How I Took the Leap: My 9 Steps

Taking the Leap: It takes both optimism and thoughtful planning

by guest blogger Angela Bushman

I recently left an enviable, reasonably well-paying job at a Fortune 500 company in favor of a free-fall into the great, unknown landscape of opportunity.

The sort of role I (until recently) occupied offered splashy, exciting projects, travel and connections with people of mind-blowing talent. It was, as many have told me, “a dream job.” It just wasn’t my dream. And that dissonance made it stressful.

I am a blend of free-spirited idealist and responsible mother and homeowner. Yet my own experiential evidence supports what might otherwise qualify as irrational optimism. I have been hired during hiring freezes, in poor economies, in dire times, when pundits and public alike have preached doom and gloom. Others in my circle have made recent moves that have offered both higher pay and reduced stress. Even the LinkedIn newsfeed notified me that a rather significant percent of my connections had made a move in the past year. Thus, I am choosing to believe in great possibilities based on the tremendous value I offer, my network of supporters and luck.

Each day I face a kaleidoscopic range of emotions, from confidence and excitement to fear and doubt. Even my optimism has a pragmatic bent — I’d begun networking and found positive support among outside colleagues even before I leapt. I have a financial cushion, and there are folks I know I can call for freelance, contract, and project work. My resume, bio, and online profiles had been diligently updated.

I struggled in my recent job for some time. Even when I began, I knew my stay would be temporary. A position in an established department of a large company calls for a narrow set of skills.  I’m better at creating something from nothing, synthesizing disparate ideas or programs and establishing the structures and systems to support what I’ve built.

And yet my ego told me I wanted this recent job on my résumé, even if for only a short time. What I planned to be a two-year stint turned into nearly four years as project after project came at me, causing a hamster-on-a-wheel effect. I had no idea how to get off. Developments in my personal life made the relative stability of staying put a necessity. Now that I am a single mother of two, established in a new life routine, I’m re-prioritizing my own health and happiness.

Within days of having made the decision to take this leap, friends and colleagues began asking me what was different?  Was I in love? Had I lost weight? Did I do something different with my hair? I was immediately happier and more joyful — and those around me could easily tell. Stress no longer plagues me. I’ve begun sleeping restoratively through the night. And I actually crave healthier foods. Even if this leap of faith seemed crazy, I know I’ve made the right choice for me.

Are you ready for a major life or career transition? If so, give yourself the gift of planning:

  1. Prepare the tools you’ll need for next steps. Update your resume, LinkedIn profile, bio and other tools you might use in your search.  Or have your business plans drafted.
  2. Start networking. Ask colleagues for recommendations, connections and contacts. Go even further:  tell everyone you know what you’re looking for and what makes you great!
  3. Plan your finances. Save or negotiate a financial cushion.  Six months of expenses is often recommended.
  4. Craft a personal marketing plan. Identify your key strengths, competencies and types of roles and organizations you’ll target. Be sure to think about what skills or services you might be able to offer on a freelance or contract basis.
  5. Notice cues in your environment. When you stop hearing “Are you crazy?!” and begin hearing, “Good for you! Let me give you some names,” — you know change is afoot. Allow yourself to be fueled by the positive energy around you.
  6. Look for evidence. I’ve recently seen a number of colleagues not only find a better work-life balance but also achieve higher earnings. There’s a trend I can embrace!
  7. Consider your total compensation. Evaluate your salary and benefits and find ways to discover how you can leverage your strengths in growing industries.
  8. Build a support system. You may experience times of uncertainty or self-doubt. Have a plan for managing through these times. Find a mentor — or counselors, colleagues and friends who can affirm your value and skills.
  9. Adopt a sales mentality. Every “no” means you’re one step closer to “YES!” in theory, but here is a link for practical tips to help you in the process.

So what’s my plan?

  • I’m taking my time and re-focusing my career direction to better leverage my strengths and achieve greater work-life balance.
  • I’m viewing opportunities in the way I view dating:  I’m not a great fit for everyone, and not every one is for me. Still, I can always get excited about meeting new people and learning about new opportunities. I’m working on finding a match that’s rewarding for both of us.
  • I’m searching for an opportunity that values and rewards my strategy, program-building, communication and relationship skills.
  • I’m connecting fearlessly by reaching out to people in decision-making roles and expanding my network.
  • I’m exploring how to publish the children’s books I’ve written.
  • I’m researching the costs and potential market for two new products.
  • I’m writing business plans for two or three business ideas that I believe have potential.
  • I’m blogging.

I wish you the very best on your next leap of faith, and I hope you’ll return the favor.

Angela Bushman is a Minneapolis-based writer, marketing communications consultant and mother. Contact her at writetouch@gmail.com.  


Your Best New Years Resolution: Find a Mentor

Get the insight and support you need to move ahead.

National Mentoring Month just happens to coincide with our annual ritual of making New Years resolutions.  As we reflect on the frustrations or lost opportunities, and all that we dream about, it is the ideal time to take stock in what we really want to happen — this year!

All too often, we do nothing more than make a good list and attempt a few weeks of effort.  Then, little changes.

Life is about moving; it’s about change.  And when things stop doing that, they’re dead.  — Twyla Tharp


This year, try something new: Find a Mentor! Research shows that going it alone isn’t the quickest or best path to success. So regardless of what you do in 2011, a mentor can help you get there. They can help you be more effective, encourage you during setbacks, ask thoughtful questions, help avoid problems, offer real world solutions or realistic alternatives you might never have even considered.

Finding a good mentor is like finding a good job.  If you know what you want, and set clear goals, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for — and make changes that are important to you.

3 STEPS TO HELP YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT

1. Set Goals — What’s On Your List of New Year’s Resolutions?

Mentors can benefit you in so many ways that it’s important to think through what you want.  Make sure you look for a mentor that has the skills, experience, or insights that are right for you.

What do you want your future to look like? What do you dream about? What do you want to achieve? Do you dare to radically raise the bar? What would you like to change or improve? Are you unhappy at work? Career passion shouldn’t be an oxymoron. If you’re not sure what you want, a mentor can help you figure it out too.  Crystallize your goals to narrow your search:

  • I’m frustrated in my current job. I need help figuring out if I should stay or if I should make a change.
  • I want my own business. I have an idea but I’m not sure how to get started.
  • I’m really unhappy at work, burned out. I could use help figuring out how to juggle my job, my family, and having a life.
  • I run a nonprofit, but I’m having trouble managing my board.
  • I think I’m ready for a promotion, but my boss doesn’t think so.  What can I do?
  • I’ve been looking for a job for nearly 2 years.  I need someone to help regain my confidence.
  • I’ve always thought about working for a nonprofit. I’d like to talk to someone who switched from corporate life.
  • I’m doing okay as an artist, but I need someone to help me get to the next level.
  • I’m great at marketing, but I need more management experience.
  • I like my job right now, but I want to explore my options.

2. Select Criteria — What type of mentor do you want?

What makes a good match?  Think about a teacher or boss who made it easy for you to learn, and helped and encouraged you to achieve more than you thought you could. What type of person was it that helped you open doors, see strengths you didn’t know you had, or kept you focused and on track? What were the key things they did that led to your success?  Identify your top 3-5 must-haves. Narrow down your criteria so you don’t waste time interviewing mentors who aren’t a good fit.

Consider what’s really important: chemistry, communication, conflict of interest, experience, pet peeves, similarities, time commitment, trust, and values.

Example: Business Start Up I’m seeking a business owner who successfully operates an organic restaurant.  I would like one, like me, who is enthusiastic and positive, though a bit more down-to-earth.  I will probably need to meet every two weeks for a few months until I get my business plan figured out, and then monthly for the first year.

Example: Accelerating the Career Ladder I want a mentor with 10+ years of marketing experience in the health and wellness area who has been very successful in her career.  I prefer a woman — someone like me who is working long hours in a demanding job and yet still manages to have a great family life and take time for herself. I need to make sure it isn’t someone who works for one of our competitors, and I would like it to be someone who isn’t in the healthcare industry.

Example: Burned Out, Exploring Options I am hoping to find a practical person who has opted out of the fast track and simplified their life. Ideally, it would be someone who has retired early and switched careers to something they really enjoy. I certainly don’t need someone lecturing me — a know-it-all. I’d like to meet every week at first, until I’m on my way. Then monthly. Probably 6 months would do it.

3. Evaluate your options

You’ll be investing a lot of yourself.  Your mentor will be, too  — volunteering their time, insights, and experience. So  it’s essential that you carefully evaluate your options.  And be open.  Don’t be surprised if you end up refining your goals or selection criteria as you gain more insight into what you really want. Remember: the best relationships are give-and-take. Choose 2-3 candidates to initially talk with, and then select the one who will support you — make real progress toward your goals.

Find a mentor and you just might achieve those New Year resolutions!

Inspired By a Human Hurricane

Cornel West, photo thanks to Axel Boldt, wikipedia

In Venezuela that’s precisely how Cornel West was introduced — as a human hurricane. West admits that he “likes moving in 5 different directions at the same time.”

At 14 he was already operating at full speed:  West ran the 2-mile in 10:12, one of the fastest ever for his age.  “(I was) burning up the track and burning the midnight oil, reading books like they were going out of style….holding down that first chair violin for the orchestra…(and) reading philosophy like other kids read comic books — not to impress anyone, but to feed my soul.”

Who is Dr. West? When he was a professor at Yale, there was a time when he commuted between Yale, New Haven, Connecticut, and across the Atlantic to the University of Paris.  He was also a Professor of African-American Studies at Harvard University, with a joint appointment at the Harvard Divinity School teaching African-American studies, Divinity, Religion, and Philosophy. Today he’s a professor at Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University with a Ph.D. from Princeton — and author of many books.

Some might consider him to be a man of reckless conviction — others praise his courage, leadership, and strong beliefs. According to Maya Angelou, “Cornel West thinks like a sage, acts like a warrior and writes like a poetical prophet.”  The New York Times praised his “ferocious moral vision.”  He sees himself as “a bluesman in the life of the mind.

When he was a student at Harvard, West said,  “I was willing to die to emerge a more courageous, living, and decent human being.”  By death, West meant having the courage to question — and be continually transformed.  He believes that examination and rejuvenation go hand in hand — “critique and praise are inseparable.”  Outspoken may be an understatement when it comes to West:

  • He criticized the Black Panthers for criticizing Christianity.
  • He risked his life when he stood up against a minister from the Nation of Islam’s for disrespecting Malcolm X.
  • He was the first Yale professor to be arrested on Yale property — participating in the university’s clerical workers strike.
  • He co-authored, Jews & Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, only to later challenge his co-author for not walking his talk.
  • He voiced his outrage directly to President Clinton about the welfare reform bill (yet spoke at Clinton’s 2nd term inauguration).
  • He stood up to Harvard President Larry Summers who had accused West of being unprofessional.

A man of tremendous achievement, West continues to raise the bar — in his own life and for the world. Featured in the film, The Examined Life, Dr. West exudes brains, intensity, and a passion for life — a self proclaimed “prisoner of hope, a fanatic of fairness, and an extremist of love.” Yet he’s acutely aware of life’s dualities, “We all got the blues.  We all wanna lose our blues.  We all gotta look for ways to do that.”

I’ve been reading his memoir, Living and Loving Out loud, a roller coaster life.  It’s full of passionate debate, relentless inquiry, overcoming injustice, strong family bonds and the broken ones too. 

Insights From the Life of Hurricane West:

1. Embrace Conflict — With Empathy and Hope

During an emotionally charged event at Harvard, West risked his life by standing up for respectful dialogue when a preacher from by the Nation of Islam referred to Malcolm X as a dog.  The minister said to West, “you’ll be lucky to get out of this building alive.”  After going into hiding for a few days, he reached out to someone in the Nation’s community — eventually finding shared values and empathizing with one another. “Empathy overwhelmed anger,” West explains,  “Empathy is not simply a matter of trying to imagine what others are going through, but having the will to muster enough courage to do something about it. In a way, empathy is predicated upon hope.”

What if we took action like that? It’s easy to discount West’s actions as youthful machismo.  Risking my life like that isn’t something I would do, but sometimes we really need people who will!  West inspires me to have more courage. I need to speak up and speak out earlier.  I know there have been too many times in my past when I didn’t; thinking that avoiding conflict was the better route. He also reminds me to make sure I am actually listening and learning — rather than focusing on changing other people’s minds. West saw how intelligent protest can cause real change, but it requires “the courage to exercise constant humility in the pursuit of a noble cause greater than oneself.”

2. Depth of Support Is Essential

Ever since he was a young kid, West was a challenger and defender; he “bullied the bullies,” which was constantly getting him in trouble.  Through it all he had “the voice of calmness and unquestioning integrity” from his parents — and unflappable support of his older brother and two sisters. When West was falsely accused of rape (he and his 2 roommates were all arrested for the same crime while attending Harvard), his brother Cliff said, “I’ll get on a plane right now; I’ll be there in the morning.”  (Fortunately the next day, all charges were dropped.)

He also has a strong Christian faith, having had a spiritual mentor at an early age.  At Harvard, he had a mentor too — the first black professor to gain tenure there (Martin Kilson).  West continued to build relationships with exceptional colleagues and collaborators throughout his life.

That deep level of support is difficult to replicate, but we all can actively seek out mentors, colleagues, friends, and professional groups. Sure brains matter. Hard work matters. But when you need to muster the courage to survive the really tough times, nothing comes close to value of authentic emotional support.

3. Connect Your Voice to Your Vocation

How many of us knew precisely what we wanted from life? West knew himself; I had “to forge a unique style and voice that expresses my own quest for truth and love.” West encourages us to first find our voice and put forth a vision for it — and connect that to our vocation.  Of course that’s easier said than done.

Early on, West was fortunate to find his calling: “connecting the life of the mind to the struggle for freedom.”  It doesn’t guarantee life will be any easier, just more meaningful.  West says, “It is clear that there are profound joys and unbearable sorrows that accompany being true to one’s calling.  The comfort is in the knowing that by giving one’s heart and soul to uplift others through one’s art, one’s vocation, voice and vision are fulfilled.”   I’d say there are sorrows and joys in every life, but it all seems more worthwhile if you’re doing something that matters to you.

4. Forget Perfection — Enjoy Life

With all his achievements, it would be easy to discount the challenges.  I’m not talking about the external ones, but the internal ones.  West openly admits to his humanness, which I find refreshing since we’re bombarded daily by superlatives and life’s realities lie hidden.

He says, “I must unapologetically reveal my broken life as a thing of beauty.” Despite all his success, West continually found himself coping with a bad case of the “IRS blues,” creating a “monetary mess” for himself.  He didn’t bother with doctors, until someone suggested he have his prostate checked; he had aggressive, last-stage prostate cancer — and beat it.  After his marriage to an Ethiopian Orthodox woman, they had to sleep with guns under their pillows and had militia guarding their house.  When they divorced, he said he had nothing “except his ’88 Cadillac.”

Quite the life. Yet he seems to be a man that remains passionate — clearly hungry for more. He loves music (from Marvin Gaye to Beethoven), romantic poetry, his 1988 Cadillac Sedan Deville — and women (you’ll have to read the book).

He writes to his children “the most essential lesson I can offer from my twentieth-century life for your twenty-first-century lives is to find and sustain joy every day that you breathe by touching the lives of others and inspiring people through your example to reach higher and serve better.”

Just like the rest of us, West isn’t superhuman — perhaps more authentic than most.  Whether you value his views or not, you know where he stands.  While many know him more for his civil rights and social justice efforts, I value his willingness to fully embrace life.

So enjoy what life has to offer.  Don’t get bogged down by cynicism; keep going.  Forget the imperfections in your life, and focus on loving the people that stick by you. Chase what excites you and stand up for it — with empathy and hope.

Authentic Mentoring

Why mentor someone? Everyone is busy.  No one boasts about having too much time on their hands.  Yet people offer their time, energy, insights and knowledge to others — often complete strangers. These strangers reach out to connect and offer up their best selves to help someone else.

It seems odd perhaps, in a world that emphasizes networking (even speed-networking), to consider the exact opposite — taking the time to truly get to know someone well enough to provide meaningful support. Wanting to give someone advice is easy; you see a problem and you think, “I know how to fix it.”  Offering advice is easy too, especially if you aren’t really responsible for the outcome.  Authentic mentoring, on the other hand, takes time — quality time  — and your commitment to stay connected.

Allow people to see your authentic self

Mentoring is unique; it’s different from life coaching, executive coaching, therapy, and consulting. Each of these options can provide tremendous benefits.  But money changes everything — our expectations and the dynamics of any relationship. As a mentor, you are offering yourself — one person to one person.  Yes, there is always opportunity for mutual benefit; and this is usually the case with good mentor matches.  But an authentic mentor places the emphasis on the person they are mentoring, not the next billable hour, next client referral, or even the drive to reach a specific achievement.

A mentor is there first and foremost to provide support — a deeper leverage point.  It takes a real relationship to feel any significant level of support, to encourage real change. That entails getting together often, maybe weekly, for six months or a year.  You’re there as the conversation deepens and the topics become more complex.  You’re helping someone overcome obstacles and make real progress.

At it’s best, I believe a mentor serves as a role model for being open minded, building trust, and being authentic. This mirrors the teachings from a two-day Mindful Leadership retreat I attended early this month. Bill George, Harvard Business professor and former CEO of Medtronic, and Yongey Mingur Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk, lead discussions about emotional intelligence, happiness, compassion, active listening, self-actualization, building trust — all essential components of authentic mentoring.

Bill George was quite frank, remarkably open during his interactions with us.  In front of 400 people, he was striving to walk his talk.  He was vulnerable and acknowledged his greatest fear: “becoming obsolete.”  At first glance, it might be easy to discount his “vulnerability,” since he has been so successful and still has a great deal of influence.  But that is precisely why he was so intriguing to me.  My experience with successful business people has been that it is too risky for them to remove the mask in public, even slightly, and admit their weaknesses, mistakes, or fears.

George admitted to being impatient and a host of other shortcomings, all leading up to his currently held belief in self-knowledge and self-control, which he said are important if we are to truly lead others. He went further, stating that we need to move beyond the use of our minds (which he said may be overvalued in our society) and use our hearts as well.  This was clearly not your typical left-brain, command and control leadership approach, of which George declared, “It is dead,” or dying, and enlisted us to “help him kill it!”

So how do we become better leaders, better mentors in a world where authenticity is not the norm? I think one of the best ways to accomplish this is for all of us to become authentic mentors. Lead by example. Start changing. Increase EQ (vs. IQ): increase emotional intelligence through self-awareness.  Be open and vulnerable. Share your life story — your successes and failures. Allow others to learn from our entire range of experiences not just our success.  We’re all human.  None of us live perfect lives or can give “perfect advice.” But we can show up with that rare ingredient — authenticity — so we are better equipped to offer thoughtful counsel.

It is tough taking a chance on someone, to seek a mentor to ask for guidance, particularly if they are perceived to have no weakness, no heart.  Keep in mind that the person you are mentoring is constantly asking:  “Can I trust this person?” As we allow others to see our authentic self, they are more likely to trust us, to open up and tell us the truth — about their real issues, deeper problems.  This way we can offer more than a quick-fix or bad advice.  Instead we’re more likely to probe further, listen more, and help someone think through their situations for more meaningful action.

I know that the more I mentor others, the more critically I evaluate myself and learn more about what’s important to me. I take mentoring quite seriously even though I fall short at times. Was I actively listening or running other projects through my head as we were talking?  Was I trying too hard to solve the problem quickly rather than asking better questions? Was I giving feedback in a way they would hear it or was I merely being efficient?  Did they see me consider their feedback to me in a way that showed I took it to heart?  Nothing is more important to me than connecting with someone on what matters most to them. It is an honor that another person opens up to me, sharing their dreams and fears.

I hope you’ll be inspired to mentor someone. You don’t need to be a superstar or a former CEO, just someone who is willing to share their hard-earned experience and real-world insights.  If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, please contact me.  MentorPlanet.com is getting ready to launch.  I hope you’ll be a part of it.  So send me an email and I’ll send you the details. I already have profiles on lots of people that are looking for mentors. Mentors Wanted!

Are you truly committed to your own happiness?

On the surface, the question seems ridiculous. Of course we want to be happy.  Why else would we be working so hard at it — trying to find a better job, the right job, or any job.  Why else would we try so hard to improve our lives — we have a long list of what we think we must do in order to be happy.  We’re smart people; we’ve tried so much, in so many ways. On good days, life seems okay. But there aren’t enough of them, even for many of us that wouldn’t call ourselves unhappy.

But are we making any real progress?  What’s keeping us from being happy? We start with good intentions. We lead such full, hectic lives that we’re often overwhelmed — even depressed at times.  It’s difficult to find time to think about what to do differently — or where to start.  Or we know what we want, but changing feels nearly impossible. How will we find time to do one more thing?  Our careers demand a great deal.  Our personal lives are complicated.  So figuring out what could improve our happiness is illusive.

Our expectations are high. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, many of us are extremely frustrated. “We believe that we can do anything and are profoundly disappointed when reality doesn’t meet or even come close to perfection.” To compound the problem, Lyubomirsky states that our independent culture doesn’t provide the support we need to cope with increasing stress and uncertainty. She uses a “happiness continuum,” a scale that ranges from very, very low to very, very high.  Some people that are ranked on the low side minimize success, explaining it away as merely luck or persistence.  Others are more resilient and find support to adapt to even tough challenges.

Learned Optimism author Martin Seligman has been studying optimists and pessimists for 25 years and the theory of “learned helplessness.” He says that:

  • Pessimists believe that bad events are their fault, will last a long time, and undermine everything. They feel helpless (lacking control) and may become depressed.
  • Optimists believe that defeat is merely a temporary setback or a challenge — it doesn’t knock them down. They have a perspective and mindset to move forward.

Fortunately, there is a great deal we can do to overcome pessimism and increase our happiness — even those of us that might not paint ourselves as pessimists but have some tendencies when life gets more challenging. “Pessimism is escapable,” asserts Seligman. Rather than merely adopting “a positive mental attitude,” he provides practical techniques on his website, Authentic Happiness.

Learning new skills help you take action, accomplish more and start feeling better — happier.  Lyubomirsky agrees; she says that 50% of our happiness factor is due to genetics, which we can’t do anything about.  Another 10% is based on circumstances, which come and go.  But a large percentage, 40%, is influenced by what we do and what we think.  This means there is a great deal we can to impact our own happiness. But it isn’t easy.  She cautions, “Aiming for greater happiness is no small endeavor…(it) requires effort and commitment.”

So what does it take for us to change, to actually commit to our own happiness? Let’s start with a little myth busting from FastCo:

What Doesn’t Work

  • Fear doesn’t work — it instills denial.
  • Crisis doesn’t work — perhaps for the same reason fear doesn’t.
  • Facts don’t work — if they don’t match our perceptions, they won’t make sense.
  • Small, gradual change doesn’t work — it takes too long to see results.

What Works

  • Positive visions motivate.
  • Emotional appeals inspire.
  • Radical change to generate quick results.

While Seligman and Lyubomirsky offer proven techniques to help improve your happiness, reading a book about behavior change might not be inspiring enough — or produce quick results. So here’s a tip from that unconventional short-cutter, fast-tracker Tim Ferris (Mr. 4-hour Work Week) who stated in a recent blog: “To learn a skill, I often look — not for the best in the world — but for people who’ve made the greatest progress in the shortest period of time.”

That’s what I’d call a good combination of positive vision and quick results. When changing behavior, momentum matters and milestones matter. Ferris’s blog featured Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, who believes:  “The only way you’ll form long-lasting habits is by…focusing on one habit at a time, one month at a time…focus all your energy on that one habit.” He says changing simple basic habits are the “force multiplier” for long-lasting success.  Here’s his easy, 4-step approach:

  1. Select one habit to focus on this month. Pick whatever you think will have the biggest impact on your life right now.  Example: If stress is your number one issue, choose to exercise.
  2. Write down your plan — state your specific goal for each day.  Example: Exercise 30 minutes every morning at 6:30 a.m.
  3. Select a “trigger” that signals it is time to act. Example: Select “brushing your teeth” as an action that reminds you its time to start exercising.
  4. Post your goal publicly and tell as many people as possible.  Example: Tell all your family and friends or set up a chat group and keep them posted.  (Okay, this idea didn’t appeal to me.  Perhaps Leo would say I wasn’t that committed. For me, I wouldn’t want to bother most people with my daily exercise routine.  But I would select several of close friends to support me and motivate me to succeed — and not let me off the hook!  This helps overcome the lone cowboy mentality and help us get the support we need while we’re trying something new.)

Alternatives to Exercising: Before you get out of bed each morning, journal for 30 minutes.  Every day at noon, take a 30-minute break to unplug and relax.  As soon as dinner is over, take 30 minutes to create art.  As soon as you get home from work, care for your garden for 30 minutes.  Every night at 9:30, meditate for 30-minutes. The key is do it DAILY for a SET amount of time — and focus on fun rather than a chore. (If you hate gardening, then let the weeds grow and focus on something else!).

This routine might not sound like fun, or significant; but I’ll bet doing it everyday produces results!  Persistence isn’t pretty, but the results prove to you that once you set your mind to something you can do it. Once accomplished, you gain confidence in your commitment to yourself; you believe you can make progress on tougher challenges next month, next time.  Success breeds success.

Interestingly enough, this idea of focus matches management guru Peter Drucker’s thinking: “You can only have one number one priority.” “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Okay, so having one priority sounds ridiculous, impossible. Drucker and Babauta aren’t suggesting that you don’t do other things — only that you seriously focus on just one activity.  Your endless list of projects and responsibilities won’t go away.  But you can take control over something, one thing.

But how do you decide what to do first?

Drucker explains, “It’s so easy to do what’s familiar, comfortable, or fun. It’s so difficult, sometimes, to tackle the highest priority. And sometimes it’s difficult to even know your top priorities. We get lost in options, opportunities, and choices.” “If you can’t establish clear career priorities by yourself, use friends and business acquaintances as a sounding board. They will want to help. Ask them to help you determine your first things and second things. Or seek an outside coach or advisor to help you focus. Because if you don’t know what your first things are, you simply can’t do them first.”

So what’s your focus this month — pick just one thing! Appeal to your emotions; pick one thing that will inspire you.  Pick something that you think will give you quick results. Don’t tackle the most difficult or complicated. Don’t do something too reckless. Don’t use this particular exercise to start searching for your dream job, finding your soul mate, or learning French, not yet.  Start with something fun, that you can do on your own, that will make you feel a bit happier.  No it won’t change everything, but it might just kick-start your enthusiasm — and your commitment to your own happiness.

After all this, I’m inspired to pick my monthly focus.

Now, what about you?  Don’t know where to start? We’ll talk about that next time.