For many years, I’ve been focused on building a creative business at the expense of nearly everything else. I was a workaholic in every sense of the word, and while I finally have created a creative business that’s growing year over year, I definitely have paid for it with an unbalanced life.
In 2016, a lot of that changed. Not only did I find ways to make my creative business more stable, but I also broke my workaholicism for good. In fact, since breaking it back in March 2016, I’ve tried to go back to my old workaholic hours for short, temporary periods… and I’m literally broken. I don’t know how to power through for 16-hour days for weeks anymore, and I sense that’s a good thing.
Somehow, despite my workaholicism, I was still able to accomplish some personal milestones. Just 20 months ago, my now-husband came to me with a startling set of proposals. He wanted to make serious changes in our life together right now. He’s the type of person who spends a lot of time making a decision, then once he makes it he’s 100% ready and able to take whatever action is needed to make it happen. He wanted to do five things:
- Change jobs
- Move out of Chicago
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Start a family
We’ve accomplished all except the last. Although I played a large role in many of these goals, I certainly wouldn’t have accomplished any of them without his partnership. Patrick is a force of nature, even when I’m distracted by my own projects.
My personal life is good. I’m lucky that I have someone helping to manage it for me, and it’s made 2016 one of the most beautiful years of my life. As a result, when setting goals for 2017, I felt at a loss. My business is good, my relationship is good, my living situation is good, and I get to spend my time exactly as I want, fulfilling my life purpose. I’ve been working on restructuring my life to be creative, and it’s become better than I’d ever dreamed. I’m really happy the majority of days. I contribute to society the majority of days. I receive deep love, support, and friendship the majority of days. I’m not sure what else a person could ask for.
If you compared my life now to my life just five years ago, you would wonder how it is even possible. Five years ago I was 27 years old, living by myself in a high rise in Chicago. I literally drank a bottle of wine every evening by myself, instead of eating dinner. I didn’t have furniture to sit on. My marriage was ending by my choice. I was stuck in a job that most people would kill for, but that wasn’t right for me and that I never should have taken to begin with. I had finished a novel and had no clue where to go next. My bank account was full and I was drowning in sadness. This went on for months and months for nearly two years (though the drinking ended within about six months, and the job ended within about 3 months).
Most of these problems have resolved themselves in the last five years. It’s not to say that I didn’t lift a finger in any of these situations, but it is to say that most of these problems were temporary.
I think people focus way too much on what are ultimately temporary problems that will likely resolve themselves through the passing of time. For example, if you are going through a divorce, yes, you are probably in a lot of pain right now. I know I was when I was going through one, and for a few years after. I blamed my ex, I drank, I got really angry, I distracted myself with bad decisions, I spent a lot of unproductive time watching TV.
And all of that eventually ended because over time, I also met someone else who was better suited for me and built a life with him. I started doing all the things I couldn’t do when I was with my ex and ended up building the creative business that I enjoy today. My husband and I lived in a junky house for a year, but then found a house that is better than our dreams and moved. And so on. Time rolls on, life changes and evolves.
Only two of the problems from my story above were long-term problems.
The first was my marriage. Short and simple, I was married to the wrong person. Since a marriage influences all of your decisions and directs your life almost singlehandedly, this caused a lot of other problems in other areas of my life, too.
One of those problems was that my ex lived in a fear-driven mindset. This wasn’t a problem when we first met, because I was also highly oriented to this mindset, and it was serving us very well. We were able to buy a Chicago condo when we were both 23, because we had saved so much money. I had a good job in software development and was paid well. We both got accepted to prestigious schools and had lots of external success. The fear-driven mindset, when committed to wholeheartedly, produces great results.
As I got older, I started orienting to a love-driven mindset. I wanted to love my job, despite the repercussions of checking out of corporate and “wasting” my potential and my very expensive MBA. I wanted to give my ideas to the world instead of hiding them in some corporation. I wanted to spend money, to invest in myself and my fledgling business, instead of saving and going without. Having one foot on both sides of the love-driven and fear-driven mindsets caused a lot of inner conflict for me. This triggered the shit out of my ex, understandably, and we were always at odds.
Every year, the problem got worse. My core values were shifting, his were doubling down on our original ways. My family is Catholic and doesn’t believe in divorce, so I kept with it for awhile, trying to make it work. I wasn’t a “quitter,” I didn’t want to “disappoint” anyone, and I felt incredibly guilty for essentially “changing my mind” about this person.
And then one day, we were talking about having kids, and I realized there was no way I wanted to have kids with my ex. Children, I figured, would truly trap me in the relationship forever… because I was going to want to keep trying to make it work for their sake.
It hit me almost overnight that the problem was getting worse as time passed, not better. Every year I would like my ex less; every year our core values would drift further apart; every year would get harder for us.
When we separated, things got both temporarily harder and easier. The long-term problem was completely fixed, and all the problems it had caused were now temporary. Time passed, they resolved. The root cause was fixed, so the symptoms ended eventually, too.
The second problem was that I needed to leave all that I had built in a corporate career and take the plunge into entrepreneurship, art, and working for myself. This problem was closely linked to my marriage. Once my marriage ended, I felt the freedom and courage to take my love-driven mindset a step further. I quit corporate completely in 2011 and never went back. Again, some things got temporarily harder while others were temporarily easier. I was broke for awhile, for example, but this situation has since resolved itself.
Long-term problems, once reversed, quickly resolve all the temporary problems they’ve caused. But if a long-term problem is left unsolved, these problems get worse and worse as time goes on.
What are the Long-Term Problems in Your Life?
My life is so good compared to back then, and has also improved greatly in 2016. That’s why as I was setting goals for 2017, I found myself coming up fairly empty and uninspired.
Grow my business? Duh, that was going to happen anyway.
Write more books? Yawn and check. (After all, that’s my job.)
Buy some new furniture? Seriously, is that a goal?
Travel to Italy? Umm.
Make an impact on the world? Well, I feel like I’m already on that mission…
This went on and on. I was coming up with stuff I wanted that I could easily make happen. It was a to-do list, not a goals list. And it was boring and not very motivating!
One thing that finally interested me was the concept of problems that get worse with each passing year. In other words, long-term problems.
As 2017 passes, I know I’ll write and release more books (one already comes out on January 4th, so Check!), I’ll “grow my business” (vague), and I’ll probably buy some furniture and go on a few vacations. All of that happens because time passes. It’s not notable or even particularly interesting for me; my mindset is already oriented toward making these happen, and eventually they will.
To be clear, these things might be extremely notable and interesting for someone else, if it’s a massive shift in mindset for them. They just aren’t so impressive for me, because I already live my life this way.
However, I was able to identify two areas of my life where this was not the case:
- My weight and physical health
- My debt and financial health
So this is what I’ll be focusing on in the new year, but not at all in the way that people usually approach these problems.
Identifying a Long-Term Problem
I’ve learned from my divorce that one bad decision can persist in multiple areas of a person’s life. My bad decision was getting married before I knew enough about myself. My ex and I were somewhat compatible when we got married, though slightly immature to be so. This could have resolved pretty easily over the years; most people get more mature as time passes.
Unfortunately, my orientation toward a love-driven mindset eventually got us. I don’t speak to my ex anymore, but honestly he was doing well with the fear-driven mindset (many people do!) and I really hope he stuck with it. It suited him, and it would likely be very painful for him to switch to a love-driven mindset.
Once I fixed my relationship status, a lot of other areas of my life improved simply because time passed. Most of this has to do with mindset, which is the bedrock on which change happens. The rest had to do with habits and routines that, when performed over time, do their jobs. I have a habit of knowing myself and what I need, and then going out to get it. I have a habit of growing as a person. I have a habit of producing real value. I have a habit of not settling or spending time in environments. I have a habit of putting my happiness first. All of this eventually kicked in and my external circumstances changed to match my internal orientation.
At any time, I could have tried to solve my problems in the ways that most people would. For example, in my divorce, I could have tried to change and hold tightly to my fear-based mindset so my ex and I would stay aligned and grow together. I could have tried to get him to change. I could have tried marriage counseling, or sucking it up, or waiting it out. And I did try all of those things in succession.
But the problem never got better. Despite my best efforts, the problem just kept getting worse.
That’s how I knew it was a long-term problem that needed a completely different approach.
The same was true with my job dissatisfaction. I could have tried harder to find happiness, I could have tried to fit in better, I could have changed jobs (boy did I do this), I could have gotten more education, I could have just waited until I had kids and it was more socially acceptable for me to opt out of corporate. Years passed, I tried all of these things, and I was just getting more and more unhappy and unmotivated in my work. Ironically, my paychecks kept getting bigger, which only made it harder and harder to opt out!
Again—long-term problem needing a different approach.
In general, I’ve learned that you can tell you have a long-term problem when you’ve tried all the “normal” solutions and the problem gets worse as time passes.
My weight has been an issue for awhile now, since I was about 25 years old. I’m turning 33 this year, and I’ve gained between 3 and 8 pounds every year since, so you can do the math for how much weight I should lose.
I’ve worked hard to lose weight over the years. I’ve exercised, gone on diets, cut back on the alcohol (this made me gain weight), quit vegetarianism (this made me gain weight too), bought a Fitbit, started cooking at home… the list goes on. No matter what, I gain weight each year like clockwork. I recently looked at my Fitbit stats for the past several years. The weight chart is a straight line pointing up. My weight gain has been one of the most steady constants in my life… averaging about five pounds a year, with a few blips from when I went on a juice fast or took up jogging for a month.
My weight gain wasn’t the biggest deal at first. I didn’t like having the extra pounds, but I could hide them decently. Plus, I worked from home, so it’s not like a ton of people knew. I was still pretty, I still had a boyfriend, and frankly I had better things to worry about! I wasn’t willing to commit the time and energy to weight loss when I knew it would take away from time spent growing my business.
Over time, the weight gain added up. I wondered if I should take a few months off of my business and just lose the weight. I started to hate the way I looked (unfortunately, my husband’s family is big into photography, so I eventually gave in to the massive and persistent number of pictures of me).
This has all the classic symptoms of a long-term problem. Spurts of dieting and exercise haven’t worked long-term. If they were working, I’d be a healthy weight right now, because the problem would resolve itself over time!
At the root of my problem is habits. 3-8 pounds per year is not a lot, it’s only a lot over a long period of time. However, 3-8 pounds implies that I’m not stuffing my face obscenely… rather that some tweaks in my habits could actually reverse the issue permanently. Imagine if I could turn a 3-8 pound weight gain per year into a 3-8 pound weight loss per year? In 7-8 years, I’d be back at my original weight! Totally doable.
The same is true for my long-term debt. I basically have a lot of debt from my student loans + my divorce, and each year I accumulate a little more debt. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot better at not accumulating more debt. And… I should probably start paying off my debt at some point.
For awhile, it made sense to ignore my debt while I was building a business. If you are a creative, you probably know from experience that it’s impossible to create in a scarcity mindset. The slog is real and hard.
Now, though, I have the space and extra skill sets (I’ve gotten particularly good at earning money from my creative endeavors in the past year or two) to handle the debt. I think I can reverse my debt accumulation this year, even if it’s small. If I work on turning a small reversal into a larger reversal over time, eventually, the debt will resolve itself.
Again, I could go nuts and try to pay it off right now, at the expense of everything else I’ve built and the good life I’ve created for myself. However, if that approach was going to work, it probably already would have!
A long-term problem needs a long-term solution.
I repeat, a long-term problem needs a long-term solution.
Habitualizing and Routinizing Your Solutions
I believe the key to solving these long-term problems and creating long-term solutions is simply habits that follow from mindset. I don’t want to lose weight; I want to be a person who naturally maintains a healthy weight. The second goal will serve me well over the long-term, which means that any time spent on it is a GREAT investment. In my experience, the times I’ve spent trying to lose weight for a period have never been a great investment. I’ve always gained it back, plus a little more.
In the same way, I’ve tried to pay off a debt here and a debt there. Sure, I can figure out how to pay off a $500 debt—but inevitably, I accumulate more debt than I pay off over the course of a year. I don’t want to pay off my debt; I want to be a debt-free, wealthy person.
My approach to both of these problems is going to be centered around adopting the habits and mindset of the people who are “naturally” thin and wealthy. “Naturally” is of course the most BS word in all of this, as I know that the people who maintain a healthy weight and bank account balance work hard at it! Perhaps a better phrase to use would be “seemingly effortless.”
I want to basically incorporate enough habits of the thin and wealthy to reverse my trajectory.
Imagine if there are 25 habits that the majority of the thin or the wealthy share. The number 25 is just for illustration purposes, so that we have a finite number to visualize. It could be that there are actually 100 habits, or it could be that there are only 10. For the sake of the example, let’s assume there are 25 total.
In this group of naturally thin or wealthy, no one person is going to have adopted all 25 habits. Each individual has perhaps adapted only 12-18 of the 25 habits. There may be some outliers in either direction, but for the most part, each individual simply does enough to tip the scale in the right direction. Time takes care of the rest.
I know from experience that I don’t need to be perfect on something like this. I don’t need to go to the extremes for either goal, I just need to flip enough of the theoretical 25 habits from their current state (which created my weight and or debt challenges) to the opposite state (which should create a reversal of those challenges).
So as I approach these goals, I’ll be talking to people who have either reversed their weight/debt issues or who never had them to begin with. I’ll be trying to explore their mindsets and I’ll be testing their habits for short spurts of time. As I evaluate these mindsets and habits for myself, I’ll fully adopt and implement anything I find along the way for the long haul.
I have a lot of boundaries around what I’ll adopt. For example, a number of people have told me that they completely cut out sugar to lose weight. At the current moment (and this could totally change in the future—that’s the beauty of exploring new mindsets), I have no desire to be that strict with my diet. It sounds incredibly time-consuming and highly scarcity- and fear-driven to me. Again, I could totally change after learning more about this approach, but for the time being, it doesn’t resonate with me.
When you find a habit that doesn’t resonate with you, it will be nearly impossible to adopt long-term. You may be able to adopt it short-term and get results, but for most people these results reverse back once they give up the habit.
In my opinion, your efforts are better spent searching for the habits that are low-hanging fruit for you. This allows you to work on your goals within your strengths, rather than trying to shore up on your weaknesses.
For example, one of the lowest hanging fruits for me regarding weight loss is to drink more water. This is so easy for me! I already drink a lot of water, and I love drinking water and water-based drinks, like tea. I don’t drink much soda or alcohol, so I won’t need to transform or end any bad habits around beverage consumption. I literally just need to make a few tweaks, and then I’ll be drinking more water.
I love the idea of adopting habits versus achieving a goal at any cost, because it allows you to set clear boundaries. If you’re putting serious consideration into habits you may be adopting for life, you’re definitely not going to fall for any of the “weight-loss bullet” or “get rich quick” schemes that so many out there would love to sell you. Instead, you are forced to look at sustainable solutions that work in your current life.
Some of the boundaries I have around habit-building for weight loss are:
- I want to come from a love-driven mindset. I have no desire to cut foods or exercise out of fear. I’m doing this for the love of my future self (who will have to live in my body), for the health of my unborn children, and for the love of my current self who would really enjoy more energy and comfort in her own skin.
- I am willing to invest about 2-3 hours per day into my health, but probably not much more. I sense I can figure out a lot in this amount of time, and the thing that has prevented me in the past was my workaholism. Before, 2-3 hours a day took too much time away from growing my business. Now, I realize that my health is critical to the growth of my business. This was a simple but critical mindset shift to even start down this path.
- I’m going to do this on my own and be 100% responsible for my own results. In the past, I’ve tried to lose weight with my husband, and it’s always been a total failure due to the dependency and attachment to him following through on something I set up. Since detaching my success from his participation, I’ve made a lot more progress on fixing my own bad habits. (And actually, he’s been losing weight too by working on his own bad habits.) Again, this was a simple mindset shift to not allow someone else to be my excuse. Not fair to the person or to me. Duh!
Some of the boundaries I have around habit-building for debt-clearing are:
- I want to come from a love-driven mindset. I want to find ways to love earning money more, and then to love seeing that money flow through me. These are likely entirely mindset-related!
- I have to be able to earn money through my mission, which is to tell important stories in an entertaining and influential way (with fiction) and turn more wannabe authors into bonafide authors (with nonfiction). Since I’ve basically already optimized my life so that I’m working on my mission every day, it would be a step backwards to, say, create something just for the money or (worse) quit my creative work and get a “real job.” The last one is probably a solution that others would come up with, but it’s laughable to me!
- I don’t want to do any massive launches. I have plenty of friends who know how to run million-dollar digital product launches. I do not desire that, at least not this year.
- I also don’t want to build a yearlong mastermind, do a ton of live events and retreats, or start paid speaking. My preferred methods of earning through creation are passive, evergreen, digital, and from the comfort of my own home.
- I don’t want to cut expenses unnecessarily. In fact, I expect that both my revenue AND my expenses at my company will both go up significantly in 2017. I do, however, want to be mindful of how I spend and make sure I’m getting great returns on investment. (In 2016, I spent quite a bit that didn’t return, unless you can’t the painful lesson learned!)
Any and all of these boundaries are subject to change, of course, since I haven’t fully tested the habits or absorbed the mindsets of those who are thin and wealthy. It could be that my boundaries are very obviously not going to work, and these boundaries have been holding me back all along! I honestly won’t know until I get deeper into the mindsets.
Similarities Between Goals
I think this year is ripe to make these changes in my life, and it’s not lost on me that the challenges with losing weight and the challenges with paying debt are practically the same! This is likely why I’m struggling with both. I even sense that losing weight will help me pay off my debt, and paying off my debt will help me lose weight. That’s because there’s something about me that doesn’t do well with this category of problem, which I would classify as “Budgeting.” I consume slightly more calories than I spend, and I spend slightly more money than I earn.
These two problems are secretly the same problem.
Likewise, my marriage and my career problems were actually the same problem. I didn’t know it at the time, and of course they seemed like wildly different challenges at first glance. But at their roots, I would classify the real problem for both in the “Alignment” category. I was trying to be someone I was not. I was trying to please others at the expense of my own needs and desires. I was trying to fit in instead of having the courage to create and pursue my own mission in life.
I was operating in fear-driven mode, but with an alignment to love-driven mode. I feared going into debt (which ended up happening) and was willing to pay for it with my unhappiness.
The minute I got the courage to say no to what was misaligned, I solved both of my problems over the long-term. There was some pain involved, but it was only temporary. Funnily enough, I could have become happy by doubling down on fear-driven mode and solved my problem that way too! Instead, I decided to step fully into love-driven mode and accept the consequences. Either solution would have worked, but I prefer the benefits of love-driven mode that I enjoy now.
At the core of my weight and debt reversal, there is likewise going to be some key understanding that I need to discover. It may be that I adopt the habits of naturally thin and wealthy people, and discover the key understanding only in retrospect, after I’ve experienced the other side. It may be that I need to unlock the key understanding first, and then my external circumstances will match my internal orientation. Either way, I sense it will be a fantastic adventure in personal growth, and I can’t wait to keep sharing my insights on this blog!