I spent sometime talking to a friend last night about her plans.
She told me, several times, about the reasons why she can’t do what she wants to do. They’re valid reasons. But I must have sounded a little skeptical, because she said that she thinks that I think she’s a baby for saying them.
And I don’t. I honestly don’t. Like I said, they’re valid reasons. That’s not lip service. They are valid. They’re real.
The problem is that she’s thinking about them at the wrong time.
Let’s do a thought exercise.
Imagine that there are two people. I’m going to the Lucille Ball Museum tomorrow for my birthday, so let’s call them Lucy and Ricky.
Lucy wants to be big, big star. She thinks about all of the ways she might become a star and and she makes plans. In the TV Show, Lucy comes up with schemes, but our Lucy comes up with real plans. She takes singing and dancing lessons and goes on three auditions a week and gets a job at the local theater. And when one plan starts to work, she starts planning the next thing. And the next thing.
Ricky also wants to be a big, big star. He thinks about all the ways he might become a star — but he also thinks, oh, no, I can’t do that. He can’t take lessons, because he can’t afford them. He can’t commit to three auditions a week, because what if he can’t find a babysitter? He can’t get a job at the local theater because he’s already got a job and he’s not good at multi-tasking.
Can you see what’s happening here? Ricky can’t get out of his own way.
It isn’t that Ricky’s reasons why he can’t do what he wants to do aren’t valid. Lack of money, lack of time and resources, the way your brain works — those things are real. Trust me, I know. I live in the real world. I come up against them, too.
I’m a scatterbrained, overly-excited, future-jumping mess who, legitimately should never finish anything she starts. And there was a time when I never did. That was like the hallmark of being me. Everyone knew that I had great ideas and great starts, but zero follow through.
I also have lived most of my life in poverty, with kids, with not enough resources, with all of the standard reasons why I can’t do pretty much anything other than what I’m already doing.
But the time to confront those things is not while you’re making your plans. You have to find a way to put them away for a while. Compartmentalize your dreaming, so you can at least see a path through to what you want.
Give yourself the opportunity to see what’s possible.
There’s an order of operations here that I think is very important to follow.
One: Decide What You Want
What is it you really want?
I know that a few years ago several things came to a head at once for me and I needed to decide what I really wanted and it came down to this: I wanted to stop depending on other people for my livelihood. I hate working for someone else. I wanted to be self-employed. I wanted to be a working writer.
Since I was only making $9 an hour at the time, my threshold for success was pretty low. As my business has grown, so have my plans. But at the beginning, my only plan was to earn enough to be able to quit that job.
So what, exactly, do you want. Be specific. It’s okay to think about what you want ultimately, but also know what you want first. What’s your first big goal?
Two: Make a Plan to Get What You Want
Once you’ve narrowed down what you want, you need to figure out how you get from where you are to where you want to be. Think of it like a roadmap.
If you wanted to go from Los Angeles to Boston, you could just start driving East and hope for the best — but one wrong turn could land you in Saskatchewan (or Acapulco) and you’d have to backtrack and try again.
Making a plan to achieve your goal is the fun part. Don’t worry about how you’re going to actually do all the steps on your plan right now. Just write it all down. Some of the steps might need a plan of their own, and that’s okay. Right now, you just want to know that there actually is a path from here to there.
Three: Confront Your ‘Reasons Why I Can’t’ List
The problem with letting your reasons why you can’t do what you want to do come into the picture too soon is that they’re road blocks. If you throw up too many roadblocks in your map, before you’ve even gotten started, guess what? You’re going to trap yourself in your driveway.
Don’t trap yourself in your driveway.
You can figure out a system or a workaround or a detour or figure out a way around almost anything that’s stopping you from getting what you want.
That’s just work. Work you can do. And work is the great equalizer. If you’re willing do to the work, you can get where you want to go.
I had to figure out how to reign in my flibbertigibbet of a brain and actually finish what I started if I wanted to give the idea of working for myself a real shot. And I had to confront the other obstacles in my way as well.
The time to think about those things is after you’ve come up with your plan, not before. Or during.
If let your ‘reasons why I can’t’ list block you from making your roadmap, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll do the work of figuring out how to deal with that list.
Not because you don’t want to and certainly not because you’re not willing to, but because you never even realize that it’s work that you should be doing.
Or even worse, because it’s work that you’ve decided that you can’t do before you’ve even fully realized what the work actually involves.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.