We all want to be prosperous and successful, but dreams without action are mere pie in the sky. The New Year’s holidays provide us the time we require to reflect on our lives and the opportunity to meditate on where we are going. It is a time to put feet to our dreams and make a “business” plan for our lives.
Any plan worth achieving will require perseverance and stamina if we are to cross the finish line. “For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.” (Ecc. 5:3) But before you put pen to paper, a little self-introspection and planning is required.
Acknowledge What Is Not Working
It’s trite but true, you can’t continue to do the same things over and over again and get a different result. But lasting change can be very difficult, which is why I don’t believe in setting New Year’s resolutions without first reflecting on where I have been and what may have gone wrong over the past year.
Resolving to abstain from old habits without examining why we are stuck in a pattern sets us up for failure. We must first acknowledge what is not working in our life.
In my own case, after a failed move, the loss of a loved one, and a very bad career move, I know I need to cultivate new friendships and I want to develop professionally. All easy enough goals except I have to acknowledge my own propensity to choose solitude over the discomfort I feel in socializing.
As a creative introvert, I desire human companionship the same as anyone, but I can easily become a social hermit if I am not careful. You may have the opposite problem as a social butterfly, but at the end of the day, you are achingly alone and empty. We must both acknowledge that what we may have been doing is no longer working for us, it is not feeding our soul and it will not help us reach our goals.
Take Stock of Your Strengths
Once we acknowledge what has not been working for us, rather than focusing on making a list of our shortcomings or habits and hastily resolving to change, it’s more productive to take stock of what talents and skills we already possess that we are not developing or using as our gift to the world.
Often, our shortcomings are closely related to our strengths. For example, I have repeatedly been told that I am strong, independent, smart and a great teacher. And it is these very same characteristics that can often get me me in trouble by being too independent or overly confident.
Yet, whenever I hear myself described in these terms, I tend to discount these characteristics of my personality. What do others say about you that may be a clue to your real strengths? Are you empathetic, artistic, analytical? You get the picture.
I stepped out of my comfort zone a little more than a year ago, and I got beat up pretty bad. As a result, I have curled into a proverbial antisocial ball licking my wounds. As a very independent and strong woman, I felt very fragile for the first time in my life. Crying at the drop of the hat and feeling inadequate are not behaviors I am comfortable with.
As I said, most people describe me as strong and independent. So what’s the take way? Although my plans turned sour, I was still operating in my God given talents—bravery, independence and boldness. I just failed. And failure, my friend, will be a part of our ultimate success.
What natural talents do you have that can help you reach your own goals without shooting yourself in the foot. Make a list of your strengths and don’t forget to include terms others use to describe you.
Prepare for the Dark Place
Any changes we make to bring us closer to our goals is going to require sacrifice and hard work. We must prepare for the inevitable internal emotions we are going to struggle with or the physical affects of having our body submit to our minds. This is the dark place, and there is no getting around it.
Anyone who has attempted to quit smoking, change their eating habits or regularly exercise knows that your body and mind are going to rebel. Your warm bed is going to feel a lot more comforting than getting up in the dark to hit the treadmill before work.
If all our change is going to rest on our mastery of will power, then we are going to be in big trouble, which leads me back to my first point. In our moment of weakness, we must acknowledge what isn’t working. If we take the time to reflect on the reasons why we are seeking a change in the first place, it will propel us forward when our flesh is weak and our minds are tired.
It is delayed gratification in action. We have to deny what our flesh desires now to get what we want in the future. No one likes to do mentally or physically difficult things. Prepare your arsenal of mind weapons in advance of the encroaching dark place and count the costs before you begin. Jesus tells us in Luke 14:28, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
How Serious Are You?
I have the habit of making personal lists of tasks to accomplish, even using calendars as an aid, but will forget to look at my personal calendar. I am a combination of shooting from the hip and ticking off tasks I must accomplish in my head. Not so in my professional life.
I work in the law field and I have to be flexible and respond to deadlines while working on multiple projects with multiple attorneys. In the law field, the calendar is king and not paying attention to deadlines or the trial calendar could have critical ramifications. The same is true in the publishing field, where I would routinely juggle up to 200 projects in various stages of development. Money and staff are all tied into meeting your publishing deadlines, and I excelled at keeping projects moving through the pipeline.
But how serious am I going to be about my personal goals? How serious are you? Are you going to take your own deadlines seriously? If you decide to treat your personal goals as you do your professional goals, you won’t miss deadlines. Making a deadline requires creating a planning system that you will use. In other words, what system are we going to use to keep us on track?
Making a list of goals on New Year’s Day without creating any checks and balances is a lot like saying you want to be a rock star but you haven’t yet learned to play guitar. No one shows up to a wedding that hasn’t been planned. There’s the engagement, the venue, the music, the food, the flowers, the photographer, etc. A timeline and a budget all went into planning the nuptials.
As part of your goal setting, set aside the time to work out your timeline, budget and deadlines. I am fortunate enough to have some unused vacation time to burn after Christmas, so I have resolved to use this time to carve out my own plan of action and create daily, weekly and monthly checklists. I am going to reflect on why and how I need to change and polish my mind weapons for keeping me on track and battling the dark place. Proverbs 24:27 tells us, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.”
Create a Plan B
I know that there will be days when I will disappoint myself and not stick to my daily or weekly goals. I am human and I am weak—and you are too. “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked stumble in a time of calamity.” (Proverbs 24:16) From personal and professional experience, I can tell you that persistence is the key to any success.
When we give up, when we lose hope and when we lose our faith that things will ever get better, we will fail. I experienced many dark times as a single mother. It was difficult to see my children suffer, to have my car repossessed or to go hungry to bed so my children could eat. But we survived because each and every day with God’s grace, I rolled out of bed, rolled up my sleeves, and went to work. We had almost nothing we wanted but everything we needed. There was a finish line to cross, and I was going to get there.
Professionally, I worked hard to achieve my goals, even when I was surrounded by others more educated than myself, more beautiful, more talented, more blessed. When I lost my last full-time job in publishing, I didn’t know what I was going to do to keep our family alive.
I first began my career in the law field as a runner for a mid-sized law firm on a part-time basis while I cleaned houses on the side. It was hard work and, yes, degrading. It wasn’t the plan B I would have dreamed of in the prime of my life. Still, I am grateful that I experienced hard times in my life because it has made me a more empathetic person and deepened my relationship with a God that I thought for a time had abandoned me. It was lonely, hard scrabble times, but I did cross the finish line.
Failing in life is inevitable, it is how we recover that matters. Follow your plan and do your best to stick to it, but don’t waste precious time beating yourself up when you fail. There really are no failures in life, just lessons. If you simply can’t accomplish everything on your list or life throws you a twist, make a plan B to keep yourself moving forward.
According to scripture, our lives are a mere vapor, here today and gone with the heat of the morning sun. We do well to reflect on our time here and what we must do to accomplish our goals, so it is important to make resolutions and set goals. And with a little thought and planning, we can make a difference, climb the summit or achieve the crown. Reign well this year.