Sunday, August 16, 2015

Know When To Hold 'Em, and When To Fold 'Em: The Power of Personal Ultimatums

When pursuing a dream, especially one as crazy as being a full time writer, there comes a time when you wonder if you are chasing your own damn tail. The idea of giving up may cross your mind often during your career, especially the lean days when nothing seems to be working on the surface. That is normal. But there will be that ONE time when you really don't think you can keep on going another day, let alone another year, without seeing some return on your investments. Investments of time, talent, energy, hope and passion.

You lay awake at night going over and over your entire career, even your life, wondering which decisions got you here and what you could have done different. I'd say this works for relationships, too. When did things get derailed? Why are so many others so much farther along, happier, richer, more successful? Am I just so out of touch with reality I keep pursuing a pipe dream, or do I really have talent? Am I messing up my kid, my marriage, my health, and my body? 

It happens to all of us. But then you wake up the next morning and feel that urge to keep going, and the cycle repeats itself over and over. You might even have so many things in the mix, that you tell yourself "Something will break if I just hold on a little longer." You might even tell yourself that for years, waiting for that "break." Now and then, that break comes in the guise of an illness or massive financial distress that, once overcome, re-empowers you to go for your dream life. Or that break might never come. And you might watch your dreams go up in smoke, or down in flames, whichever visual you prefer. 

But there is another way to keep hope alive, and keep moving forward with a newfound fierceness, without having to come down with a terrible illness, or lose your marriage, or your mind. Give yourself an ultimatum. Just as you might give a lagging lover an ultimatum to take your relationship to the next level or be gone, you have to do the same with your dreams. Just as you would give someone you hired to work on your home an ultimatum to finish the job by the time they promised or not get paid, you have to do the same with yourself and your goals.

This ultimatum has to be BIG, and it has to be BOLD and it has to be IMPORTANT...or like a self-imposed deadline, you might just ignore it or let it keep slipping away. This ultimatum should be written down, and it should be general enough to encompass your main goal, yet specific enough to give you the momentum build you need. You can have several ultimatums for each area of your life, or one that is the most critical to you at the time.

Some ultimatums for writers might be:

If I don't get a publisher for this book in eight months, I will self publish.
If I cannot get 5,000 followers on my FB author page by December, I will devote the next three months to marketing alone.
If I cannot get an agent in one year, I will contact publishers myself.
If I do not see increased sales and better reviews on my book within six months, I will pull it offline and revise with a new cover.
If I am not making this amount from my writing by next June, I'll get a part time job.

Life ultimatums are more general:

If I don't lose ten pounds by my son's wedding on my own, I will join a gym and go three times a week.
If I don't find a date on my own in a year, I will join a dating website.
If I cannot earn my desired income by next February at my current job, I will seek employment elsewhere.
If I go one month without a drink, I'll take myself to a spa.
If my back pain is not gone by next month, I'll talk to my doctor about surgery.
If I don't run three times this week, I'll join that running group at the beach.

Again, we give others ultimatums all the time, whether we do it consciously or subconsciously. If he doesn't marry me in four years, he is out. If she cannot stop doing drugs on her own, we will have an intervention. If my boss keeps screwing me over, I will quit in March. If my spouse abuses me again, I'll file for divorce. Or we don't bother giving them at all, and continue living a life that belongs to someone else, feeling miserable and disempowered because we cannot make anything happen, or stick to something, or stand up for ourselves. Ugh.

But the most important ones, no matter how big or small, are the ones we give ourselves in regards to our own behaviors, actions and goals. The best ultimatums don't ask that you completely give up and throw in the towel if something doesn't happen in a certain way or time frame, although if that is what you feel is right, go for it. They simply provide you with a specific reaction you commit to having to a specific action. A tangible next step. They are goals coupled with subtle pushes, or even threats if that works better for you!  If I don't get a raise in six months, I will quit this shitty job! But be ready to quit that shitty job, or your ultimatums will no longer hold power.

And that is the key. YOU MUST FOLLOW THROUGH. Because if you don't, you will render yourself and your ability to push forward powerless. When you cannot keep a promise to yourself, and really, isn't that what an ultimatum is, than what hope is there of achieving a dream anyway? Stay tough, stay focused, and follow through.

So before you go and fold 'em, maybe hold 'em a little bit longer. Give yourself an ultimatum or two. Trust me, I did this and it lights a real hot fire under your ass. You will find your motivation refueled, and your hope and determination renewed, just by treating your life as though it's important enough to set deadlines and then make and take appropriate actions to get there. 

And should you fail? You can either fold 'em, or re-assess any progress and formulate a new ultimatum.

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