How I Changed My Habits & Finally Wrote My First Book
And how you can, too—or whatever it is your heart desires.
Desperation sometimes drives innovation. These words were spoken by current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi but they express an idea that’s been around for a long, long time. Stated differently:
Limitations breed creativity.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
That last one is credited to Hippocrates, and all of them illustrate the powerful notion that given enough pressure—enough hardship—a person will put forth the effort to change their circumstances for the better. For every one of us, it’s a matter of figuring out how much negativity and discontent we can deal with before we’re inclined to do something about it. Hitting rock bottom looks different for me than it does for you, and I’m convinced that how we interpret and navigate our negative experiences are the very things that determine whether we forge ahead to victory or succumb to defeat in the end.
Different people have different thresholds, and for me, that threshold was hit about a year ago—in January 2019. When I reflect on the years that built up to that point, there was no single moment in time that I can point to and say, “Aha! That’s when everything changed for me.” There was no one event that triggered within me some magical motivation and grit to finally enact long-lasting and meaningful change in my life. Instead, I became the product of the right combination of things happening to me at exactly the right time. It was the convergence of my own ability and readiness with Opportunity when it came knocking. And it knocked quietly. I had to really listen to hear it. I like to think of this chain of events as the compound interest of my personal experiences carried over to the here and now.
For me, struggling to be Mom to my newly turned two-year-old boy while working a job that had me spread way too thin (and with little to no personal and financial reward), was the final straw that made me raise my fist and cry out, “Enough!” And even before then, there were the 3.5 years at Uber, which-let me tell you—were an extremely turbulent 3.5 years that ultimately bridged the bachelorettehood of my twenties to the unplanned motherhood of my thirties. Still, there were other professional experiences dating further back. There were the two years I did at Walmart and the almost four years I put in at State Street Bank. All of these experiences, collectively, helped me figure out what my misery threshold was and prompted me to finally tap into the innate motivation that had been sleeping deep within, dormant, so I could finally do something about everything I was unhappy about in my life.
Every one of those experiences led me to finally bet on myself. You see, through all of those different obstacles in my life, I had been stuck on this idea of being a writer. For over 15 years I dreamt about it—a considerable portion of my life. And I didn’t just want to be a blogger or a poet. I wanted to be a long-form creator.
If I’m being realistic, I know there are a handful of factors that enabled me to finally write a complete draft of my first fiction novel. Hint: it was never only about me.
Want to know what you need if you hope to be successful? And I don’t care if you want to start your own business, write a book, or get into shape. Regardless of your end-goal, there are a few simple lessons that will help get you where you need to be, if you’ll take note. But remember: simple does not mean easy. Many times, it signals the opposite. Here are the four essential truths that helped me write my very first novel manuscript (that can also help you achieve whatever it is you desire).
Truth #1: everyone has 24 hours in a day—it’s up to you to own your schedule.
It’s the most valuable resource of all: time. We are born, and then somewhere in the background noise of our lives, a timer starts ticking down to our last day on earth. For the most part (childhood circumstances varying), we are in full control of how we divvy up our finite amount of time, so we must make the most of it.
Unfortunately, for most of us, we fail to take ownership of that. I know I didn’t. I had all this time before I became a mother, and I didn’t take advantage of any of it. As a single, independent, twenty-something bachelorette with all the time in the world, somehow, I didn’t have a moment to spare for what I knew I wanted to be—an author. So, before I knew what was happening, I blinked and woke up at 33 years old with a job that had me working constantly, and a role as a mother, and I was drowning and trying to claw my way back to the surface in an unforgiving sea, desperate to breathe again. Desperate to keep hold of my sanity and my sense of self.
The good thing is that at least I caught myself before it was too late. I realized all the missed opportunities. And as they say, “Better late than never.” These days, I own my schedule, and so can you.
Truth #2: determine how much money you need to get by, then treat it as a means to an end.
So many of us go through life pursuing money when the thing we should be pursuing is what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in the world. I was guilty of this, as well. I spent most of my professional life chasing an ephemeral number that would define my success when all it really brought was depression and stress and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and losing my way. I blame it on money being a major pain point when I was a kid, but whatever the reason, it wasn’t good.
I had to rethink my relationship with money so that it was no longer the end-all-be-all. Instead, I needed to think about money as a necessary stepping stone to achieving what I really wanted. Instead of asking myself, “How much money can I make?” I needed to ask, “What’s the least amount of money I need to cover the necessities while also funding my plans to accomplish XYZ?”
For me, this was an easy mind-shift to make. My OCD (my need for specific order and organization and blank slates—and to be surrounded by less), plus my minimalistic lifestyle were the perfect complements to living off a leaner budget. And when you have less financial obligations, well, you’re rewarded with more time and energy to devote to the more important things.
What are you willing to trade?
Truth #3: you must have support from the people in your life.
Every successful person got help along the way. The end. Just like all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into producing a movie or Netflix series, all levels of support are in the works when it comes to “individual” success. Parents, friends, coworkers, teachers, random strangers, anyone we come into contact with who leaves an imprint on our lives—each of these people plays a role in our success, and we’d be wise to acknowledge it. That’s why surrounding yourself with those who bring out your best is so important. You need people who will help or cheer you on, or at the very least, respect your time and give you the space to do your thing.
Take a good look at the people in your life—your family and your closest relationships—and ask yourself if they’re conductors to your dreams. If not, it might be time to reevaluate the relationships in your life. You have to define in what capacity certain people remain in your life—if they even belong there.
Truth #4: your motivations inform new habits, which in turn, create new routines.
Let’s get one thing clear: motivation is the secret to accomplishing anything. It’s what will ensure you satisfy truths 1–3, and it’s how you’ll form the routines to keep you on track toward your goals. If you don’t have a deep-rooted motivation to put in the work, I don’t care how many goals you write down or how many good intentions you shout at the world, you will not follow through on what needs to be done. You have to get motivated, and then you have to stay there.
So, once you’ve laid the groundwork for truths 1–3 (your priorities are straight, you’ve taken control of your time, you’ve surrounded yourself with a healthy support system), it’s time to sit down and do the work. To fail and try again. Motivation is paramount. It’s what will keep you moving forward, failure after failure, until you finally succeed.
Stay motivated, keep trying—even when it seems impossible (fortitude is part of creating good, strong habits), and over time, your habits will turn into new routines. It’s the people who put in the work, day after day, and without compromise, who become the masters of their destinies.
My question for you is: how badly do you want it?