We all have an idea or project that we'd like to pursue, and countless reasons why we can't: it may be that it's too expensive, or we lack the time, confidence, or skills. Inevitably, there are obstacles that get between us and our aspirations, but those who achieve their goals know that strategies exist for getting past these barriers.
First as a journalist and then as a certified life and career coach, Gene C. Hayden interviewed achievers from all walks of life - artists, executives, professionals, small business owners - who tackled insecurities and obstacles on the road to success. Those consulted didn't have any special advantages to ease their way, but they did have the follow-through factor, a practical mindset that drives action towards a goal, regardless of circumstance. And most importantly, Gene tells us that this is something anyone can learn. With her vast experience, realistic advice, and encouraging voice, Gene is the perfect guide for those who are eager to achieve their ambitions.
|Publisher:||McClelland & Stewart|
|Sold by:||Random House|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
— One —
Yes, but what is follow-through?
Follow-through is a choice, disguised as a major headache and potential time-waster. As an option, it doesn’t sell itself well. If you go with it, you put faith and effort on the line. If you choose not to exercise it, nobody cares. People aren’t even going to notice. You can be fairly sure that no one will signal “loser alert” behind your back when you enter a room. Of course, no one will be jumping up to pat you on the back either, but you’ll still likely get asked to meetings and dinners on occasion.
That’s the tragedy of the matter. The worst thing that happens to those of us who fall short in follow-through is nothing. Life goes on as is. Nothing happens. Just as the opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference, the opposite of success isn’t failure, it’s status quo. And that’s fine. Except that for the ambitious among us, fine is a four-letter word.
And I’ll tell you what else is all too fine. Most of us feel we’ve got plenty of follow-through. So when we’re frustrated that we’re not where we want to be, we don’t accept that our problem might be neatly summed up in one hyphenated word: follow-through. As we tick off all the reasons why we aren’t achieving our goals, it never even dawns on us to include follow-through on our list And why would it? We get our assignments done. We meet our targets. We get our reports completed, our vacations planned, our closets sorted. Perhaps that last one is going a bit too far, but many of us have, at one point in our history, assembled an apartment’s worth of ikea furniture, and what better proof of our determination and grit could there be than that?
Just as we all think we’re better drivers than we are (truthfully, do you stop the recommended three seconds at every stop sign?), most of us of tend to think we’re stronger at followthrough than we are. That’s because we typically misinterpret follow-through as being something different than it is. Contrary to popular belief, follow-through is not the same as commitment. In fact, compared to follow-through, commitment is a walk in the park.
Commitment vs. follow-through
Slide commitment and follow-through under a microscope and you’ll detect a key difference. Commitment is discipline; follow-through is a state of mind. Commitment comes with a how-to manual. If you want to build a cabinet, read the diagram. If you want to lose weight, stick to a diet and exercise program. If you want to climb a mountain, complete a training program. If you want to buy a house, adhere to a savings plan. If you want to write a book, hold fast to a writing schedule. Commitment demands double-fisted resolve but delivers a predictable return on effort. You know what you’ll end up with if you commit to your plan.
Commitment is a map with well-marked roads that you can travel to arrive at your destination, whereas follow-through is more of a pirate’s treasure map. You have to figure out for yourself how to get to the X between the palm trees. You are inevitably going to have to problem-solve as you make your way through uncharted territory, with little more than a vague sense of which direction you should head first. Venturing into the unknown requires an adventurous mind, since you can never be sure what awaits you around the next corner or how you are going to tackle the unexpected. You may arrive at your Emerald City quickly, or you may take longer than expected and encounter more obstructions than you could have anticipated. But follow-through offers this guarantee to the wary: if you persist, you’ll get to some place you want to be and you’ll arrive much wiser.
Follow-through and commitment work in tandem. Commitment is the body of your idea, follow-through is its legs.
Say you decide to write a book on the elves of Iceland. You need commitment to churn out three hundred pages about Iceland’s invisible population. If you stick firmly to your research and writing schedule, you can guarantee that your investment of hard work will result in a manuscript. But once you have printed out three hundred pages, you are faced with the daunting question “Now what?” Having a manuscript in a drawer won’t change your life, it won’t make you a published author, it won’t broadcast to the world that you’re an expert on Icelandic beliefs. If you just leave your manuscript in the drawer, all you will have is three hundred pages that’ll gather dust over time.
The only way to bind those pages into a book with your name on the spine is to flex your follow-through. And that means taking a deep breath and putting time, money, and, toughest of all, ego on the line to send that book to every agent and, perhaps after that, every publisher in the English-speaking world. You can’t know what the result of your efforts will be, which is extremely nerve-wracking. If you think writing a book is tough, sending it out for possible rejection by every single person in the book publishing world is like going through root canals, tooth after tooth.
Follow-through is the only thing that separates the dreamers from the goal-getters. If you get nothing but rejection slips in the mail, it’s follow-through again that will keep you going and trying something else you have no experience with – self-publishing. If that’s the road you take, you’ll need to venture further into uncharted territory to figure out how to promote and distribute your self-published book. Certainly, in the end, it’s only because you exercised follow-through that you’ll be able to call yourself a published author, highlight the fact on your resumé, and introduce yourself forever more by saying, “You may have seen my book.”
Best-case scenario: Getting your manuscript published, or self-publishing, will launch your career as an author. Worst-case scenario: You can mention your book to distinguish yourself from the competition when you meet a potential client or employer or a blind date. In either case, following through will have created new possibilities for you. And you’ll feel better about yourself than if you had just put your untouched manuscript in a box in your basement.
Think of follow-through as a free fall compared to commitment’s bungee jump. Sure, to bungee jump you need to psych yourself up and find the guts to leap off the edge. But let’s not forget, you’re going off the bridge with a harness secured to your waist. You can plot out in advance how the jump will proceed and how many times you’ll swing back and forth before you are pulled back on the bridge. With follow-through, you jump out of a plane with your eye on a designated landing spot, but for all you know a sudden gust of wind could blow you off track and leave you dangling on a farmer’s backyard laundry line, miles from your target. As a result, you may have to figure out how to detangle yourself and either hike a few unexpected miles or sweet-talk your way into getting a tractor ride.
Typical to follow-through, you can never be sure how the path will unfold, which is why it requires a leap of faith. And as the following chapters show, such faith may often be tested, in different ways. But those with the follow-through factor have strategies to share for winning every test, and illuminating perspectives to guide you on your path. As you set off, here’s one piece of good news. You no longer have to count on luck to help you.
Follow-through doesn’t require luck
(although a little luck never hurt anyone)
Playwright Tennessee Williams said, “Luck is believing you’re lucky.” When you think you’ve got chance on your side, you allow yourself to take risks. And eventually, one risk or another pays off. It’s a numbers game. You can pay thousands of dollars to attend a conference on the other side of the country and still not meet an interesting contact or a potential spouse there. But the more events you attend, the more you expand your network. When you finally encounter the person who helps you attain your goal, it wasn’t luck that played matchmaker, it was the series of risks that you took.
My client Adam didn’t define luck as risk-taking; he thought it was more like finding the perfect parking spot on a busy shopping street, something that happens through no doing of your own. And he believed it was what you needed to succeed. So when Adam couldn’t grow his accounting business despite being committed and adept, he figured his problem was simply “bad luck.” He explained that while his current clients were loyal enough, they weren’t giving him additional work or many referrals. He concluded that they weren’t the sort of people who liked to pass around business cards. And those who had extra work that he could handle had already hired others to do it.
“I have a real talent for what I do,” Adam said in our first meeting. “I do my job exceptionally well, and my rates are very competitive. So you’d think the phone would ring off the hook. But it doesn’t.”
“What’s your follow-through plan?” I asked.
“I’m following through by committing to doing a great job in the first place. One great job should lead to another. I’ve proved myself, I’ve proved my talent; that should be good enough,” said Adam.
“Yet, sad to say, there’re a lot of really talented people out there flipping burgers,” I noted.
Adam shrugged.“Well, a lot of talented people aren’t lucky.”
Or they don’t think they are.
In Adam’s case, he was uncomfortable asking his clients for more business or referrals. He was desperate to increase his income, and was terrified that he might let his neediness show. So he convinced himself that if he just focused on doing good work, business would improve on its own. Basically, his approach was to leave his destiny to the whims of fate. That’s not follow-through; that’s finger-crossing.
So often we feel that if we do a job well, the reward will follow of its own accord. If only life were like that. If it were, everyone with a great website would be fabulously wealthy. So many people I’ve interviewed have dedicated enormous amounts of time to working on a knock-your-socks-off website or Web feature to drive their business. They’ve spent months revising copy, worrying over graphics and drop-down menus, and plotting navigation paths. You could renovate a three-storey house in the time they took to finish their site. And when they’re finally done, they fall into a bad case of the post-website blues, because their website is now all dressed up, but no one’s noticing.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We all want to believe the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s a nice idea that sounds wise, but it really isn’t much of a business plan. Still, we buy in, so when people don’t come after we’ve built it, we shrug dejectedly and tell ourselves that it must be because they found someplace better to go. We feel as if everyone is having a fantastic time at another party while we sit alone at ours. Our enthusiasm for our project turns as cold as platters of untouched meatballs. But the real reason people aren’t making a conga line for our door is because we haven’t gone out and dragged them to us. A less poetic but more helpful motto would be, “After you build it, work it so they will come.”
Without follow-through, you can draft the business plan, lease the office space, print up business cards, buy the latest equipment, design a great website, and still go bust. You can call meeting after meeting to talk about plans for improvements at work, and find that nothing ever changes. You can spend months researching home exchanges in Italy and never set foot on Italian soil.
Adam had come close to the brink. So he took a risk. He threw his assumptions out the window and followed a bold plan of action that required him to be a lot more assertive (and much less comfortable) in seeking new business. He started doing more hard sell. He took a leap and invested some of his savings in advertising. He joined forces with a partner. When that relationship ended after a year, he hired an employee who had programming skills that allowed Adam to diversify in ways he had never anticipated. He eventually developed a popular software program for a niche market.
Adam never would have arrived at his current situation if he hadn’t dared to venture along a path that he hadn’t walked before, without a clue about what might happen around the next corner. He had to problem-solve every time he came up against an obstacle, and he typically had no alternative but to do that by trial and error. However, if he had waited for luck to make things happen, there’s a good chance he’d still be waiting.
The bottom line is that you need follow-through to make anything happen for you. Imagine that your idea is like a beautiful bike. You admire it, polish it, tinker with it, spin its wheels over and over again. But if you want it to take you anywhere, you have to get on it and ride. Follow-through is the ride that brings a part of you and the bike to life. During the ride, you may fall off more than once, going up hills may be tough, going down hills may be scary, you may hit some obstacles and have to detour. But there are two things you can be sure of. The first is that you will get somewhere you want to go. The second is that as you pedal, there will be times when you feel like you’re flying.
• The worst thing that happens to those who fall short in follow-through is nothing. That’s it. Nothing happens. Life goes on as is. But for those who do have an ambition, follow-through is what you need to make it happen.
• Follow-through isn’t a to-do list; it’s an adventurous, gutsy state of mind. It’s the mindset required to venture towards a destination when you’re not quite sure how to get from here to there.
• Commitment is an essential part of a plan but it only gets you to the starting gate. And to get to where you want, you can’t afford to count on luck. You must be prepared to keep moving forward, even when you have no idea what may await you around the next corner.
• While you can’t know exactly how your journey will unfold, and you could run into a few detours en route, you can be sure that if you persist, you’ll arrive.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
1 Yes, but what is follow-through?
2 Yes, but I don’t believe in myself
3 Yes, but how do I know if my project is right for me?
4 Yes, but I don’t know what’s true for me
5 Yes, but what’s the point?
6 Yes, but I have five ideas and all of them are great
7 Yes, but I’m not sure this is my passion
8 Yes, but I don’t have a clue how to proceed
9 Yes, but I’m afraid
10 Yes, but I don’t have the time
11 Yes, but I don’t have the energy
12 Yes, but I don’t have the money
13 Yes, but my gut isn’t talking to me
14 Yes, but I can’t find a mentor
15 Yes, but I get so bored
16 Yes, but I don’t have the patience
17 Yes, but what if I fail?
Appendix 1: Words to live by
Appendix 2: Notes to self in a nutshell