Tag: kaizen

365 small steps

Saying out loud what your goals are is necessary in order to calibrate your journey towards them. Daily steps, however small they seem, will get you closer to your goal; communicating about it with other people keeps letting you know whether you’re on the right track.

As this hits the internet, I will be on my way to Austin, Texas for the second seanwes Conference. I went last year, and it is no overstatement to say that it was life-changing. I learned so much, and met the most wonderful people. The clarity I received from intimate conversations is priceless. It’s safe to say I would not have made the progress I made this year if not for those conversations. I know I have a long way to go, but I feel such a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that I’m making forward progress. Prior to this time last year, I felt anxious, directionless, like I was treading water.

This time last year:

  • I was taking all kinds of self-inventory tests and reading all manner of books and articles designed to help me figure out what my “element” is, what specific thing I’m good at and want to pursue.
  • I had a hundred different things I wanted to do and was anxiously dabbling in each of them with no particular direction, wondering which of them was going to be the thing.
  • I was really hoping to quit my day job really soon.
  • I don’t even remember what was going on with my website, but I know that it was pretty sad stuff.
  • I couldn’t say in one sentence what I’m all about. “Well, I sell crochet stuff sometimes, I’m a sign artist for my day job, but what I really want to do is write and illustrate, but don’t really have the energy to be creative when I get home from work.”
  • I had janky business cards that I wasn’t thrilled about handing out.
  • I would not have been able to answer 9 Key Questions for Building a Successful Brand Foundation.

Now, going into this year’s conference:

  • Thanks in great part to the conversations I had last year, I know exactly what I want to do for at least the next couple of years (i.e., I have an elevator pitch): I will write and illustrate a series of books that make the concepts of the Great Books accessible to children.
  • I have a focused direction for multiple products.
  • I have regular content that I’m putting up on my website and social media.
  • I still don’t want to stay at the day job for the rest of my life, but am comforted that it is a great place to be while I overlap.
  • I have a professionally designed logo and web elements that bring clarity to my website, products, and business cards (which are now mini bookmarks with a sample of my hand lettering and an email address linked to my domain–instead of the old gmail address I’ve had since college).
  • I also got some great clarity from hand-letterer Lauren Hom’s ten-week Passion to Paid course. She and the students in the class helped me define a side project that propelled me into my current conceptualization of a book-themed product line/curriculum.

I know I still need to work on:

  • Building an audience. I don’t have much of a following yet, but this is a good thing at this stage. It needs to be the first step before I launch any products, and it gives me the freedom to write my books/create products/build my brand in the meantime. I can find my voice and have room to establish myself without the pressure to “perform” for a large audience.
  • Incorporating my awesome new design elements into my products and web presence, and create a landing page with a specific launch date.
  • Actually write the books…and all that entails (writing, editing, illustrating, publishing, marketing, distributing).
  • Reach out to influencers within the realm in which I want to establish myself.
  • Share and curate my work more regularly, as well as set strict deadlines.

Apologies that this has been a me-centered post, but I share this in the hope that it inspires someone who is where I was a year ago, or where I am now looking into the future. I can’t stress greatly enough the value of community. You need to step outside of your own point of view in order to get real clarity.

Daily journaling helps, too, but saying out loud what your goals are is necessary in order to calibrate your journey towards them. Daily steps, however small they seem, will get you closer to your goal; communicating about it with other people keeps letting you know whether you’re on the right track. One step a day doesn’t seem like much…until you’ve done it for a year.

I’m excited to see what insights will come during this conference and am excited for what the coming year will bring.

What are you working on now that didn’t seem possible a year ago? What have you learned? What steps do you look forward to making toward your goals in the coming year?

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the zen of bridge building

Would you rather have a slow-roasted meal or a microwaved one? Good things take time.

We are often encouraged to “dream big,” but following the right path for you doesn’t have to be this big, revolutionary endeavor. Rather, it’s a series of single steps in the right direction. Whether it’s quitting your day job or training for a marathon, the process is gradual, not one grand dramatic act. I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ book “The Art of Work.” In the fourth chapter, he says that too many people put all their energy into making the leap rather than building the bridge. The beauty of bridges is that you don’t have to see way into the distance where you want to land; you can take it one step at a time.

“First, we flirt with [our dreams] from afar. Then we fantasize, imagining what life will be like when we are united with what we love, without ever doing any real work. We wait, building up courage, and save all our passion for the big day when we will abandon everything and go for it. And finally, we take the leap.

Sometimes, though, we don’t make it to the other side. We fall on our faces. Doing our best to pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off and try again. But if this happens enough, we begin to tell ourselves a familiar story. We remind ourselves that the world is a cold, cruel place, and maybe there’s no room in it for my dream. We get disillusioned and make the worst mistake you can make with a calling: we save all our energy for the leap instead of building a bridge.” (emphasis mine)

This idea of one step at a time coexists nicely with the kaizen mindset. Anyone who has worked at Trader Joe’s or Toyota can tell you that “kaizen” means improvement by gradual steps. Like the “work smarter not harder” adage we’ve all heard, kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that means “good change.” You can make things a little better every single day by constantly refining your process. It’s a very deliberate way of shaving off time and unnecessaries in order to optimize the things you regularly do, whittling away anything that detracts from keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s very much like a river defining its path over a once rough terrain; it may take years, but eventually the path is smooth, well-defined, beautiful, and strong. It is also not unlike building a bridge, one step at a time, to cross a river that we may not be able to jump across.

As it relates to writing, I recently learned that the famous author Graham Greene only writes 500 words a day and stops, even if it’s in the middle of a sentence. That struck me as a small number of words for a successful writer (this blog post is longer than that), but also made me feel better about where I am as a fledgling writer. Just showing up and taking a step is keeping you on the path to your dream. Every book starts with one word, then words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then chapters, then a whole novel. But no one writes a novel overnight. No one takes a big leap and suddenly a prolific work is accomplished. It takes time and work and a daily decision to take a step and keep going.

It’s easy to psyche ourselves out and feel overwhelmed when we dream big. That’s because we want it now and we want it so much that we start thinking about what sacrifices we can make to achieve that big dream. But if it’s a worthy dream, be prepared to nurture it with hard work and lots of time. Dream as big as you can, but take comfort in the idea that you don’t have to have every step in place right now. Just take the next step in the right direction. Repeat.

The path will more than likely change as you go, but you’ll be better for it. If a rock is in a river’s path, it doesn’t stop the river; the river goes around it and keeps going. Make your own process the best it can be every day. Great things take time, so be patient grasshopper.

What dream seems distant to you right now? What is the next step you need to take?

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