Have You Done That One Great Thing? What Are You Waiting For?

Time passes so damn quickly. And as you get older, it speeds up so much that, if you don’t do something about it, your life will take place without including the person who’s buried deep inside you.

You know the person I mean. The dreamer. The bright, starry-eyed optimist that was once in charge of your body and soul.

About a month ago, I began working again on a novel that I started … it seemed like … three months earlier. But when I opened the Word file, I was shocked to discover that I hadn’t looked at it in more than a year.

Had you asked me last month, “Are you writing any fiction these days?” I would have replied, “Yes, I’m working on a novel.”

But I would have been wrong. How can you say you are working on something when you haven’t done a thing with it in over 12 months?

What a depressing realization that was. What a shock to my self-image. I wanted so much to think of myself as a fiction writer, yet I wasn’t writing. My dad, who also wanted to write fiction, told me once: “The definition of a writer is someone who writes. Not now and then. But every day.”

I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was six years old. It was my father who first encouraged me. After reading a poem I wrote called “How Do I Know the World Is Real?” (Can you believe I can still remember it? Cripes, I can still recite it!), he told me I had a special talent. And that if I nurtured it, I could be a great writer some day.

If I ever become a good writer, I’ll owe my first debt of gratitude to him.

How about you? What did you want to be … or do … when you were a child? And what kind of dreams have you had since?

Do you still have ambitions you haven’t achieved? Windmills you haven’t yet tilted?

Of course you do.

We all have dreams. And we’re all guilty of putting off those dreams.

When I opened up that Word document last month and saw how long it had been since I’d written anything, I realized that I had been putting off becoming a good writer of fiction for more than 35 years. That’s a dangerously long time to defer a life’s dream. So much can happen – so many obstacles can arise – between the moment you realize you want to do something and the moment you realize the opportunity to do that thing has passed.

You may be thinking, “Hey, I’m not a goof-off! I’m a hard worker. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. How can this Masterson character expect me to have achieved every single one of my dreams?”

My only excuse: I’m just as tough on myself. During the course of a normal work week, I manage a half-dozen sizeable businesses, consult with a half-dozen more, write ETR, write business books, work out, learn languages, and practice new skills. To the outside world, I’m certainly not a goof-off either.

But to me – by my soul’s deepest measuring scope – I’m a failure. Why? Because I’ve put off accomplishing my first and most important personal goal: to become a very good writer of fiction.

So be honest with yourself. Have you achieved all of your most cherished dreams? Do you even remember what they were?

At the beginning of every year, I ask you to identify four long-term goals – one for each of the four major areas of your life: (1) your health, (2) your wealth, (3) the social you, and (4) the personal you. Take a moment to think about those goals right now.

What do you want to accomplish in terms of health and fitness? How rich do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to be in your relationships with others? What is your secret personal ambition

If you are not well on your way to accomplishing those major goals, you’ve got to ask yourself “Why?” When I ask myself about my failure to be a good fiction writer, certain questions spring immediately to mind:

Is it that I am afraid – deep down inside – that I have no talent?

Is it because I’m lacking in self-discipline? Could it be that I don’t really want it? That I’m fooling myself

What are the possible reasons that you’ve been procrastinating?

In “Get Off the Fence” Rhoda and Jeffrey Makoff have the following advice for anyone who has been putting off making a big decision:

1. Start by figuring out exactly what the decision is that you need to make. Sometimes, we aren’t sure exactly what it is.

2. Figure out which aspects of making that decision you are afraid of. “We all gravitate – mentally and physically – toward what feels good and away from unpleasantness, pain, and uncertainty.”

3. Break into smaller parts the factors that you fear will cause unpleasantness or pain. Figure out how you can overcome each of those smaller concerns.

4. Uncertainty is a factor in procrastination. Facing – and admitting to – whatever it is that makes you feel anxious about making your decision can sometimes alleviate the angst. (See Word to the Wise.)

5. Get advice from the people who you can trust to give you good advice. You already know – in your heart – who those people are.

6. Accept the fact that making the decision may cause you some emotional stress. Accept the stress.

7. Imagine yourself failing. Make peace with that possibility. Think: “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

8. Start taking action immediately, even if all you can manage are the smallest steps.

In his book “Action! Nothing Happens Until Something Moves” Robert Ringer says:

“I have always believed that the difference between success and failure – in any area of life – is not nearly as great as most people might suspect. I have also been consistent in my belief that the slight difference between the two is primarily a result of whether or not one practices certain success habits that are based on universal wisdom, or, in simpler terms, common sense.

“As the years passed, however, I have increasingly zeroed in on action as the most important success habit when it comes to determining how an individual’s life plays out.”

After realizing that I was putting off my dream … recognizing my fear of failure, analyzing the “problems” that were keeping me from writing … I settled on a very modest plan – but one that I felt certain I could put into action immediately.

That plan was to write just 500 words of fiction a day. Five hundred words is about two pages. I can write 500 words of non-fiction (articles like this for ETR) in about 40 minutes. I figured if my 500 words of fiction took an hour, I could live with that.

It all has to start with a single action. And I took that action – wrote those 500 words – on the very day I made the decision. Today, a month later, I’m about 80 pages into my novel. I am still a long way from calling myself a writer. But if I continue to take it one day at a time and force myself to action even when I’m not motivated, I will have this thing written by the end of the year.

When it gets done – and it will – you’ll be one of the first to know. Because I’ll be asking you to buy a copy.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]