Do you ever tell yourself…
“I’m a failure,”
“My work is mediocre at best, I’ll never measure up,”
“I can’t make a living doing what I love, I’m wasting my time.”
Do you hear words in your head that sound like your third-grade teacher, your high school coach, your fill-in-the-blank who doled out messages back in the day when you were a tender young sprout building dreams, words like:
“You might fail, so why even try?”
Those are words of envy, of someone who’s faced failure, cringed, and retreated. Those are words you absorbed and squirreled away and overheard in your head when you sat down to rewrite that novel, or compose that blog post, or start that home business, or face that empty canvas, or practice that trombone.
Spit them out.
They’re bitter. They need to be boiled down to an edible consistency so they’re easily digestible.
Sometimes, those words are offered as a way to protect you from disappointment, like when you announced: “I’m quitting my job so I can write The Great American Novel, and I’ll support my family on the advance check alone.”
Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’ve never said that to yourself. Or something like it.
“I’m going to open a food truck, get discovered on Shark Tank, and open a fleet of food trucks.”
Okay, somebody actually did that.
The point is, sometimes our dreams get too big for their britches. Doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming them. We just need to decide where to best focus our energy.
As a good friend recently told me, quoting the author of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System:
And then there are the little dreams, like…
Getting picked for the high school basketball team. Not.
Getting that part-time job that paid more than your full-time job. Think again.
Getting the lead in the local community theatre production. Know how to carry a spear?
Makes you want to sink into the sofa with a Cotsco-size bag of Cheetos.
Here’s another quote, from a Buddhist nun:
When there’s a disappointment, I don’t know if it’s the end of the story. But it may be just the beginning of a great adventure. – Pema Chodron
There will be times when we dream big and fall short, or try something and fail. Rather than wallow in discouragement, I’ve found the antidote. Three magic words. Three words so powerful, they erase any self-doubt, unstick any stuck places. Words so powerful, whenever you use them, you’ll shoot past that naysayer, you’ll straighten your spine and look that doubter dead in the eye and smile with knowing, then spread your fingers on the keyboard, the trombone keys, around that paint brush, and do what you were meant to do.
What are those three magic words?
At. This. Time.
AT THIS TIME.
I’m doing the best I know how, AT THIS TIME. With the skills and knowledge I have AT THIS TIME, I’m doing all I can do. As I acquire more skills and knowledge, I’ll do the best I can to at THAT time, which will be THIS time, only THEN.
Yeah, me too. But that’s okay.
Those three magic words act like jet fuel when you’re on the fiftieth rewrite of a ten-page story.
Oh, you don’t rewrite fifty times?
Well, anyway, instead of rewriting fifty times like I do, you (or, ahem, I) can stop at the tenth time, saying, “Let it go. You’ve done the best you can do at this time,” then submit it to a literary journal. Off it goes!
AT THIS TIME keeps you in the moment. Not somewhere in the future, or with Joe Schmo the bestselling author, or with Lucky Leo the ace tennis player. It keeps you with you, at your current level of experience.
Now, that’s not to say you stay stuck in this moment forever. This moment becomes the next, and you flex your muscles a bit more, stretch a bit further, and take the next step into the next moment, building your skills as you go. You’re in competition with nobody but yourself. Nobody else can fit in your shoes as long as you’re wearing them.
So the next time you give your heart to a project and it doesn’t pan out, or your kid does something that leaves you doubting your parenting skills, or the cake you bake for your spouse’s birthday falls flat; the next time your blog post is anything less than stellar, or your rewrite is going badly, or your trombone-playing makes your brother lob a ball at your head; the next time your cold-calling results in a dozen hang-ups, or you slave over a report and your boss makes you do it over–don’t despair. Take a deep breath, straighten up, and say, “I did the best I could do. At this time.” And pat yourself on the back.
Because the truth is, we’re all on a learning curve.
And next time, we’ll do better.
Now that you have those three magic words to propel you onward, what dream, big or pint-sized, will you take on this year? Tell me in the comments.