Many mornings, I sit on my sofa, laptop on my lap, dogs squeezed in at my sides, and I search the internet for possible futures. I like to think I’m being strategic, looking for the move that will level up my career. I look at one year MBAs and PhDs in everything from cultural policy to creative writing. I look at international programs and graduate certificates. I’m never sure that another degree or more school is the answer. I’m always sure that my curiosity is boundless.
My curiosity is so boundless, that it’s incredibly easy to get lost in these searches. These searches take time, and I could take that time back and finish essays or complete a draft of a book I’ve been meaning to write. I might be searching for possibilities for my future, but in the present, I haven’t completed the task that would move my career forward in the most significant way. Instead, I leap over the task and pretend to be strategizing about the big picture. My next move isn’t more strategy. My next moves is sitting my butt in the chair and putting words on a page.
I know this. So why is it so hard to execute?
I recently mentioned to a colleague the quote by Bill Gates? Tony Robbins? Matthew Kelly? (the internet has robbed us of authentic attribution.) I said, “We overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year.” I do this constantly. I think about working on revision of an essay before I go to bed. I think I’ll sit in bed with my laptop and quickly fix a piece of writing, after a full day of teaching, volunteering, and coordinating the numerous projects currently on my plate. I don’t think about how those projects are going to move my career forward. I’d rather search for programs of study and then investigate methods to pay for those programs.
Because the truth is, I want to focus on a program of study. I want immersion, one-on-one attention, a mentor…all the things I offer others in my daily work life. I offer those things from a personal deficit, if you will. I didn’t have that, and I wanted it. I still want it. I feel a bit old for it, but I still want it.
And then, I also think about how I don’t really need it. I know what I need to do. I know the work now. I can be my own mentor. I can hire an editor. I can do the projects on my plate and make great strides. I can level up without another credential.
One morning, not so long ago, during my constant distraction, I happened upon a program at an overseas university that speaks directly to my interests of the last twenty years. I did not know it existed before, and I immediately thought, “I want to do it!” Yet, I would have to uproot my life. My best friend said, “Do it!” And then we started talking about how maybe instead of embarking on the program itself, I think about how I could teach in the program or be invited to speak. I would have to develop my body of work beforehand. I would have to reach out and network like a boss.
And that’s where the shift occurred. Maybe, at this point, I don’t need the credential. Maybe my role in these programs I search for is one of mentoring and speaking and offering to others what I once so desperately wanted myself.
I’ve seen Instagram posts lately that say things about being the mentor you always wanted, or think about what you want in a boss and then be that for yourself. Maybe instead of distracting myself with searches for programs that will propel me forward, I take back that time and begin work on writing papers and developing the skills that will propel me forward.
What does forward propulsion look like? Well, I’m thinking about more money, of course. I’m thinking about more money, but I’m looking at industries that are traditionally paid less: arts administration, creative writing, etc. BUT THEN, someone told me that the director of a famous arts organization makes more than a university president. I looked at her credentials, and I started down that rabbit hole.
What I’m looking for is a shift. Before I become a student again, I’d like to give being a true leader a try. It’s so much easier to search for these programs, though, than to complete a draft of an academic paper or revise a draft of essay and submit it. It’s so much easier to take meetings than make decisions. It’s so much easier to daydream of possibilities than to pick a path and walk confidently down it.
Easy is a distraction. And, it is not the same as ease. Once I get started, the paper, the revision, the path…none of those are particularly difficult. The hard part is deciding to do them. The hard part is not seeking comfort in the constant distraction of what ifs. The hard part is committing.
The hardest part is accepting my own power and owning it. Because it’s scary. It’s change.
But it could be so very rewarding. More rewarding than reading admissions requirements and thinking about making time for coursework. That coursework could instead be self-driven projects.
It could be. If I can distract myself from the comfort of that constant distraction.
What distracts you from getting your important work done?