I spend a lot of time on this blog telling people how to do stuff, as if I’m such a high-and-mighty, super-duper success with a cherry on top. I’m not that.
I have had a lot of success in this writing thing, and some success lately in speaking and coaching about writing and business. I’m proud of those things, because I’ve worked hard and practiced discipline and applied what I’ve learned.
I’m happy to say I’m pretty awesome that way. But folks who’ve seen me speak might recognize what has become one of my taglines:
Here’s what I learned by making mistakes, so you don’t have to make them yourself.
In the spirit of that, I wanted to admit some of my biggest failures and mistakes. These aren’t one-and-done anecdotes. They’re habits I need to break, or habits I can keep but only if I adjust some of my life goals. For better or worse, here they are.
1. Too Many Ideas
I have a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas. Many of them are terrible ideas. Many more are good ideas, but not good ideas for me to do. Some are good ideas, even good ideas for me to do, but not ideas I should take on right now. And even the ones that are good, good for me, and good for now will fail if I try to do them all at once.
And yet I keep trying to do them all at once. Or I walk away from an 80% done project to take on something new and shiny. Of all things in my professional (and honestly my personal) life this is the worst habit I have. What’s worse is, as I plan and schedule my quarters I can’t help myself from saying “Well, all right, let’s let you three in anyway.”
2. Not Keeping the Front Door Open
Some small business advice people use the metaphor of the front door and the back door to describe the two kinds of customers. You keep your “front door” open — meaning you’re always welcoming in new clients. You keep your “back door” closed — meaning you retain all the clients you can.
Despite what I said in #1, I can overfocus at times. When my dance card is full, I consistently quit looking for new work. This becomes a problem when the existing assignments end, since the money dries up with nobody on deck. What’s worse is how easy this is to solve. It’s just a matter of putting the hours in.
3. Planning as Procrastination
My heterosexual life partner Matt Zanger (and my lovely and talented better half Rachel Letofsky) will both make fun of me for saying this out loud. They consider me an overplanner, and I consider them both underplanners.
I talk a lot in this blog about the importance of planning (I even did several articles about choosing my favorite planner). None of that is false. Planning is as vitally important to succeeding in your life plan as proper driving directions are to taking a successful road trip.
But sometimes I overdo it. I spend time planning and overplanning, because planning is comforting. And sometimes I plan again when I should be sticking to my earlier plan. It’s hard for me to admit that I plan too much, but at times…I….um…ergh…erk…plan too much.
4. The Shoeless Cobbler
I make a huge deal on this blog, in my books, and in my presentations about the importance of a good website, a solid mailing list, and systematic, tactical social media. I do that because they are hugely important.
But do I practice what I preach? My website is out of date stylistically. My newsletter gets updated on schedule (some of the time). And my social media is random. Hit and miss. I tell myself that’s okay because their job is to get me work, and I’m not doing it because I have so much work.
What makes this work is the one time I really nailed this, I had five books all in the top ten of their Amazon category just from the tactical social media part of it. This stuff is powerful juju, and could skyrocket my career. It’s there for the taking, and will still be there next week.
5. Saying Yes Too Much
This is so common there are books about it. People give in to social pressure to take on more and more responsibilities and activities because we all want to be liked. Then you start dropping balls, or being surly while fulfilling those responsibilities, or generally screwing the pooch because you overcommitted.
I am really, really bad about this. For me it’s a double-edged sword because my two superpowers are boundless energy and hyperfast work speed. For a long time, there wasn’t such a thing as “too many commitments.” I got it all done, and done well.
But I’m older now, with kids and a family and friends and all manner of hands on my time. I recently made myself stop pretending I could get any work done on weekends. It never happens. So baby steps, baby steps.
6. “Too Busy to Sleep”
I wrote an article once upon a time about the ROI (Return On Investment) of putting time into self-care. One of the best, most clearly proven examples, was getting enough sleep. Multiple studies show that sleeping 7 hours instead of 6 makes you at least two hours’ worth of more productive in an 8 hour workday. Six hours instead of five is even better.
This is something I know, both from research and personal experience. And yet one in the morning finds me hitting the Netflix feeder bar more often than I care to admit. Like the first item on this list, what’s even more frustrating is how easy it would be to act on my knowledge here and just kill that bad habit.
These are the things that keep me in the job I have, instead of the job I want. I’m working to fix each of them. In fact, a monthly piece on how I’m fixing them item-by-item is part of my plan for the coming year. I’ll close today with a pair of quotes that have always been dear to my heart, and apply to these screwups and screwups of all kinds.
“Fall seven times and stand up eight.”
That’s one of my very favorite Japanese proverbs (“Nanakorobi yaoki”). Or, as Rocky Balboa put it while talking with his son:
“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Either way, success in all things isn’t a matter of not making mistakes. It’s a matter of learning from those mistakes and making each mistake less often.
How have you screwed up? What are you doing to screw up in that way less often? How can I (or anybody else in the blog community here) help?
Short and sweet:
I’m a lot smarter than I look, but in my case, I’d hafta be. I’m not a baby-boomer, I’m older that THAT! The older I get, the more introspective I become.
I’ve discovered that everybody hears, few people listen. And, I talk too much. I have too many stories to tell. I keep writing them down, but no one reads them. I easily engage others, and they’re always polite …I’m the best cocktail party participant you might ever meet! Yet, most folks who speak really have little to “say” …they just want to make themselves look valuable, or rich, or attractive, or …something. This “herd” will not be heard.
I’m not sure. I’m discovering that humanity is more alike than it is distinctive. My challenge is in the capturing of another’s spirit …and I have been remarkably less successful than I have conjectured. That said, having seen at least this little bit may just give me an edge others cannot fathom. Then again…