Playing your Long Game. It’s not too late for you.
How do you keep going when your goal is taking a long time to come?
How do you keep positive (and have fun) today when what you’re striving for what seems a long way off?
Last year I read an article in Psychologies magazine, that keeps popping into my brain, called ‘The Long Game’. It was about a book called ‘Never too Late to be Great: The Power of Thinking Long.’ The well researched point of view (he’s read a serious amount of books) of the author Tom Butler-Bowdon is that due to our increased lifespans and the fact that most great things have taken many decades to achieve, we have far more time then we think to do what it is we want to do. Even at age 60, you still have 33% (20 actual years) of your productive years left if you want (I can hear 60 year olds everywhere groaning at that, saying I thought I could retire!) and at 40, you have 40 productive years or 67% left. Isn’t that nice to hear? It filled me with a warm and happy sense of recognition. Because, quite frankly, I’ve found that anything that has been worth doing has generally taken a long time…and some things still are! What is that they say? Anything you want to get really good at takes about 10,000 hours.
Of course, there are those people that hit the success jackpot in their early twenties. However, despite what our modern youth obsessed, fast results culture tells us, they aren’t the norm (Thank God!). One of my favourite examples of this is the actress Kathryn Joosten.
I first fell in love with her performance as the President’s Secretary, Mrs Landingham in The West Wing and more recently she was in the spotlight (and winning Emmies) as Karen McCluskey in Desperate Housewives. Kathryn sadly recently died at the age of 72 due to lung cancer only shortly after her on screen counterpart had succumbed to the same illness. But Kathryn has left a lot behind for us including her inspirational story I think. Kathryn didn’t begin acting until the age of 42. Until that point she raised her children and worked as a Psychiatric nurse. But on hearing her mother’s death bed regrets at not pursuing her dreams and going through a divorce, Kathryn revisited her childhood dream of acting. Look at what she achieved and gave to the world in those 30 years.
But Hollywood actors aside, what about you? Yes, you. You’re probably thinking, I’m just normal me, reading this blog on a Wednesday while eating a Tuna sandwich and stroking the cat, I don’t have dreams of Hollywood stardom and anyway, some days my ‘to do’ list is enough to get through! But I bet you do have some dreams, something you’re striving for.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Oscar Wilde
I have a client and now friend called Jane. I started to work with her over 3 years ago when Jane was pretty much house bound having suffered from years of illness, walking was difficult, her legs felt very weak and wobbly. But we didn’t even talk about that to begin with. Eventually it became time to talk about walking, about getting her life force back in her legs and so she began. At first it was a huge deal to walk down the road to the post box and there were many days that that wasn’t even possible. Her legs felt like they might just collapse beneath her, she had to take breaks and hold on to lamp posts on the short stretch of pavement. Regularly scared, sometimes feeling like it would never happen.Jane kept going. She got help where she needed it, getting lifts to the supermarket or yoga. And slowly slowly her legs began to come back to life, she started to be able to trust them more, take bigger risks. And then the day came that she went clothes shopping again, a massive milestone and a huge sense of joy for Jane. 2 years and 9 months after we started talking she got on a train from the north and visited me in Brighton, a massive leap out of her comfort zone. She barely slept but she did it. And she’s just come back from Paris and is off on a Mediterranean cruise in a month. She did this, she kept going and it did take years and she often tells me that she has no patience but here she is, walking bravely into her life again at the age of 62.
What is it that you’re trying to achieve? It could be anything from a greater sense of calm, to a new relationship to writing that novel. And how do you keep going in the every day?....on the Wednesday, when you’re eating a tuna sandwich, reading this blog and stroking the cat?! It’s so easy to think that you’re not getting it right if it doesn’t happen quickly, that there’s a right way of doing things and if only you knew exactly what that was, you’d be there (wherever there is) by now. But at this rate, you’ll be penniless, love-less, career-less and a general no hoper loser FOREVER!!!!! You might as well have a long lie down, eat some chocolate and watch endless re-runs of The Jeremy Kyle Show.
I once went walking in one of the very many Pine woods near my brother’s rural house in Sweden. He told me that the trees there are planted as tiny seeds and in ten years time the farmer will be able to cut them down and sell the wood, before he begins the process again. That struck me as a VERY long term plan. But, how else can you grow and sell trees I suppose?That farmer has to hold a big vision with that particular lot of Christmas pines. And in the ten years of their growing time, he or she has to nurture them, keep them disease free and hope they survive storms, fires and floods.
To create those longer term visions you also need to have your short term projects, plans and ideas to get you there. I also think it’s a myth that you have to know EXACTLY where you’re going, you just need a sense if it. The details will come as you go. The path will open up as you walk down it, you normally just need to know what you want to do next and what might be after that. And if you don’t know for sure, guess!I’m with John Williams, the author of Screw Work, Let’s Play, on this one. He says, manage your overwhelm, not your time. Creative folk (which you probably are, even if you’re thinking you’re not because you’re reading this) don’t own think in a linear fashion. We have a million ideas and a million things to do and they’re all in a jumble in our brain at once. And this is how you end up watching Jeremy Kyle when you should be coming up with a logo design or meditating, there are too many tasks, not enough time and the end result seems sooooo far away.
First of all, see your vision. Where is it you’re heading? What would it be like to live that? What does it look like, feel like, sound like and even smell like? Close your eyes and see it, draw it, write it, paint it or dance it.
And when it comes to all the practical tasks that will get you to it, well, do them a bit at a time. Let’s help the brain jumble and make time seem less scary.
First of all, get out all your ideas and plans and thoughts. I like to use lots of post sticks.
Now get a big piece of paper. Draw 3 circles, the smallest in the middle going out to the largest.
Your job is to put all the ideas inside each of the circles, the ideas or tasks that are the biggest priority right in the centre, the slightly longer term goals in the middle and the even longer term ones in the outer circle.
That’s right, I’m forcing you to prioritise. You can turn the circles into realistic time zones too, perhaps the first circle is the next week or two, the second is the next few months and the third is the next 6 months or whatever suits what you’re doing. And remember you can revise anything at any point and add/change things as you go. This isn’t a rigid system, this isn’t an oppressive regime!
Do you feel a little bit better? Can you see what you’re doing next and let your mind relax about the things you’ve put in the big circle. You’ll get to those, those pine tree seeds will grow my friend.
And you can get even more creative on its ass! A linear written list makes me want to fall off my chair in boredom so this is what my current list looks like.
How can you make your list, ideas or projects look and feel more fun? Your inner child will want to assist with that particular task. Don’t be afraid of glitter, stickers, play dough, pretty note pads or whatever it is that makes it more playful.
And this is my final point, I’m not called the Fun Expert for nothing you know! It’s easy to get caught up in the endless doing (or avoiding the doing) and forget to enjoy the journey. That old Mars slogan had a point, there’s not just work, there’s the rest and play too. You cannot truly be productive, cannot create, cannot keep going without fun. It’s the fuel in the engine and all too easy to forget about when you think you’re not there yet. I can relax and have fun when I’ve got more money, more time or what ever it is. What kind of fun, do you need? What is your fun fuel?
And remember, you have time! You really really do.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” Goethe