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Let 2021 lead you closer to your dreams

While working with a coaching client yesterday, I noticed that she, like so many of the women I work with, had taken her passion and turned it into a giant “to-do” list. Each part of the dream she shared with me was just another task that went on the long list of things to do. As she reeled off her list of priorities for 2021, I could see that it was a giant mix of nice-to-dos, should- dos, and want-to-dos, but none of them were really connected to her passion.

As a first step in sorting through this, we created a giant map of her current thinking as a backdrop to all those to-dos. As we talked about each, it became clear that none of what she had what it takes to get her closer to her purpose. Much of the list was either too far out, too vague, or too disconnected to make this year the gamechanger she wanted.

She had several ah-ha moments and made a plan based on a new way of prioritizing her time. Here are three of the planning principles that she embraced. They might be helpful for you.

Practice Open-hearted Thinking

Like many people who struggle to accomplish big, meaningful goals, lots of us begin our plans for 2021 through the filter of our “right brain,” the center of reason and fact. By trying to connect to our goals with our heads alone, we leave the most essential center of knowing, our hearts, on the sidelines.

As an experienced, senior executive who managed a serious budget and a large staff, I was an excellent project manager, well-versed in setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, and a consistent achiever. But as a woman in my 40s, I realized I felt stuck. It’s then that I began to explore how to make space for meaning and passion in my planning. I learned practices like meditation that helped put me in the right “head space,” and I adopted tools for coordinating right and left brain thinking, like mindmapping. (Insert link to blog on that.)

Tune Out the Voices of the “Shoulds”

Perhaps you’ve heard the advice, “Don’t should on yourself.” It’s not bad advice. Most of us carry around a set of exterior voices or measuring sticks—the shoulds—that aren’t exactly calibrated to our own souls. I have seen it over-and-over again. I’ve had clients who became lawyers because their parents were lawyers. I have worked with clients who stayed in jobs they despised because someone was always dangling the next promotion, title or raise just beyond their reach. I’ve had people describe the brave efforts they made to break free, only to second-guess themselves when they see a former colleague on LinkedIn announce their next big job. Listening to the should

instead of looking into your own heart makes people beaten down, hopeless, and numb.

To move forward, I encourage clients to identify who owns those voices, when they started, and why they feel compelled to listen. As a result, some have had to script out a serious conversation they needed to have with a parent, a spouse, or a boss. All have had to be courageous in claiming what they wanted and needed. All have had to make choices based in hope, not fear.

I’m not saying this happens overnight, but I do find that people who break the chains of should are often able to embrace their own wisdom and move forward to their dreams.

Start with baby steps, not perfect steps

Even if you have a clear vision and a perfect plan, nothing happens until you take that first step. My clients often set objectives that are actually a cluster of little goals that they haven’t taken time to analyze or break into realistic steps. I remember a client who started with a goal of losing 50 pounds over the year. When I asked her how she planned to do that, she ticked off all the usual stuff. She wanted to eat “clean,” but hadn’t identified what that meant, when/where she would obtain that clean food, how she would break that goal down meal by meal, where she would find the time to prepare healthy meals, or how she would hold herself accountable. Like many people, the idea of creating a full-blown plan caused her to backburner the whole project—just like she had done the year before, and the year before that, while her weight crept up year after year.

I can relate. As a perfectionist myself, I understand the desire to make the plan big and perfect before you take that first step forward. But of course, your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, that first step doesn’t have to be perfect, BUT, one thing is for sure, you do have to start! Taking even a tiny movement in the right direction can create the momentum you need. Like hiking up an incline, the steps are easier if you keep moving—harder if you stop and start. Of course, there will be times you need to recalculate, there will be obstacles you need to figure out a way around, there will be events (Hello? Covid, anyone?) that lead you off course. The key is to remember it isn’t ever going to be perfect, it’s a process. Creating a great family is a process. Improving your relationship with your partner is a process. Creating a meaningful career that you love is a process.

While living your dream may feel like a magical goal, there is no magic wand that will take the place of the need to look inside, listen to your heart and your head, to plan for success and to take the first step.

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