One year ago, I sat down with my journal and began to plan and dream for 2017.
Our family had just experienced a loss. I was hurting, and though I wanted to escape the pain by throwing myself into work, I was forced to confront a painful truth:
Life is short, and there are no guarantees that it will go the way you want it to.
Isn’t it so much easier to be optimistic when you’re young? Even when you’re broke, inexperienced, and clueless, the future stretches out before you like a beautiful landscape, and the world is your oyster. It has to be. You worked so hard for those good grades, that scholarship, that internship. Surely, it will all turn out well, won’t it?
But as the years go by and you survive one crashing wave after another, reality prevails. You realize life is more about sacrifice than celebration, and it’s exhausting.
I’m in a crazy, stressful season right now – a season full of toddlers and infants, looming military trips, worry, loneliness, and uncertainty. Before I can catch my breath on Monday, Friday arrives, and then I blink and it’s Monday morning again. Another coffee, another to-do list, and the whirlwind repeats. What’s that, babe? You’ve got another trip next week? Adjust, reorient, reschedule, pour out my life a little bit more.
Hardships come. Challenges overwhelm. Disappointments, failures, and frustrations abound.
I’m learning that real life is made up of hours of unseen sacrifice and service. Picture-perfect moments and relaxing coffee shop dates? Not so much.
And when I have nothing left to give, life knocks again and asks for more.
What does it mean to live an ambitious, entrepreneurial life in light of this difficult reality? Is there a way for work to still be beautiful and life to still be balanced, when all you see are sacrifices on every side?
I sure don’t have all the answers, but I’ve got two ideas that I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year.
Put relationships first.
No bank account balance, no business success, no milestone will ever be as important as the real, live people in your life. Put them first, because you don’t know what the future holds in this challenging, unpredictable world.
One thing stood out to me loud and clear as I reviewed the past year in my journal that December: the only way to grow my consulting business, as it currently stood, would be to spend less time with my family and more time at work. That’s simply the nature of a client-based business. If I wanted to progress, I would need more daycare hours, more early mornings, more late nights, more weekends.
An image of a field came to mind.
With every choice I’d made that year, I’d planted a seed for the future. Now I would have to cultivate that field and, eventually, the seeds I’d planted would grow. My business would expand. I’d have more of everything – more traffic, more clients, more billable hours, more income. And along with that, I’d have to spend a lot more of my time.
That’s when it hit me.
I’d planted seeds for a future I didn’t actually want.
I’d planted the seeds I was “supposed” to plant, without ever considering whether they were the right seeds for my life – for my family, for myself, for my own unique needs and gifts.
And if I wanted to build toward a future where my family and I would actually thrive, I would need to start planting very different seeds.
Life is short – too short to waste with regret. Are you focusing on the people and things that matter most to you, or letting outside pressure dictate how you spend your time?
Which brings me to my second answer to the questions above:
Find work that makes you come alive.
That December, I opened my journal to a fresh page and began to brainstorm goals for the next year. As my pen poured out onto the page, hopes and dreams took shape – visions of a different future, pulled together from the wildest corners of my imagination. A future where I was thriving and strong, not exhausted and stretched thin.
A pattern began to emerge.
There was one thing I kept returning to as I wrote – one thing I dreamed of spending my time on. “Everything else” had become not only a distraction, but a burdensome chore.
What was my one thing?
I. Love. To. Create.
Stories, art, experiences. For me, creating is energizing.
Administration, task management, networking, sales … these all drain me. (Yes, I know they are good and necessary things. But they still drain me!) Creative work, on the other hand, makes me come alive.
As I tapped my pen on the page, I stopped writing and began to daydream. What would life be like if I devoted 90% of my working hours to creating? How much more joy would I find in my work? How much more energy would I have to pour into my family and friends?
This question began a seismic shift in my life that continued throughout the following year as I redesigned my entire working life and started planting seeds for a future I wanted to live in. And I planted a lot of new seeds.
Here are some of the new seeds I started planting in 2017:
I began building a passive income rather than depending on consulting hours.
I devoted the majority of my time to creative work.
I used the Pareto Principle to focus on the few things that got the best, most profitable results.
I spent far more time doing creative writing, instead of my usual “marketing” writing.
I launched a new pen name brand in genre fiction (YA fantasy) dedicated to telling the kinds of stories I’ve always wanted to read.
I stopped taking on corporate content ghostwriting clients, and redesigned my blog and shop to entrepreneurship in general, with only some parts devoted to content marketing.
I spent more time on my ecommerce business, creating fun and encouraging care packages for military spouses going through deployments.
The year was a roller coaster of pregnancy complications, toddler antics, hard seasons of solo parenting, and more. But I stuck to that image of a field and continued plant the seeds of my dream future.
Whenever I had a bit of free time, I focus on creating, even if it meant letting other good things slide.
In July, I released my first book – a novelette prequel (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella) to my new fiction series. In August, I released my first full length novel. In September, I released its sequel. And in November, I released my fourth book, a journal for military spouses that I co-wrote with my friends, neighbor, and business partner Megan Casper.
Oh, and in October, I had a baby.
(What a year!! Whew.)
All that creating ended up being time well-spent: My first novel spent a week in the top 1,000 books on Amazon’s Kindle store, and my books now consistently bring in a 4-figure passive income each month. The week after I had my baby was a week of record sales, even though I did absolutely no promotion and didn’t even crack my laptop open the whole week. I’m sure you can imagine that it felt amazing to be making record sales while snuggling my newborn!
Sound like a crazy year? It was. But trust me, I am not a workaholic. I did a lot of work, but I also spent a good amount of time napping on the couch and snacking, if I’m honest. But there were a lot of things I didn’t do.
Here are just some of the things I didn’t do – some of the seeds I stopped planting in 2017:
I didn’t post on social media (AT ALL). I even deleted social media apps from my phone in order to give myself more time to write, think, and get organized.
I didn’t write any blog posts. I didn’t send out any marketing emails. In fact, I did basically no marketing at all.
I didn’t do any networking. I did the bare minimum of business administration to keep my business afloat.
Let’s not even talk about the limited social life, or the dishes and laundry situation most of the time.
I maintained a relentless, tunnel vision focus on planting seeds for my dream future. I devote all my extra energy to creating, and it was glorious.
Is everything perfect now? Not even close.
I have a lot more work to do to build that future I dreamed up. It’s going to be years and years before I get there, if I ever do, and each year I plan to readjust my focus, so that I’m always working on planting exactly the right seeds for the season. Some years, it may mean more creative work; others, more admin and marketing; others, simply focusing on helping my family thrive.
But at least now I’m actively trying to plant the right seeds – the ones I actually want to cultivate, the ones I want to see grow up into something real in my life.
What seeds are you planting? Will they grow into the kind of life where you’ll flourish? Or do you need to plant something different next year?