The best life lessons often arise from our most trying moments. As was the case with recently with my type-A 13-year-old, who has decided she needs to begin planning her college admission strategy right now, with a vengeance.
The drama was triggered by the subject of middle-school orchestra, and whether lack of participation would affect her admission potential when the time comes (5 years from now).
“Only if you’re planning to attend Julliard” I quipped in an ill-time attempt at levity.
I immediately learned this was the completely wrong answer and furthermore I was the worst mother ever for attempting to crack a joke in a time of crisis. Apparently as parents, we should always be prepared to pull the right solution out of our…hat, on cue. And when that didn’t happen this recent morning, full scale drama ensued.
Holding my temper as best I could, I took a step or two back until I found myself in another room altogether, where I managed to suck in a few deep breaths before she cornered me. “Darling, I begin, doing my best to sound casual, “I’ve noticed you tend to seek perfection, and when that’s not an option, it becomes stressful for you”. “Ouch”, she angrily snapped back.
Suddenly feeling brave, I forged forward; “When you were little, maybe 3, still learning to talk, I found you in sitting on the floor of your closet in a state of utter dismay”. ‘What’s wrong?’ I remember asking you. ‘There is no perfect shoes!’ you wailed back at me.” Luckily this little story took the mood in the kitchen down a notch, giving me a chance to further explain.
The point is, for all of us, sometimes there is no perfect shoes. Let me rephrase that to more accurately state, usually there is no perfect shoes. We often have a set of choices and circumstances that are less than ideal, but we can’t let that stop us from moving forward.
We’ve all heard the startup mantra “fail fast and fail often”. We get that it’s not an ode to failure, rather a call to progress. Yet so often as I work with coaching clients as well as within my own family, I encounter the same situation.
We get stuck waiting for the perfect conditions before we can start; waiting for the clarity, the certainty that the first step will be facing true north.
Yet how can we possibly know that? The truth is, when entering new territory, we have no idea how life will unfold. That first step may lead to another step forward, sideways, or even backwards. Yet however the journey evolves, you’ve learned something from the process and are ready for step 2, more informed and now unstuck.
That’s easy to say and hard to do, I know. Most of us have goals sitting on the shelf we’ve been waiting to tackle for months, even years, yet we just can’t seem to get started. Fortunately, through years of trial and error, I’ve found a set of strategies for managing this situation which my clients have found highly effective.
Are you ready to put on your imperfect shoes and move forward? Here are 3 strategies for getting started:
1. Take a Now Step. Researcher and positive psychology professor Michelle Gielan recommends finding the smallest meaningful action you can take right now to move forward. Putting action items on your calendar, signing up for an event or workshop, or connecting with someone who can help all fit into that category, but find what works for you. Gielan’s studies show that 91% of people report an inability to control stress as well as they would like, largely because they get stuck ruminating. Pro Tip: Do one or two easy things early in the day for a morning boost that sets your brain on track to keep the momentum going.
2. Make a backup plan. Often, like in my daughter’s case, the decision can seem final. When we’re in that mindset, we paralyze our decision-making processes. “Designing You Life” authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans identify this “one perfect path” thinking as a dysfunctional belief that keeps people from pursing their goals. Manage this mindset by recognizing now that if you find yourself heading in the wrong direction, maybe orchestra just isn’t your thing, you can pivot and change directions. Even when there is a cost involved, if it’s within your budget, think of it as the price of progress.
3. Set yourself up for success. I teach multiple ways to do this, depending on the situation, and it’s a key success factor. Often our best intentions are derailed by everyday life; in fact mine are most days. One way that works under most circumstances is to find an accountability partner, someone you collaborate with to help you stay on track with your goals.
Progress is never linear, but if you manage to take a step, you will move forward, one imperfect shoe at a time.
How will you take that first step forward today?
About the author
Elizabeth Borelli is a professionally trained career coach, curriculum developer and workshop facilitator. Frustrated by a lack of resources for candidates ready to return to work after a career break, she created CareerBuilder Bootcamps; a set of interactive, online courses to accelerate job search success.
Engaging, online courses combined with one-to-one coaching calls prepare job seekers to find the right new career opportunities, helping them to stay positive and engaged throughout the process.
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