When I was in grad school, I wondered whether I would be able to make something out of myself.
I worried that having a degree in the Humanities would make it impossible to find a job I loved. And I ended up sabotaging a few career opportunities because I was so darn sure I was destined to fail.
As the months went by, my expectations gradually dipped lower. Start a website? Nah…how about I write another article for a content mill instead. I hopped around from job to job and while my freelance business was growing, I neglected to challenge myself in a meaningful way.
My goals were shrinking, and so was my happiness. I quit grad school to find a career I genuinely loved, yet I felt like I wasn’t making any real progress.
Low expectations can’t sustain you forever
In retrospect, I realize that I shouldn’t have been so afraid of failure. But it’s just so, so, so tempting to use fear as an excuse not to push yourself.
Over the months, I’ve learned to set my sights higher and work through my insecurities. I have a daily schedule which I stick to (for the most part) and I am much more forward-thinking than I was six months ago.
Of course, there are times when I wonder whether I’ll ever achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. Here’s how I manage to live up to my own expectations without letting bad days get me down.
Break your goals down into steps
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
When you’re working towards a goal, it’s easy to feel lost from time to time. Big projects, like running a marathon or starting a business, don’t come with an instruction manual. To assert control, you need to break these projects down into smaller, more manageable steps.
I’m going to use the example of starting a blog because it’s a goal that so many people have. If you’ve been there, you know the whole process can seem overwhelming.
Let’s begin by imagining the finished product. What does your blog look like? Does it have regular posts? A custom header? Lots of comments?
Write down a clear, focused description. Next, think about how you can break down this end goal into different milestones.
So for example, starting a blog entails:
- signing up for WordPress (or another hosting service)
- choosing a theme
- creating a posting schedule
- researching and writing posts
- sharing posts on social media
- responding to comments
This is a basic framework but there’s obviously tons more you can do, like run contests or create podcasts.
The point is that every project, no matter how impossible it seems, can be cut down into smaller pieces. Once you get a clear idea of the steps required for your goal, getting there seems so much easier.
Prioritize some tasks over others
One of the biggest reasons we don’t reach our goals is a perceived lack of time.
For most of us, the job we do for money is Priority #1. Buried way down at the bottom of the priority list is the stuff we actually want to do, like make art and write and start a blog.
Sometimes we feel like we have to do everything at once. When I started blogging, I certainly tried. Marketing, writing, attending seminars, reading books– you name it. The not-so-unexpected result of all this work was complete burnout.
Eventually, I learned two important lessons that have changed the way I look at work:
- Some tasks must be completed before others
- Not every task brings you closer to your goal
Simple, no? The trick in all this is to determine which tasks must be completed first. So in terms of blogging, I knew I couldn’t publish a post before signing up for WordPress, choosing a theme, and installing plugins on my blog. I made these tasks my first priority.
I also realized that many of the things I was doing just weren’t that important. I used to spend hours researching low-paid blogging gigs on job boards, because I thought that was the right thing to do.
Womp womp….I shouldn’t have wasted my time. Most of these gigs, I quickly discovered, weren’t even worth the pennies they paid. And they took up the time I should have been using to guest blog, make connections, and write content for my own site.
Once I knew how to prioritize tasks, I felt way less overwhelmed with everything I had to do.
Do regular check-ins
There’s nothing worse than setting a goal, then letting weeks go by without working towards it.
This is why accountability is so important. Talking to family and friends about your goals not only helps relieve stress, it also makes you feel responsible for your own success.
A few months ago, I realized I wasn’t taking my business seriously. Like so many other freelancers, I tended to see writing as “just a hobby,” rather than a full-fledged profession.
So I decided to set up regular “check-ins” with my husband, where we’d talk about my business plan over a cup of coffee. Sure, we discussed our careers all the time, but our conversations tended to veer off-track. I had to use a little tough love (sorry, honey!) to make sure these check-ins would be serious and goal-oriented.
After a few sessions, I noticed a big difference. I began to feel more motivated at work, and I couldn’t wait for our next check-in so I could share all of my new ideas.
Becoming accountable is one of the best things I ever did for my business. Try it, and you might find your own productivity increasing by leaps and bounds.
Expectation. What does that word mean, anyway?
- We overexert ourselves
- We let work take over our lives
- We become pessimistic
- We become discouraged
And ultimately, we feel a crushing sense of failure when we fail to reach our goals.
Like the definition of expectation above, “realistic” is a completely subjective term. But with practice, you can easily determine what it means in the context of your own life.
Say I wrote five blog posts within two weeks and my goal was to do this within one month. Great, right? Now I’m in the perfect position to adjust my expectations and write even more in the future.
Of course, my realistic goal may be not-so-realistic for others, and vice versa. For example, I know many writers who can publish five or more posts on their blog per week. Just thinking about writing that much makes my head hurt!
There’s no shame in owning what’s realistic for you and sticking to it. Experiment with what feels “right,” then increase your expectations only when you feel comfortable.
And above all else, remember that you are your own worst critic and failure isn’t the end of the world.
Let me know: have you ever struggled to meet your own expectations? What did you do about it?