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

My 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.

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

Who wants some candy?

The hubby and I recently joined a new gym having accidentally forgotten to forget to go on the scale after Thanksgiving. As part of our enrollment we were given the opportunity to meet with a trainer for our free personal fitness assessment / training plan. These meetings are much like the mandatory ‘information sessions’ you are forced to attend whenever you take advantage of a resort/timeshare’s ‘free’ vacation weekend. At my day job we call these meetings “sales calls”. The only difference is the prospect is coming to you and not the other way around.

Knowing what I was getting ready to go into, I decided not to eat anything the day of my fitness assessment (because that extra pound was definitely going to make the world of difference in my BMI). Unfortunately, I am like the Incredible Hulk when I am hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I am hungry.

I arrived at my appointment armed with a basic guesstimate as to what my results would be, as my insurance premiums are directly tied to periodic health assessments. I knew I had put on a few pounds, but who hadn’t? It was the middle of the holiday season! Biff, my assigned trainer (okay that’s a fake name, but it fits), met me in the lobby and took me for a quick tour around the various implements of self-inflicted torture equipment. I then was asked to stand on something that looked like an old transporter from the original Star Trek (only with handles). LEDs flashed. Assessing… assessing… wow lady you are out of shape – I am sure glad Biff is here to help you out!

Hungry Allie no like smug Biff. Hungry Allie think transporter full of [censored]. Hungry Allie smash transporter.

From the 1978 The Incredible Hulk episode &quo...
I kept my shirt on, but you get the basic idea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later (when my blood sugar had returned to normal) I realized I had a problem. My next insurance assessment was in January and I had been borderline for higher premiums before Thanksgiving. So I did what any person would do in my situation. I dusted off my fitbit and my myfitnesspal login, declared an embargo on sugar (except in my coffee – because me before drinking my coffee is almost as bad as me when I am hungry), cut out gluten, and limited my daily carbs to 100g. DEFCON 4!

By the time my insurance assessment came I had passed on two birthday cakes, pizza, donuts, two non-birthday cakes, and a stack of cookies. (It’s now clear as to why I put on a few). I had gritted my teeth and gone to the gym instead. All the free goodies were tempting, but the desire to prove that judgmental transporter wrong was stronger (I don’t blame Biff. He is obviously paired with a cruel and defective piece of machinery).

Ultimately, I won this particular battle. (In your electronic face, transporter!) I may still borderline, but thanks to my hard work and sacrifice, I managed to stay in my insurance group. I earned my right to celebrate. During my victory lap, one of my colleagues congratulated me and offered me some candy from her stash.

I found myself hesitating. Why? My goal was achieved. I didn’t have to hold back from the sweets any longer. I wouldn’t be cheating on myself by enjoying a little snack, and yet I found that I almost didn’t want it. That first easy snack to cross my way just didn’t seem a worthy reflection of my effort.

Part of me didn’t want my goal to end. I had achieved what I set out to do, but I knew I could be so much better if I just kept working.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
Small rewards add up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had to then recognize that my ‘better’ didn’t have a deadline associated with it. It was a vision, but not a goal. Sure I have a number in mind, but no good plan to get there. I could keep doing what I had been doing, but that was a knee jerk response to an immediate problem. It isn’t a sustainable lifestyle change (at least not for me). I know I would eventually fail. Even worse, I would miss out on the small rewards I could have enjoyed along the way.

As most writers will tell you, there comes a point when you have to hit the submit button on your manuscript (or otherwise show your work to the world). Could you have written (or executed) it better? If your answer is “umm…maybe” and not a solid “yes,” move on and do so with the next one. I have my vision. It is time to set a new supporting goal and execute on it. I celebrated my small win.

Yes – I ate that chocolate (it really was the polite thing to do), and the next day I hit the gym again. When the next cake comes around, I will be ready. On to the next goal.

Do one brave thing today

There is a lot of discussion about the movie, “The Interview,” Sony Pictures, and North Korea. When the news first broke that Sony Pictures was hacked, I thought it had to be a publicity stunt. The story was too ridiculous to be true. The group responsible for the attack had deemed “The Interview” as offensive and were threatening to not only release sensitive company information, but were also vowing to enact physical revenge upon any theater showing the film. The studio caved to the groups demands in order to save billions of dollars (and save face – really what was in those emails?) and/or because they didn’t want to risk their customers’ lives. They agreed not to release the movie as scheduled. The US government has now linked the group responsible for the attack to North Korea and Sony Pictures is being criticised as giving in to a foreign terrorist threat.

I wasn’t going to watch the “Interview” on its opening day. I don’t exactly make it a priority to see first run movies anymore (I have two small children after all). While I do enjoy the occasional low-brow comedy (especially those with a satirical edge), I rarely find them to be worth the hassle of finding a sitter. I find that I enjoy them much more when playing my DVD player in the comfort of my home.

Several weeks ago, one of these made it into my DVD queue. Coincidentally it too starred a Seth. It was “A Hundred Ways to Die in the Old West.” True to its title, characters played by various extras are killed throughout the film in bizarre fashion. The protagonist in the movie has no business living in the Wild West. With all the natural ways of dying unexpectedly, he sees no reason to involve himself in fights that could further decrease his likelihood of survival and is deemed a coward. Eventually he does find something worth fighting for. Yes, there was a scene in which a character tried to participate in a gun fight while dealing with the effects of a laxative but there was still a worthwhile message hidden among the toilet humor. The protagonist learns that while there may be a hundred ways to die, there is only one way to live – with courage and conviction.

When I started this blog a little over a year ago, I really didn’t know what to write about. I didn’t want to write about the writing or publishing process. With only one book to my name I didn’t feel that I was a credible expert. Instead I stuck to safe subjects like leadership, entrepreneurship, positive thinking, or my family.

Then one day I got mad. It felt good putting my feelings in writing, but I hesitated hitting the publish button. The nice thing about writing fiction is that your characters can express any sort of feeling about the world without those feelings necessarily reflecting back on the author. This site is anything but fiction. How then could I write about leadership if I wasn’t brave enough to stand by my convictions?

click for attribution


I hit the publish button. The piece went out and a few notifications started rolling in. It was being read. Oh dear. I waited for my subscription numbers to start to drop. They grew instead.

I thought I had gotten lucky. Weeks passed. Life returned to normal.

I got angry again and learned by sharing my experience that I wasn’t the only one.

Unfortunately, life once again returned to normal. Normal is stagnant. Normal is what allows us to continue ignore uncomfortable conversations. Normal is what allows us to continue to accept the status quo. Normal is what makes us fear change.

However change can be just as good when done for the right reasons.

Last week, I wrote about my writing goals for 2015. These are necessary if I want to take my writing to the next level. Unfortunately as I haven’t successfully found five to ten extra hours in the week, I have to make some changes in my schedule. As a result, this will actually be my last regularly scheduled Monday post.

I will still be posting every Thursday (expect December 25th as I will be spending the holiday with family). You may start see less of me, but I hope under this new schedule I will have a bigger impact.

I would like to thank you all for your continued support and wish you all the Happiest of Holidays and an equally hopeful new year!