How to remain focused on your goals when life is determined to get in your way

How to remain focused on your goals with life is determined to get in your way www.alliepottswrites.com #writinglife #goalsMy eldest son became sick and not just with a little cold. No, he’d caught the flu. The same strain of flu that was being featured on every nightly newscast. Taking care of him, and monitoring his symptoms was an absolute must.

At the same time, the forecast called for snow. Again. It was in the 70s (22C) the week before, but I live in North Carolina. We can go through a whole year’s worth of seasons in a week. In fact, we add a few more to the list – there’s also pollen season and hurricane season too. (Yes, yes, Colorado – where you can have all four seasons in a single hour – I know we have nothing on you).

But normally it doesn’t snow more than once or twice a year South, which is exactly why my parents moved us here when I was a kid. As a result, most of the people who live around here don’t have a clue what to do when the white stuff starts falling other than to rush out and get milk and bread like it will become the new world currency.

I had just gotten my eldest dosed and settled under blankets when I received word that the school system would be releasing my other son three hours early. Snow hadn’t even started falling, but classes for the rest of the day were canceled.

I received another alert. Not only had the school closed early, the following morning’s opening would be delayed by three hours.

My eldest’s fever climbed to 102.6 (39.2C).

The family calendar showed my hubby would be going out of town the balance of the week.

And then beta feedback for my most recent WIP came back as a solid ‘meh,’ signifying major re-writes were required.

Is it weird that I see a grumpy face in this?

There were doctors appointments to make, prescriptions to fill, dinners to cook, and her royal highness to walk, not to mention the work which needed to be made up from missed school and the day job. While juggling all of this, I needed to re-write thousands of words per day if I had any hope of reaching my writing-related goals.

And yet, during my regular writing time, when most of the house is either quiet or asleep, I found myself staring at a black computer case. I didn’t even have the energy to lift the lid, let alone turn the machine on. I felt I’d broken something. My creative muscle simply refused to work.

Which brings me to the topic at hand – how to remain focused on your goals when life is determined to get in your way.

Give yourself permission to let something go

With the exception of the week between Christmas and New Year, I’ve been posting something on this site weekly for a few years. My posts, on average, are between 500 and 1200 words meaning I’ve published more than then three books attributed to my name on my Amazon author page. I take pride in my consistency. I view it as keeping my promise to you, but something had to give.

Recognize your priorities

As much as I love this blog – the outlet it provides and the community it builds, my number one goal isn’t to be best known as a blogger. Scaling back my efforts for a week, under the circumstances, was an easy choice to make (as was giving up on cleaning my house for a few days). In fact, I may adopt a practice suggested by Diana Wallace Peach over at Myths at the Mirror to take one week off a quarter as a way of refreshing the mind and spending time on the priorities that matter most to me.

Don’t confuse artificial targets with your real goals

What do you mean? Aren’t they the same thing? No. A goal is where you want your arrow to go. The target around the goal just helps you aim. Hitting the target alone isn’t enough. It’s the bullseye you want.

For example, my target was to release the sequel to An Uncertain Faith in May. That target, however, is really nothing more than a release schedule, a deadline to help keep me motivated day in and day out. My goal, on the other hand, is to write a book that lives up to, if not exceeds, the reader’s expectations. Quality, therefore, is my goal, and frankly, there is no way I can achieve that goal unless I am willing to shift my bow and aim at a target more reflective of my current environment.

Ignore the urge to splurge

Once you have agreed to let certain lesser priorities go and/or readjusted your timeline after a period of stress or frantic activity, you may find yourself with feeling like there is this hole you have to fill. I’ve been told others call this strange sensation, ‘having spare time.’ Unaccustomed to spare time you may be tempted to take on additional tasks or responsibilities which sound easy in theory but are not in line with either your priorities or your goals. Don’t.

Life will fill in that time for you just fine on its own. Trust me.

Accept that setbacks happen to everyone

Even to people who’d prefer to present themselves as having it all together.

I am disappointed to be sure, but I am not giving up, nor do I feel bad about giving myself a break. I will still have another book out this year. It may just be after the summer instead of in the weeks leading up to it. I am able to remain focused by keeping in mind a setback does not mean the end. I’m back in my chair, plotting forward once more. It’s all I can do.

Because most importantly, when life is determined to get in the way of your goals, the best thing you can do is:

Never stop trying

The cranberry sauce has landed. A thanksgiving perspective

At the time this posts, I will, hopefully, be well on my way to a tryptophan-induced turkey coma or at least surrounded by the smells of food cooking, children playing, and the near-deafening noise of my family squeezed together under a single roof attempting to engage in conversation over the sound of the football game on tv.

And sure, some of this vision is idealized thinking. In reality, the children’s play has likely descended into high pitched chaos by now. Cans of cranberry sauce may have fallen to the floor adding to the kitchen’s new color scheme and grandpa might say something, well… grandpa-y.

But even this less than perfect vision is still reason for me to be grateful.

The scent of smoke filled the air outside my home last week, caused by several forest fires burning in North Carolina’s Western mountains, nearly 200 miles away. On the other side of the state, flood waters from Hurricane Matthew only recently receded. Power was out and roads were closed for weeks. Many have lost everything due to the rain, and will more due to its counterpart just as the weather to turns cold.

And so I might roll my eyes as I pass the gravy but will raise my glass when it comes time to give thanks and drink deeply. For my more realistic vision of the day, as flawed is it may be, is still filled with food, family, and a roof over our heads.

I hope that you might consider participating in #GivingTuesday if you are in a position to do so, and wish you all, whether you observe the holiday or not, a Happy Thanksgiving.


And for those of you who prefer a little extra reading to football, here is a repost of another of my less than ideal Thanksgiving stories.


Has anyone's Thanksgiving ever gone like this?

Has anyone’s Thanksgiving ever gone this smoothly? (image from wikipedia.org)

I considered myself fortunate. We were traveling for Thanksgiving, meaning I wasn’t going to have to cook (a good thing for all involved – just ask my hubby sometime about my poultry cooking skills). I didn’t have to clean. All I was expected to do was to enjoy time with my family. Silly me. I forgot that I was traveling with a toddler.

I had barely closed my eyes on Thanksgiving eve when I heard my toddler’s cry in the adjacent room which he was sharing with his brother. I immediately sprang out of bed to see what was the matter worried that might wake up the rest of the household. I was ready to once again hear, “Where Monkey Man?” This time however it wasn’t merely a request to locate his favorite toy, he was sick, and not just with the sniffles.

I rushed him to the bath while the hubby took care of the linens. Eventually, we were forced to turn the lights on while I rummaged through his bag looking for his spare set of pajamas. It turned out I needn’t worry about waking his brother. My eldest didn’t even bother turning over. (Man, I wish I could still sleep like that!)

Cleaned up, my toddler clung to me like a life raft. The hubby passed by carrying our travel toddler cot. (You could smell it from a distance.) Even if we had a spare set of sheets, kiddo wasn’t going to be able to sleep on it again anytime soon. I had resigned myself to a night on the couch or rocking chair when the hubby came by again. This time with a pillow in hand. He volunteered to stay on the couch so that our son and I might sleep more comfortably on a bed.

In hindsight, I think in the end he may have gotten the better end of the deal.

It was still a loooooonnnnng a night. At home, my toddler’s bed is near the ground and has guard rails. My in-law’s guest bed, on the other hand, is very tall and all sides are completely exposed. Each time my kiddo shifted, I worried he might slip over the side and plummet to the ground. I was afraid that the cries we had already heard that night would be whispers in comparison. I tried to pull him back closer to me, but that only served to wake him up enough to remind him that his tummy was still upset.

Several trips back to the bathroom later (progressively less necessary),  I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. Unless I wanted to be completely worthless the following day, I was going to have to find a way for both of us to sleep. I realized I was going to have to give him more freedom of movement. I placed a few pillows near the bed’s edge, just in case, but then I let him go. Soon I heard soft, contented snores and I allowed myself to also fall into a light sleep.

I awoke hours later to the touch of small fingers on my forehead. (Oh no! Dawn is still hours away – please, please try to go back to sleep!) My little boy whispered, “Where mommy go?”

I answered, “Mommy’s here. Are you okay?” (yep, the couch was definitely the better option)

“I better.” Then no more words. Instead, he snuggled next to me, and the soft snores resumed in short order. Even though I knew right then that it was only a matter of time before I came down with whatever illness my toddler turned outbreak monkey possessed (4 days to be exact), I couldn’t help but smile. I’ll take what I can get.

My toddler used to only want to be with me. Then one day he stopped, and now prefers the company of his dad. All too soon, I know this stage will also be over and he’ll only want to be around his friends. I’ll eventually have to let him find his own way in life, but it is good to know that he’ll still look for mommy now and then.

Another walk on the beach

I originally posted the following around a year ago, however, while my eldest is now a second grader and will be attending the same school as he did the year before, much of the rest of this post is just as true today.

storm brewing off topsail island

I could get used to views like this

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked Kiddo. It was only the second day of our beach trip. Earlier that morning, Lamont spotted a four to five foot shark chasing after a school of fish in the waves and none of us were exactly jumping up and down to get back into the water.

“Sure mom,” he replied, trotting to my side.

As we walked, every so often Kiddo would leap ahead, driven to scoop up a shell and hurl it back into the sea while he waited for me to catch up. It was a far cry from the early years I spent begging him to stay focused and keep up. I glanced back toward our tent and noticed that his footprints in the sand weren’t much smaller than my own.

“Do you still want to be a firefighter when you grow up?” I asked. It was a question that had been on my mind for the last several months. Kiddo had decided at the age of two that he was going to be a firefighter and stuck with his original announcement as the years progressed. He has a lunch box-shaped like a fire truck, a dozen firefighting themed books, and even a note from his Kindergarten teacher stating that perhaps we might like to expose him to other topics after journal page after journal page featured the same red and white truck. But over the last several weeks he had been picking dinosaurs over trucks when given the option. It made me wonder.

“Well I still would like to… some of the time.”

There it was. He was considering other career options. My baby was growing up.

“Well what do you want to be?” I asked. It was a simple question, one I had asked dozens of times, but for the first time in years, I didn’t know how he would answer.

His new school year starts next week. He’ll be attending a brand new school, with brand new teachers, at a brand new time, with brand new friends. Many of our neighbors are excited about the opportunity. They see the school’s raw potential, but as much as I would love to share their enthusiasm, I am too obsessed with the what ifs to look forward to the school year. Kiddo was identified as potentially gifted and a future leader at last year’s school. What if the teacher’s notes didn’t follow him? Would he be asked to slow down so the rest of the kids could catch up? What if there is no chemistry with the faculty? Would parents and students have to suffer while they figured out how to work together? What if? What if? What if?

I fear the unknown almost as much as I fear sharks. I hate not being able to see what is in the water next to me. I hate not being in control of my destiny. I hate what ifs. We kept walking.

The following day, the morning sun reflected off the water to our left as gray skies grew to our right. Storms were in the afternoon forecast. If we were going to swim, we thought we’d better do it soon, or not at all. As we approached the surf, a dark fin appeared several feet in front of Lamont and Kiddo. Great. There goes another vacation day. Then another fin popped up. Each was attached to a curved back. The fins disappeared beneath the water only to reappear several more feet away. Not sharks. Dolphins.

I let myself relax. Where there are dolphins, there is unlikely to be sharks. The fins didn’t appear again, but we took it as a sign and dared to go back into the water. I am still far from thrilled about the start of the school year, but maybe, just maybe, things might yet work out. Tomorrow is still a big unknown, but at least it is another day.

rainbow over topsail

Please forgive me – a letter to the dog

We pulled out your crate this week, unused for the last three years, and brushed off the cobwebs, only we didn’t do it for you. Another four-legged creature joined the family and needed a place to sleep. I think you would have liked her. She’s a mix of Lab, like you, but Boxer too, which was always your favorite playmate. But she’s not you.

Then again, you might find her strange. She doesn’t chase after cats, or squirrels, or stare at a mysterious nothing in the corner of the room making my neck hairs rise. When we go on walks, I don’t worry my arm might be torn from its socket due to the strength of her pulls. She doesn’t jump on arriving guests, or feel the need to defend the household from the threat of the evil vacuum. Nor does she enjoy running in front of my shins as I attempt to descend the stairs just to ensure I’m paying attention.

People we meet keep telling me she is perfect. But she’s not you.

You would be proud of the boys. How well they’ve adapted to an animal in the house once again. They grin and tell me how happy they are to have her. They’ve helped me bathe her, comb her fur, and brush her teeth. They’re teaching her fetch and sit and shake. She’s so patient with them too. The boys have draped themselves over her body and used outside voices near her ear, and yet she still she wags her tail at their arrival.

We tried to make you proud of us as well. She is a rescue like you were once, but an older pup. We estimate she’s around four years old, but with signs that suggest those years weren’t always easy. When we met her, Kiddo announced proudly that we hadn’t found her, she had found us, echoing the words I once used myself to describe our first encounter with you.

Your dad tells me our family feels complete once again. But she’s not you.

She’s smaller than you were, but only just slightly. She is tall enough that I can scratch her head with my fingertips without bending over but light enough for me to carry when she is feeling particularly stubborn. She has a pink leash and collar, which would have appalled you were you not color blind, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She just seems happy to have found a family.

The other night, after the boys had gone to bed, she hopped on the spot on the couch next to me and laid her head on my lap the way you used to do. Soon I found myself growing tired as I listened to her rhythmic snore. I glanced over and saw tan fur where there once lay black and I had to blink away the tears of my surprise. In my weary state, I’d almost forgotten it wasn’t you. I thought I was ready, but it hit me so hard, just then, how much she’s not you. In that moment, I realized how different a brain’s readiness can be to one’s heart’s.

I felt so guilty. Guilty that I was enjoying her warmth by my side. Guilty that we couldn’t do more to keep you there longer. Guilty I am happy to once again see a bowl on the ground.

But she really is a good girl and I was the one to suggest we bring her home. In fairness to her, I am trying to remember all your flaws as much as I recall your virtues. How you could clear the room after a meal. The books of mine you destroyed. That incident with the bunny.

The trouble is, I loved you with your flaws as much as you loved me with mine.

I remember those early puppy weeks before you were house-broken and the pain inflicted on my arms by your needle sharp teeth and all the reasons we chose not to adopt a puppy this time. I remember wondering if we’d made a mistake back then, injecting your brand of chaos into our lives as I surveyed the damage that once was my living room. But mostly I remember how much we grew to love you over the years that followed. If the decision to bring you home back then was a mistake, it was the best mistake we’ve ever made.

She’s only been with us a few short days and is getting to know us as much as we are getting to know her. She’s not you, true, but she’s herself; a dog who is sweet and mostly well-mannered. A dog who deserves to be loved for who she is rather than considered somehow flawed for who she’s not.

So please forgive me if I eventually allow my heart to stop comparing, as difficult as that seems now. When I scratch her behind her ears or throw her a ball to chase, it doesn’t mean I miss you any less. It will just mean I’ve finally allowed my heart to grow more.

Boxer Lab Mix

Newest member of the family

A walk on the beach

storm brewing off topsail island

I could get used to views like this

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked Kiddo. It was only the second day of our beach trip. Earlier that morning, Lamont spotted a four to five foot shark chasing after a school of fish in the waves and none of us were exactly jumping up and down to get back into the water.

“Sure mom,” he replied, trotting to my side.

As we walked, every so often Kiddo would leap ahead, driven to scoop up a shell and hurl it back into the sea while he waited for me to catch up. It was a far cry from the early years I spent begging him to stay focused and keep up. I glanced back toward our tent and noticed that his footprints in the sand weren’t much smaller than my own.

“Do you still want to be a firefighter when you grow up?” I asked. It was a question that had been on my mind for the last several months. Kiddo had decided at the age of two that he was going to be a firefighter and stuck with his original announcement as the years progressed. He has a lunch box-shaped like a fire truck, a dozen firefighting themed books, and even a note from his Kindergarten teacher stating that perhaps we might like to expose him to other topics after journal page after journal page featured the same red and white truck. But over the last several weeks he had been picking dinosaurs over trucks when given the option. It made me wonder.

“Well I still would like to… some of the time.”

There it was. He was considering other career options. My baby was growing up.

“Well what do you want to be?” I asked. It was a simple question, one I had asked dozens of times, but for the first time in years, I didn’t know how he would answer.

His new school year starts next week. He’ll be attending a brand new school, with brand new teachers, at a brand new time, with brand new friends. Many of our neighbors are excited about the opportunity. They see the school’s raw potential, but as much as I would love to share their enthusiasm, I am too obsessed with the what ifs to look forward to the school year. Kiddo was identified as potentially gifted and a future leader at last year’s school. What if the teacher’s notes didn’t follow him? Would he be asked to slow down so the rest of the kids could catch up? What if there is no chemistry with the faculty? Would parents and students have to suffer while they figured out how to work together? What if? What if? What if?

I fear the unknown almost as much as I fear sharks. I hate not being able to see what is in the water next to me. I hate not being in control of my destiny. I hate what ifs. We kept walking.

The following day, the morning sun reflected off the water to our left as gray skies grew to our right. Storms were in the afternoon forecast. If we were going to swim, we thought we’d better do it soon, or not at all. As we approached the surf, a dark fin appeared several feet in front of Lamont and Kiddo. Great. There goes another vacation day. Then another fin popped up. Each was attached to a curved back. The fins disappeared beneath the water only to reappear several more feet away. Not sharks. Dolphins.

I let myself relax. Where there are dolphins, there is unlikely to be sharks. The fins didn’t appear again, but we took it as a sign and dared to go back into the water. I am still far from thrilled about the start of the school year, but maybe, just maybe, things might yet work out. Tomorrow is still a big unknown, but at least it is another day.

rainbow over topsail