It’s taken me weeks to get around to this topic, even though I’ve thought about it every day. The fact that it’s taken me this long is a perfect example of today’s subject matter, actually: Sometimes it seems the further I get into my business—and into 2017—the harder it is to plan anything and hope it will go smoothly.
- When I left my day job the first of this year, I had a three-phase plan for my business just for 2017. My outside projected timeline was to be done with Phase One by March, but it took all the way until June to get it completed. Phase Two isn’t shaping up to go much faster. Sometimes it feels as though I’ll never even see Phase Three.
- When Matt and I started dating, I thought nothing could be better than finally having the freedom to make my own schedule right as a new relationship was budding. In actuality, it was often a strain, because the mere fact that I could make my own schedule didn’t mean I should drop everything to go see him whenever he was free and wanted to see me. Many times, actually, it was irresponsible to do so. Sometimes I made the wrong decision because I felt like a bad girlfriend if I didn’t “make time” for our relationship.
- I’ve been blessed this year with some really amazing opportunities, especially for someone in her first year in business. (Actually, technically, Alexis the Greek turned one in June. Woo-hoo!) One of the opportunities came on a time crunch, and in my haste to get the work done quickly, I didn’t have the client sign an agreement, even though I communicated everything important verbally. It took a lot longer to get paid because I didn’t bring that agreement to our initial meeting. I really needed that money… and it was my fault that I didn’t have it.
Those examples are pretty macro, but the idea that things often don’t go according to plan seeps right down into the micro aspects of my business and life, too—rain on the last available day to get in a beach shoot; Lightroom and Photoshop failing on my computer two days before a clients’ photos were due; getting stuck a quarter-mile from my exit for 90 minutes because of a traffic jam—on and on and on.
In fact, the concept has been so prevalent in my 2017 that recently, I felt myself giving way to negative thinking: “Of course this would happen.” “My life is cursed.” “Does the universe not want me to succeed?”
I hate thinking this way. (Hate is a strong word, and I save it for special occasions.) I’ve worked diligently over many years to become a person who looks for the meaning in every difficult situation, the glimmer of hope in every form of darkness, the positive in all strife. I’m very sensitive to negativity in other people and in myself. It was not a good sign to me that I was letting extra darkness creep into my life through my thoughts.
Because once darkness anchors in the thoughts, it starts manifesting in every other area of life. For me, it manifested in increased anxiety, an instinct to blame others for things that were beyond control or even partially my fault, passive aggression, self-pity, a desire to withdraw, binge-eating, and road rage. Not helpful or attractive habits.
And there must be something about at least half of those habits that release good-feeling chemicals in the brain, because the habits are a lot harder to drop than they are to pick up. That’s why it’s taken me at least two years to really curb the passive-aggression habit, and why it’s so mortifying that I’ve found myself giving in to it again.
The following is a list of disciplines that I have been trying to implement in the face of my frustrations. They are not new to me, but I have been attempting them with renewed focus lately because I do not want any more negativity to take root in my mind or heart. I don’t claim that they’re easy and I don’t claim that I’m perfect at them—only that they have been helpful to me at different times in my life for staying on track with my business goals, as well as with becoming the person I want to be.
1 - Choosing my focus.
I get to choose where I put my focus. When I am preoccupied with financial struggle, feeling wronged by somebody, or my circumstances in general, I have chosen to keep my eyes on a lateral level, rather than to set them on something higher that might allow me reach up and pull myself out of that situation.
I don’t disregard there are hardships to daily living that require our attention. Realities like debt and injustice are aspects of living that should not be ignored, and frankly which cannot be ignored for long. However, they are not always the aspects of living which should demand all our focus; and in fact, often, when we give lateral circumstances all our focus, we lose our ability to deal with them rationally, because the things we allow to occupy our minds soon also occupy our emotions.
I can choose to focus on being my best self and I will be in much better shape than if I focus on what is going on outside of myself.
2 - Counting the blessings that are relevant in this moment in my life.
Gratitude is a practice followed by many of the philosophers and influencers throughout history. It’s been a practice of mine for a long time, too, but I almost didn’t include it in this list because it wasn’t until recently that choosing gratitude had a profound impact on my immediate state.
When it made a difference was when I took the time to identify what in my life I was grateful for that had led me to this moment, and why those things were evidence that everything about now was going to work out okay. In my prayer time I detailed the ways in which God had answered my boldest prayers, and as I did so, I realized that God was blessing this season of my life, even if I didn’t have all the things I believed I needed in the exact present. This sense calmed me down and enabled me to press on, when before I had wanted to give up.
It is futile to wish that we might have done something differently ourselves to bring about different circumstances than the ones we’re in. We can only be grateful for the people we’ve met on life’s path, the mistakes we’ve learned not to repeat, the prayers we saw answered in profound ways, and sometimes even just the fact that we’re still breathing, that we have this one more chance to give our best in life.
3 - Remembering that the best I can do is the best I can do.
This was the first year I used the expression “trying to squeeze blood from a stone.” There was a month this year when it took a long time for one of my clients to pay me, and even longer for that payment to go through. At the time, I myself had some overdue bills, and was eager to get my hands on that money. Others were eager to get money from me, too, and they all came knocking one day before I was supposed to get paid.
I was very anxious during this time. I am typically someone who pays her bills promptly; I do not like to cause other people distrust or discomfort, and it’s good for my own peace of mind to have all my payments current. But it would not have mattered if those to whom I owed money broke down my door—I couldn’t make the transfer go through any faster, and I couldn’t invest into the necessary materials to get a jump on my next job until the money came through.
Although this circumstance taught me the importance of setting money aside after every job, in the moment, I had done the best I could, and I had to accept that this time around, my best wasn’t perfection. Being anxious or fretful did not convince anyone of my remorse, nor did it do anything for my circumstances or my sleep. It was unhealthy to succumb to worry and self-pity. I had done the best I could at that time, and that was all I could demand of myself.
4 - Being honest when I’m the problem.
The easiest person to deceive when I’m at fault is often myself. At least, that was true before I met my friend Ben, who was so unflinchingly honest that he made me stop and think. He never tried to convince anyone that he was justified when he made mistakes; instead, he would say, “I shouldn’t have done that. That was a mistake.” He also made a conscious effort to learn from his errors and not repeat them.
Ben was so much freer in spirit than I was at that time. I decided to take a page out of his book. I don’t think I ever convinced anyone I wasn’t at fault when I was wrong and I denied it; it was only for my own peace of mind to claim that I was right. When I started to admit it when I was wrong, it motivated me to have grace for others, and it increased others’ respect for me.
5 - Taking action.
This is a delicate one, because sometimes, truthfully, the best thing you can do in a stressful situation is to be still.
Other times, there will be something you can do if you take just a moment to gather yourself and focus. I’ve known many a leader in my lifetime who has said, “Don’t complain about a problem unless you have can contribute to the solution,” and this has steered me right in too many situations to count. When I can identify the heart of a stressful situation, I can identify the cause, and if I can address the cause, then the situation can change.
There will be times, too, when simply getting away from a situation is healthy, too.
What do you do when things don’t go the way you plan? I’d love to hear! Leave your story below, or come hang out with the rest of us over on Instagram, @alexisthegreek.
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