together. That’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
It’s so simple. All we need is to do the work. Like a sculptor, the only requirement for clarity is to chip away at our dream a little bit each day, and the masterpiece will find its way out of the marble. Doing the work will create the opportunities and develop the mastery we long for, which will ensure that when clarity does come, it’s what we hope to see, or close enough to it. Because clarity comes later, after days or months or years of deliberate action; it’s not something we can draw into focus whenever we please.
In fact, it’s quite a burden off the shoulders knowing that clarity doesn’t need to come right now; what does need to come right now is the work.
How clarity reveals itself
Last weekend I found a healthy dose of clarity. Really, it was healthy, because it had to do with my health.
Years ago, I decided running was not for me. I’m slightly knock-kneed and have had many years of knee pain since I hit a rapid growth spurt in high school. As a result, the knee pain led to other general leg pain due to muscular imbalances and strain.
But when a friend asked if I’d be interested in running together to motivate each other, I said sure, I’d give it a try, thinking full well that I’d maybe do it for two weeks, just to see what happened. I expected pain, and that’s what I got — but the pain came in different places than where I normally had it. Two weeks came and went, and the pain subsided. If it weren’t for his motivation, I doubtlessly would have stopped.
Now I’ve been running 2–3 times per week, sometimes 4, since January — something I never thought I’d do. I honestly never thought I could.
This time last year I would have been rather exhausted going for a hike. Even one that wasn’t that grueling. I know this because I did go on a few hikes this time last year and they wore me out. I would always make it through, but it wouldn’t be easy.
But last weekend, I went on a seven mile hike with some friends, and never once felt out of breath.
I couldn’t believe it.
Running had helped strengthen my legs and eliminate all the pain and discomfort I’d had, but I didn’t realize until last weekend how much running really has benefitted me.
It took a quiet moment high atop a hill to look back at where I’d come from and discover that, damn, I feel good.
This was the view.
This personal anecdote may be a perfect example of everything I’ve written and shared about in this post (lucky me), but that’s not where my search for clarity ends.
I want nothing more than to have this same amazing view for my professional life. For my writing. To achieve that, I know the time is now to practice daily, so that a day can come where I’ll look back and think to myself, damn, look at what I’ve accomplished.
My first steps toward clarity, incidentally, are in actually putting my writing out there for the world to see. It’s kind of nerve-wracking, knowing my writing isn’t at the level I want it to be, and that I’ll probably encounter naysayers. Since I consider myself primarily a fiction writer, those nerves are compounded because writing articles outside my genre is a little uncomfortable (although, admittedly, deeply introspective, and even therapeutic).
I may have started the first line of this article with how clarity can hurt. But I must say, the following can also be true:
Clarity can reassure us that we’ve come a long way, even if we have a long way yet to go.
What goals are you making right now? What are you doing to improve an aspect of your work or your life? What steps are you taking to find clarity?
Maybe you’re just getting started. That’s totally cool. Wherever you are in your journey, let me know in the comments. It’ll be an excellent way for us to share some valuable things to focus on.
We’re all in this together.