I grew up on a farm, so to me, fall means harvest: fruit stands filled to brimming, trucks piled high with ears of corn, hop kilns wafting delicious aromas for miles.
Harvest season is busy, but it’s also a good time to take stock of what this year’s efforts have brought so far. Which crop was profitable? Which fell flat? Will we need to invest in a new combine for next harvest? I know it’s traditional to set goals around New Years, but fall triggers a period of planning and reflection for me. Maybe it’s because summer tends to be so hectic, and by the time fall comes around I’m ready to review my priorities and knuckle back down to the tasks at hands.
Fall is the perfect time to review your dreams for the future, set concrete steps toward reaching those dreams, and then use those dreams as a guide to saying “yes” or “no” to all the different opportunities that are bound to come your way. I really encourage you to set aside some time to harvest your dreams this fall – if you don’t set a course for your own life, some one else might just do it for you.
Imagine if, five years from now, you were living your ideal life. What would it look like? Don’t stop at the big picture of career, family, and location – actually imagine a day in your life.
- What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
- How do you spend most of your hours?
- How are you earning a living?
- What percentage of your day is devoted to what pursuits?
- What are your hobbies?
- Who are you surrounded by?
Set a date with yourself in a place with no distractions, like at a coffee shop with a pen-and-paper journal, and let the thoughts flow.
Maybe in your daydream most of your day is spent using your skills to motivate those around you, or it’s spent out in the field, or consulting with other organizations to get them up to snuff. Or, maybe your dream day is spent composing music, touring with your secret side project jam band, or working in a completely different career.
Pick out your path
My husband and I daydream about our future lives all the time. Back when we both had desk jobs, we routinely envisioned lives outside the cubicle, where I could work from coffee shops and the passenger seat of the car, and he could travel to visit bike shops and talk to dealers in person. Ideally, we’d finish each day flying kites on the beach.
Our crazy daydream wouldn’t come true by itself, though – so we figured out what we needed to know, and set ourselves steps.
First, I needed to understand the business of being a freelance writer: how to pick up paying clients, develop a portfolio, and save enough cash that I could cut the umbilical cord of a steady paycheck and go out on my own. My husband needed to excel at his inside sales rep position, jump eagerly on opportunities, and maintain a long slog of hard work and persistence to convince his managers to promote him to an outside position.
Plot out your next steps as though you’re managing a project. You are – your career! Write out every little step you need to take to get you from where you are now to that dream life.
Some steps may be out of your control, or depend on other circumstances – children, aging parents, spouses. Is your dream realistic with your personal responsibilities? How can you get your family on board? Will you need to prove it’s viable? For me, I first had to convince to my husband that there was money in freelance writing – and more importantly, that I had the discipline necessary to run my own business and not spend my whole day reading Margaret Atwood novels instead.
Pick ONE objective
If you’re anything like me, you probably have a dozen dreams, goals, and plans. Sure, you could attempt them all – but that’s likely to result in aimlessness, stress, and burnout. (I can tell you this from experience.)
I read somewhere that you should write out your top six objectives, put them in order of priority, and then cross off the bottom five. Some of the others might be done along the way, but choose the one that you’ll meet no matter what.
Write this goal down, and post it where you see it regularly. This is your one objective for next year, your main focus, the step that will take you that much closer to the dream life you want to have.
Lay the groundwork
Now, you picked an objective for next year, right? But there’s still four more good months left in this one, and now’s the time for you to set yourself up for success. Use the professional chef concept of mise en place to prepare yourself: you’re doing your research, collecting all the ingredients, chopping what needs chopped, grinding what needs ground, sharpening what needs sharpened, and getting ready to cook up a storm once the new year rolls around.
How will you set yourself up to succeed at that objective next year? If your objective is:
- A promotion: What projects or responsibilities will you take on in the next four months to ensure you can feel ready to ask for a promotion this year?
- A career change: How can you network to set yourself up to make the move? Are there events you should attend? Courses you need to take? Or maybe you don’t know what you want to do – use the next four months to research options and decide on the best one.
- To cut an album with your secret side project band: Is the group dynamic right, or do you need to finally find a replacement for your deadbeat drummer? Is your body of songs big enough, or do you need to start writing more? Is it time to spring for voice lessons?
Make an action plan and divide the steps up for the next four months, for one month, for one week. Find yourself an accountability partner if you think you’ll need it.
Keep a razor focus
This is the most important step of all:
Use this objective, this vision, this dream, as a razor to pare down your life. If an opportunity comes up, evaluate whether or not it fits with your dream. If not, say no without regrets. Take a look at what has demands on your time, and use the razor’s edge of your focus to trim away what’s not important.
My dream involves the freelancer’s flexibility to go mountain biking on a Friday afternoon when the trails are clear – along with the subsequent responsibility of working later that night, or over the weekend. Offers of full-time desk positions get sliced away by that objective.
What will get sliced away by yours?
Are you feeling the harvest instinct? What dreams are on your horizon?