No Instant Gratification Here
In our joint quest for self-betterment, let us concede that we were not, are not and never will be perfect people. Our journey through 2018 will be one with hardships, mistakes and flaws, but we must strive to minimize those and especially try not to repeat mistakes made in past years.
There will be times, and early in the year, when we will want instant gratification and attainment of our goals and resolutions. By their very nature, many of our goals will take the entire year to achieve, and then we will seek to achieve them again and again. If you have a goal to launch a business in 2018, your goal may be to continue or grow it in 2019 and then seek a profitable year in 2020. If you seek to take baby step goals like I do, perhaps ending the year five pounds lighter than you currently are, you will most likely want to repeat or exceed that goal next year. If you resolve to end 2018 with $10,000 more in savings than you currently have, you will also want to repeat or exceed that amount the following year.
There will be many times this year when you and I are ready to throw in the towel, admit that we are who we are, and that it is too hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Well, this forty-seven-year-old dog is still trying to learn some new tricks or, in some cases, re-learn tricks that I used to know but have forgotten.
I still struggle with wanting instant gratification and success on a daily basis. During the week as I grind my way through my difficult job and family-related obligations, I come up with grand plans and schemes for the weekend. Over the weekend, I mostly dream, read and write about what it is that I intend to do, and many times I cannot find the time nor the inclination to follow through on those plans. “Oh well,” I think. “I’ll work on my eBook or research starting an e-commerce site next weekend.” Or the next break or vacation day or whenever.
As it turns out, I take so little time off for myself that I never seem to get around to many things until I am forced to. A prime example of this is being forced to obtain a new vehicle in a matter of hours a few Saturdays ago. I am fairly pleased with the results, but it was not so much on my terms as I would have wanted it to be. Is it ever?
The self-improvement that we seek in 2018 and beyond is not something that you and I will attain by this May, August or December. It is a continuing modification of our thoughts, habits and actions and will not be easy. It will take hard work and patience.
But there is a lot of good news, too. We can improve our lots in life in many ways if we set our minds to do so. No matter where we currently are, if you read and think about this in a meaningful and sincere way, both of us can take a hard look at where it is that we are now and can resolve to be in a better place when 2019 rolls around.
These changes that we will make begin with thoughts and ruminations on where we are and how it is that we got ourselves there, facing some hard facts, finding the right methods to motivate ourselves and then making concrete plans on measurable actions to take. Then we’ll have to actually do it!
I’m Just a Jealous Guy
A challenge that I face all the time is measuring my progress, or lack thereof, against that of others. The others may be relatives, family friends, colleagues, former classmates, other economic development professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs who I work with, developers and property owners, and many others.
I cannot help but notice that they are traveling to Hawaii while I am taking orders from a young boss and shoveling my driveway before and after work. I cannot help but notice that they are purchasing second homes after renovating their primary residences, while my small house is very cluttered and in need of many repairs. I cannot help but envy their new cars (although now we have one too) and their social media posts of attending Cubs playoff games, weekends in Vegas or spring breaks in the Bahamas.
Do I admit to being jealous? Hell yes I do.
But I recognize that I am not going to magically transform from my Steady Eddie Middle Class Guy existence to traveling the world, adding to my home, purchasing luxury vehicles or growing my own business in one short year. Never having started or owned my own business yet, that last one would be tough to do.
But could and should I increase my vacation time to more than the total of fourteen days that I will have taken in 2017? I should and I plan to.
Could and should I have at least one home improvement completed all year? Yes and yes.
Could and should I self-publish three eBooks on Amazon (including this one)? Yes and yes.
Could and should I treat my wife better and strive to rekindle some of the old romance during our twenty-second year of marriage? Yes and yes.
Could and should I write shorter yet more powerful and useful posts? Most definitely.
When you reach the prime age of forty-seven as I have, you should know yourself pretty well. I know that I am risk-averse, that I worry a lot, that I struggle with remaining patient and that I have physical ailments that will not improve with age. I know that I struggle with borderline hoarding of books and papers, but I sincerely desire to improve upon that shortcoming.
That is why I am taking stock of where I am right now, this very instant, and you should too.
This is a year of working on you, not your sibling, best friend or someone that you graduated with years ago. Just as you and I may know many others who are doing better than we are in many ways, there are just as many, if not more, people who would love to be in the position that we are. I recognize that, but it does not mean that I am satisfied with my place in life. I know in my heart of hearts that I should be doing better, and not just by a little. If you have read this far, I suspect that you feel the same.
Beyond Mere Survival
So much of my existence seems to be geared toward mere survival. Not that it is not great to continue surviving, but there should most certainly be more to life than my everyday hustle of waking, getting ready for work, going to work, shuttling our children to and fro, helping around the house, walking our dog (of course I am the only one who walks her), paying bills, picking up things at the store…only to sleep fitfully before waking up and doing it again.
To quote Ray Davies of the Kinks,
And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.
Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again.
Making resolutions and setting goals for the New Year should include several dreams that need to be dusted off and brought out of the cobwebs in the back of our minds. How many dreams did you and I once have that never came to fruition? For me, it may be too many to count. I am sure that I cannot remember them all.
I did not pursue many of these dreams due to a lack of the finance to do it, the fear of failure, the lack of confidence, the lack of knowledge or someone to provide guidance and sometimes just due to sheer laziness. It was easier to turn the TV on or read a book for a few hours than to try something new.
2023 Is Sooner Than You Think
Although this book’s purpose is largely to inspire you and I onto greater things in the New Year, it is the longer-term roadmap that we must always keep in mind as well. Where do you see yourself in 2020? In 2023? In 2028? These years will come to be and if you and I are so blessed as to be among those who live through them, they will be no less challenging than the present. Chances are, those years will present even greater challenges than you and I currently face.
I admit that it seems hard to plan for 2023 when our primary challenges might be just how to survive your next workweek or the current month. But I do not let a day, week or month go by when I am not thinking about 2023 or some other year. If you and I do not work toward permanently improving our lot in life, saving for the future and guiding our children in the right direction, 2023 or any other year could be a miserable one indeed.
Selling a book focused on 2023 is obviously not what this is about, but what it is about is striving to improve your outlook, focus and actions over a period of the next five years by taking one baby step at a time. Trust me, if you weigh more or have more debt or worse relationships at the end of 2022 than you have now, it is not going to be easy for you even to return to the point where you are today. Once you acknowledge and truly accept that concept, you will embrace the notion of starting your self-betterment journey in early 2018, with plans to continue it over the next five years.
What does that all mean, you ask?
- You and I must make a list of meaningful and measurable goals for this coming year. Nothing too grandiose, but things that will move us in the right direction.
- It is time to get serious about Paying Yourself First if you have not yet done so. Even if you start with fifty measly bucks per payday, you will feel better about your financial life and I am sure that you will increase that number over time.
- Do not start the next fad diet or lose some gigantic amount like Oprah would only to gain it right back. Start by trying to lose five pounds and keeping it off. Then do the same thing the next year and the year after that.
- I would bet that you have at least one personal relationship that you could improve upon with greater effort on your part. I have about ten, but will strive for three big ones this year – with my wife, my mother and my best friend whom I have ignored for quite some time.
- I desperately want to create more and consume less. Create what? Blog posts, eBooks, maybe an ecommerce site, maybe design some tee-shirts, perhaps help my children with their artistic endeavors more. Consume less of what? TV, surfing the web, sweets, alcohol and coffee. Are there things that you could consume less of and are there things that you would like to create more of?
- I have a ton of crap. Well, to me it is not crap, but to you it probably is. I have piles of books, magazines and more paper than I know what to do with cluttering my home and my office. I have not yet quite decided on the exact amount of items to discard, but am leaning toward an even one hundred. Moving the useless things out of our homes, work areas and our lives can improve our mental health immensely. I feel a small amount of anxiety every time I see one of my piles of books. My wife is none too fond of them, either.
- I must remain gainfully employed at my current position or a comparable one to keep my family in the middle class lifestyle that we have become accustomed to. While working hard at an office job is hardly the stuff of excitement, there is no shame in working hard at a job where you contribute to your organization’s mission and support your family by doing so. It is not as sexy as making millions by investing, creating a business or flipping properties, but it is the thing that most of us do in one capacity or another. Nothing forces families out of their middle class lifestyles faster than the loss of the primary breadwinner’s job.
- I must also increase the amount of passive income that I make. Via eBooks, selling crap on eBay, editing stuff on Fiverr or whatever. No middle class guy or gal ever made it too far ahead without earning income beyond his or her day job.
These are only a few preliminary thoughts, and they apply to most everybody besides the most successful of us. If you are already doing well in gaining passive income, losing weight, maintaining and enhancing your relationships, creating more value and not wasting time or money consuming more and more, then I want to read what it is that helps you achieve these things.
For the rest of us, we must continue contemplating and planning for ways to improve ourselves so that we do not continue allowing the days to turn into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years where we fail to improve our positions in this life.
For the umpteenth time, I repeat that our to-do lists have to consist of specific actions toward realistic outcomes and that our progress toward achieving them must be measurable. That is what will convert our dreams of self-improvement to actual goals.
Writing this in December prior to my repackaging of similar posts into my first eBook since one that I began about twenty years ago and published ten years ago, The Probation Officer, I will put the goals and resolutions that I have been ruminating on down for myself, my readers and anyone in the world to read.
I may not be a manager of anyone else at my place of employment, but I have always been and always will be the manager of my own life, and nobody is going to hold me more accountable than myself. For better or worse, you too are the manager of your own life. Instead of spending the New Year remaining in place spinning your wheels or, worse, moving backwards, make sure that this is the first year of many that you move forward in terms of your progress.
If you are reading this then, like me, you do not want to spend your life worrying about debt, regrets and feeling dissatisfied. God created us to do more than just work, worry and try to survive. My Goodness, we are not cave people. This is 2018 we’re talking about and we are hard-working, honest, tax-paying Middle Class Americans!
There are many ways to go about investing in relationships, building upon our strengths, creating more and consuming less, becoming grittier and living fuller lives. I intend to pursue some, but not all, things that have held me back from leading a fuller and more content life. Bit by bit, piece by piece and baby step by baby step.
I know that you will too.