How To Keep Moving Forward Even When You Think You’re Failing
because suck will always come before success
Cats have it all — admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it.
Cats are role models for success.
In my next life, I want to come back as a cat. A well-loved pet would be ideal, but since I’m a cat that’s not essential. I can rely on sharp claws and keen senses to feed and defend myself. I carry myself with supple grace, accept affection on my own terms, and find the warmest spot in the house to sleep.
In this life I’m not a cat. I set goals and strive to exceed them; sometimes that works. Today I’m tired and a little disheartened. Not because nothing I’ve done works, but because the reward for my efforts is unpredictable and I can’t figure out what’s worth repeating.
You’ve probably had days like that too. Days when endless hustle and failing forward feel like hitting your head against a brick wall, over and over. Days when it’s hard to believe in yourself and stay motivated.
Can you rediscover your appetite for the hunt? Can you be more cat?
A Numbers Game
Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.
William Bruce Cameron
Comparison might be the thief of joy, but we still have to track our stats. How else will we know where we stand?
Looking at numbers drives you to a kind of madness. Whether you count views, followers, pounds lost or lifted, or revenue, numbers draw you in. The world shrinks to a set of digits that you then equate to your value.
If they’re going the wrong way, heaven help you and the people around you.
Peak madness is achieved by then comparing those numbers to other people’s numbers. You inevitably come up short because you only look at the most successful, those who you hope to emulate someday.
But you want someday to be today. You want the bragging rights, the book deal, and the interview on a popular TV show — now. Hasn’t it been long enough?
Probably not. It takes much longer than you think or want to build success.
Remember when you longed for just one fan or even ten reads? Other writers are still there, hardly out of the starting gate. You’ve moved past that, and as long as you keep creating you’ll move past your next milestone too. Perhaps there are other measures of your impact.
Views and reads matter to writers, but they don’t map exactly to engagement. Look at comments, however brief. Out of your whole audience, those who comment are the most engaged fans. They take time to read, vote, and then reach out to you.
Treasure your commenters. Reply and thank them for their time and interest. Make a connection. I won’t pretend claps don’t matter, especially if money is involved. But when you’re still some way from your next milestone, the smallest dopamine hit of approval is welcome.
Like No-one is Watching
A flower blossoms for its own joy.
There’s deep satisfaction in doing something well.
Craftsmen of old spent time making sure the back of an object, though not usually seen, was still beautiful. You can turn a finely tailored jacket inside out and find no loose stitches or raw seams. Every part of a created object reflects the skill and attention of its creator.
Writing can be art, but it must always be craft. Your writing should be the best you can produce. Live by the Beyoncé principle; over-promise, over-deliver, and keep on growing. Standards vary from day to day, but should never be less than good. Make it good, then make it better.
How do you know it’s better? On your down days, take your latest finished piece and compare it to your work of six or twelve months ago. Look at those older pieces and see how they could be tightened and polished further.
The same applies to losing weight, getting fitter, or learning a skill. Look back at where you started, review your SMART goals, and progress becomes clearer.
See how far you’ve come.
There’s a long way to go yet, but you’re on your way so give yourself credit for the journey so far. Take a reward for effort, and keep going.
You want to be known for consistent high quality. Henry Ford said quality means doing it right when no-one is watching. One day, those eyes will be turned on you. Be ready.
No Shortcut to Greatness
The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.
A few years ago I bought a car from a doctor at the start of his career. He was selling the car to help fund his planned attempt on Everest.
Wait a minute. Mount Everest? He wanted to be an Army surgeon. He also wanted to climb Everest before he was thirty. Both goals required a ton of hard work, so he made a plan that matched his impressive ambitions.
Now imagine someone builds an elevator that goes to Everest’s peak. Almost anyone can book a ride and stand at the top. How impressive is that? Not very.
The fact is, we value what we pay for. And the reverse is also true; we don’t value what we get for free.
How does that connect with writing or whatever business you’re in? It means the hard work you do is integral to the payoff you get. The harder you work, the sweeter the reward.
Now you can reframe the work as building a bigger payoff. Giving your work both intrinsic and future worth carries you through the inevitable gloomy days when the wind dies in your sails.
Don’t drift in the doldrums when that happens. What you do when you’re losing is the measure of your character.
Get out the oars and start rowing.
Riding Out The Storm
When the sea is rough, mend your sails.
Lesley Garner, Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked
But this time you can’t row. You’re caught in a perfect storm; work, health, relationship or financial issues make it impossible to do more. You’re barely surviving as it is. What to do now?
Maybe you can’t lean in, but you can limit backsliding. Three things will help you.
- Harness the power of a tiny goal. Write for five minutes, exercise for ten minutes, meditate for three minutes every day. Set the bar so low you’re bound to win. The little wins accumulate to stop your sense of mastery from fading completely. Choose your goal. Mark a cross on your calendar each day you achieve it. Winning streaks have power.
- Work on strategic aims. Get into the not urgent but important box of tasks you mean to do sometime but haven’t yet. Watch a tutorial on that software you bought but can’t use. Do some digital admin; clear out old files that clutter your desktop, file your receipts, check your antivirus is up to date. Use the Pomodoro technique and work in fifteen-minute bursts. Finish one job before starting another.
- Focus on the goal. Picture yourself at the finish line. What will you need to get there? Do you need extra training or equipment? A goal is a dream with a deadline, so don’t spend too much time thinking. Planning is a prelude to action and not a substitute for it.
Dreaming With Eyes Open
The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.
Sometimes you can fake it till you make it; other times you can’t. When the fears of not good enough and you’re going to fail take hold, you’ll struggle. Struggle is an inescapable part of life, of daring to hope for better. Hold fast to dreams, but know that they aren’t enough to get you where you want to be.
A cat doesn’t make a jump by staring at its feet all day. It focuses on the landing. If it falls short, it digs in its claws and scrambles up. Then it sits and licks a paw as if it exerted no effort at all to reach the target.
Keep moving, whatever you have to do, however tiny the progress. Look back only to remind yourself how far you’ve come already, then turn your eyes back to the peak.
It’s always uphill to the top.