Everyone has their own definition of success and their own ideas of the best ways to get there. I am not in any way suggesting that I have hit my definition or have all of the answers, but I have learned a few things through my missteps and miscalculations as well as my achievements. As we begin to wind down 2016 and think about what we want in the year to come, here are 10 ways to make 2017 the most successful year yet (plus one bonus suggestion that will change your life--guaranteed!)
1 | Get clear about what you want.
Having a general idea is great, but unless you are absolutely clear on your objectives, getting sidetracked is inevitable. To prep yourself for success, think about what your long-term, big picture goals are and then break them down into smaller chunks. As an impatient, big picture thinker, I had to learn that saying things like, "I want to have my own consulting company" and then running towards my big, vague dreams was a time consuming and unproductive approach. After several false starts, I began to ask myself, "what does this mean to you?" and, "what does this look like?" until I had a clear understanding of what I was actually interested in achieving. Being totally honest, structuring goals isn't always easy and it takes time that many of us think we don't have or don't want to give up. Still, when you know exactly what you want, it's much easier to locate the resources that will help you achieve it (and avoid the distractions that won't).
2 | Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
I am often told that I am a good connector and "resourceful," but God help me; I am not as organized as I should be. I learned quickly that it doesn't matter how smart, intentional, determined or dedicated I am, overextending myself without a clear and realistic outline of what needs to be done would ultimately be my downfall. The moment I accepted that I was making excuses in order to hold onto habits that were impacting my ability to achieve my ultimate goals, I began to research ways to overcome them. Being a person who likes to physically write things down, I bought an old-fashioned desk calendar that I could easily reference. I began to limit myself to three main tasks a day and put a cap on how many outside meetings and social gatherings I would have during the week. Take some time to think about the ways you are standing in your own way and use your strengths to overcome them. Read articles, find a sponsor, ask mentors and friends who have the skills you want to have for advice. The support you need is all around you, just look for it and ask for it.
3 | Make a plan (and break it down).
Now that you know what you want and how you work for and against it, it is time to sit down and make a strategic (and realistic) plan. Being overly optimistic about the time in a day (and my ability to power through it), I used to try and tackle 20 things in 18 hours. Could I do it? Sometimes. Could I do it well and feel balanced, healthy, creative and also be consistent? Never. Burning yourself out isn't going to do you or those in your life any favors, so consider your whole life when breaking things down into those chunks I mentioned. I personally like to set 3 weekly goals and then break them down into three goals a day. For example, one week, I might want to schedule two weeks of social media posts, complete five pages of my book proposal and learn to cook a new meal. I will spend two hours on Monday scheduling posts for myself and clients, write for an hour on my book Monday-Friday and spend Saturday enjoying a day at the market and cooking a meal for my friends which will hit my three daily goals of grocery shopping, cooking a new recipe and connecting with loved ones. This tends to leave space and time for daily work and life obligations while allowing us to achieve new goals without feeling overwhelmed.
4 | Stay focused, but be flexible.
This one is essential. Ignoring new information about your market, environment, skill requirements, etc. in order to stay with your original plan isn't going to benefit you. The second I realize something is not working and there is a better way, I work hard to move into that direction. Note: this is very different from changing directions every time you hear or read about a new idea that worked for someone else. Do the research and really pay attention to what is working for you and your market and don't allow your ego to make you afraid to change things when you need to.
5 | Be prepared for challenges.
We have all heard that most things worth having are not easy to obtain. I have found that this is partially true as some great things are easy to get and other not-so-great things get our attention by using this theory against us. That aside, when it comes to long-term, sustainable achievements, you're going to have to work for what you want (and then work to keep it). There will be moments of doubt (from others and yourself), there will be times when people overpromise and underdeliver (if they deliver at all). There might be well meaning family members and friends who pressure you into choosing a "safer" option and let us not forget the delayed samples, broken products and crickets chirping when you launch your website and social media platforms. While you cannot possibly foresee every obstacle, you can mentally prepare yourself to accept them as a part of the process instead of allowing every pebble to serve as a sign you're walking down the wrong path. Paths have pebbles. Sometimes they get into your shoe. Sometimes they hurt, cut you and even cause you to stumble. You deal with it, get back up and move forward if you want to succeed.
6 | Surround yourself with truly supportive people.
There are many things you can achieve on your own, but they would likely be better and it would be far more fun and exciting to do it with a solid support system. Surround yourself with people who have the skills you hope to have, share your passions and understand what it takes to achieve what you're setting out to do. If you're thinking of starting your own business, join entrepreneurial networking groups like Noi Club, Ada's List or Blooming Founders. If you need help staying on-track, ask a friend or mentor to act as an accountability sponsor and check-in once a week with them as you work toward your goals. Perhaps you can host a creative brunch where you get a few people together and brainstorm once a month. The point is to cultivate an environment that inspires you and others to keep going and that reinforces the idea that your goals are achievable.
7 | Live as though you have already achieved your goal.
I don't like the term "fake it until you make it" because I believe in living a truly authentic life and "fake" always comes across insincere and tends to make situations fall apart. Instead, I think we should do our best to support our next level selves in every way we can. That may mean getting up a little earlier, playing music we enjoy, hitting the gym before breakfast and getting to our meetings earlier, dressed in the way our next level self would dress. Or it could mean taking a public speaking class to prepare for the speaking engagements we hope to book. I start to think about where I am headed and find ways to enjoy as many situations as I can where I can experience pieces of my life to come. This has taken me to museums, networking events, other countries and once out to dinner with a stranger who became one of my dearest friends. That very same man helped became one of my greatest mentors and helped me to achieve my 15-year dream of moving to London. #ThanksJeremy
8 | Move back to center.
It's a sad reality that it took me years to learn that multitasking my way through hundreds of tasks with no rest day didn't make me more successful. It made me exhausted, anxious and stole beautiful moments from my life. All work and no play (and all work and play and no rest) makes Jane a burned out, testy woman. Be cautious about how much you take on and how little help you ask for. You may think you have to do it all, but I guarantee you that there is someone in your life willing to support you and there is time in your day to carve out a space for yourself. Don't be afraid to say "no" to others in order to say "yes" to protecting your own physical and mental health.
9 | Speak it into existence.
I am not encouraging you to believe in the mystical powers of the universe, but there is something to be said about energy and the tone your words and nonverbal movements impact your life. When you are always complaining and criticizing, you are simmering in a negative space that sends a message to yourself and others that nothing is working to your benefit, nothing can make you happy. Not only will your brain search for clues, but the positive, proactive and productive people in your life will likely step away. When you are positive, encouraging, supportive and open about your challenges, needs and desires (while asking others to share theirs) you will find that your world will open up and you'll have more opportunities, a bigger network and livelier, more inspiring exchanges.
10 | Be gentle with yourself.
Goals take time to achieve and lessons are learned through mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up, remind yourself that getting up and going for what you really want in your personal and professional life takes courage and dedication and you are showcasing both every day you work for what you want.
Bonus tip: Give.
I am ending with a giving bonus because I feel that this is the foundation of all success. None of the above will work well without it and the rule is pretty simple: if you want something, give it. If you want others to care about your dreams, care about theirs. If you want the truth and others to show integrity, be honest and honor your word. If you need something, offer something when you ask for it. Make your life a space where people feel as supported and respected as you hope to be and always show gratitude for what comes your way. This is how bonds, brands, businesses and legacies are created.
This post was originally published on Badass + Living, Brenda's online magazine for boss women who believe in collaborating with other women.