How to Change Your Life in Three Years.
It’s so easy. And so hard.
You’re tired. You’ve been fighting this fight, whatever fight it is, for a long time, and you’re ready to just throw up your hands and say forget it, I’m not doing this anymore.
You’ve had a fight like that, right? A struggle toward something that you have no real proof you’ll ever reach. I work with writers a lot, so for a lot of people I know that struggle is toward a creative career. For me personally, that one struggle is often toward health.
You know that feeling right? You want to feel better in the long run, but french fries and Netflix make you feel better right this minute and there comes a time when you just can’t put the long run ahead of the right now.
So you skip the gym and eat the fries. You don’t write the next book. You settle for the job that doesn’t really feed your soul. You do what’s easy now instead of pushing forward into an unknown later.
The thing is though (you don’t need me to tell you this,) settling for today often means settling for this week or this month or forever. And that kind of settling means that there is effectively no chance that you’ll ever, ever meet whatever goal it is you’ve set for yourself.
In 2015 I had a job I hated that earned less than $10 an hour. I wasn’t writing, because my last books had failed and I just didn’t think any publisher would ever take a chance on me again. (And maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer anyway.) I’d quit college two classes away from an undergraduate degree because I didn’t want to be a teacher. I weighed nearly 400 pounds and I was losing mobility and my ability to breathe in my sleep by the minute.
Since then, I’ve changed my life quite a lot. I’ve lost more than 100 pounds. I’ve written a novel that sold to a major publisher. I’ve started and finished an MFA program. I’ve started a business I love, that let me quit a job I definitely did not love and increased my income by 600 percent.
I literally did those things by just . . . doing them. Not all at once. Not all at the same time. I made a few goals for myself and I just did the next thing. Over and over and over again.
The next thing was always tiny. Write the next page. Make a doctor’s appointment. Watch a video about how to make a Facebook ad. Fill out the application. Make the phone call. Do the homework. Write the next page, again. Again. Again.
I don’t always want to do the next thing. Sometimes, I want to decide I’m never going to be a bestseller or a seven-figure entrepreneur, so I might as well just be a teacher and get it over with.
I have been on that precipice so often. Typing my information into an online Washoe County School District job application. Deciding that I don’t want to sell classes anymore, I can’t handle the stress of it. I don’t want to write another book when I have no idea whether or not it will be successful or if my agent or editor will even want it.
(There isn’t anything wrong with being a teacher. There’s something wrong with giving up on being a writer, no matter how good my plan B is.)
Oh yeah, I’m so good at stomping my feet and refusing to do the thing anymore and you can’t make me. I’m a rebellious creature.
I’m not sure why three years ago things changed. I think it’s an age thing. A combination of nearly middle age and getting closer and closer to the age my mother was when she died.
For whatever reason, in 2015 I just decided that even if I hit a bump and stumbled, I’d pick myself up and take the next step the next day. Those goals: lose weight, quit my horrible job, sell a book, graduate — were non-negotiable. I could throw a fit, I could Netflix and Fries, I could scream at my WIP, I could hate school — but I couldn’t give up.
That shift in mindset changed everything. It was the realization, though, that if I just kept doing the work things would happen — maybe not exactly what I thought might happen, but SOMETHING anyway — that was the real game changer.
If you do the work, it adds up. It always adds up to something. Sometimes you won’t know what that is for a while, but seriously, if you keep walking you have no choice but to get somewhere and the same goes for work.
Take the steps and have faith that they’ll lead you somewhere. Keep your goals in mind and your steps pointed in that direction and the somewhere is very likely to be somewhere good.
Here’s how to do it.
Decide what’s important. Pick three to five non-negotiable goals. These are your core desires. It’s okay if they’re very big.
Figure out what the very first step you’d have to take to reach each of those goals would have to be. (If I was starting with my goals today, those steps would be: make a doctor’s appointment for a general check-up, find one job to apply for, make a list of stories that inspire me, Google MFA programs in Norhtern Nevada.)
Do those things.
If you find yourself struggling to do one of those things, the step is probably too big. So, maybe instead of ‘find one job to apply for’ I might make a list of three places to find jobs to apply for. Or write a Facebook post asking my friends if they know of any openings. Or make a list of ten ways I might replace my income. Or open Craigslist.
When you’ve done one thing toward a goal, decide what the next thing is.
Do that thing.
Just see what happens.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.