How To Go After What You Want

2011 September 23

Doesn’t matter precisely what it is, but there’s something that you want, something that keeps you up at night, something that’s the alpha and the omega of your ambition. You have a dream and you need to carve out the space and skills to pursue it while balancing everything else that’s on your plate.  Here’s how to throw yourself into and at it in style. Go get ’em tiger!

Hoard your time and energy

I turned down a freelance ghostwriting assignment recently because when I totaled up the hours that it would cost to investigate and write persuasively on topics in such a specialized field  to a level that the learned audience would expect and deserve, I realized I’d have to charge the client a billion dollars a post (slight exaggeration) to make it profitable. And even then, that billion dollars would only include my direct labor; I still wasn’t capturing the cost that giving time to this project would take away from several of my own irons in the fire.

Figure out the minimum amount of time you need to devote to other people’s stuff to maintain your quality of life (maybe this is your 40-hr/week day job, a certain number of consulting contracts you need to land over the course of a year, etc.) and don’t commit to taking on any assignments above and beyond this that don’t contribute to your world domination goals. Put a pricetag on your dream and don’t get cornered into haggling.

Talk to people

I said recently that “We should collaborate!” is the social media equivalent of “Let’s be friends!” and I absolutely believe it*. If someone is doing something interesting that aligns with your own grand plans, tell them you think it’s interesting. Ask to get involved. Invite yourself to the party. If someone says that they love what you do, check out what it is that they do to see if there are synergies. Go for cups of coffee, have Skype brainstorming dates, send professional love letters. Put your plans and ideas out there and make space in them for the involvement of other people. Let people help you.

Don’t read the comments

When going after what you really, really want, there’s always the temptation to think about the big picture, to either pour copious amounts of energy into imagining the thrill of victory or stressing about the potential agony of defeat. If you get caught up in focusing on or attempting to game the end result, you don’t get anything done in the present moment. You can’t control outcomes and you won’t get reimbursed for sunk costs. Zero in on the details. For example, instead of imagining your name atop the New York Times bestseller list or worrying that it will all be for naught if every agent in North America rejects your query letter, rein your brain in, get micro and focus on making the competitive analysis section of your planned pitch as strong as possible.

The only time to worry about bridges is precisely when you’re crossing them, not a moment before or for a moment after. Think about it like learning to ride a bike – you’re fine until you start fretting about what happens when you need to make a turn or how you’re going to navigate that bumpy patch of pavement, but as soon as you shift your attention from peddling to second-guessing, going head over handlebars becomes all but an inevitability.


*I still have my doubts about the proposed new meaning for “Let’s be friends,” though.

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