I’ve always struggled with transitions. As much importance as I place on our need to be adaptable and embrace periods of catharses, I sometimes stumble my way through change until I establish (or re-establish) my rhythm and routine.
Coming off a two-week Be Audacious sabbatical, I found myself floundering. As a motivator and coach, this triggers the fear demons (what am I doing? Have I lost my flow?) many of us who work in the creative arena face from time to time. How can this be? It’s the first week of the New Year and I should be on fire. At least that’s what the online motivational community is telling and selling.
Our culture puts major emphasis on the importance of transitions. Without question, some transitions mark dramatic milestones in our lives. The birth of a child, the death of a loved one, college graduation or moving to a new city. But for those of us in the motivational community, New Years has become what Valentine’s Day is to the greeting card industry. My inbox has been FLOODED for two weeks with emails stressing the importance of goal setting; a fresh start. It’s the beginning of a new year and by god, this is your opportunity to seize your dreams and create a better future. It’s time to set goals and make shit happen. Sound good? But the reality isn’t quite so simple. For many, especially free-lancers, artists and creatives, January is the Monday of months. Can we crush it on Mondays? Of course we can. But sometimes it takes time to hit our stride, and be it the beginning of a week or a brand new year, it’s important for us to recognize this.
This past December, two months after the publication of Be Audacious: Inspiring Your Legacy and Living a Life That Matters, I recognized I was hitting a wall. I’d released two books in a year and a half. So with the encouragement of family and friends, I stepped back to enjoy the holidays with my nearest and dearest while re-envisioning my path for 2016.
And after taking the last couple weeks of December off all Be Audacious-related endeavors, my writing rhythm has been erratic at best. But that’s the nature of transitions. As a self-appointed guru of the slash model, wearing many different hats professionally over the course of the last decade, much of my work has been seasonal. Other than a six-year window running the nonprofit I founded (and even this had elements of seasonality), all my work has been seasonal in nature.
That keeps things fresh, which is often invigorating, but the transitions (and accompanying uncertainty) can sometimes prove difficult. Like most driven, high-energy people striving to pursue meaningful work, I’m most content when I’m in a groove of productivity. When I get into a creative funk, I feel adrift. And while drifting doesn’t feel as good as purpose, I’m starting to realize that sometimes it’s best not to fight the current and instead, allow ourselves the reflective space to uncover the next move.
I’m thinking that perhaps we all need to pay more attention to the natural rhythms that ebb and flow in the environment around us. Traditionally, indigenous people throughout much of the northern latitudes recognized winter as a time of reflection, dormancy and survival. As a former bear education ranger in Yellowstone National Park and passionate advocate of our Urus brethren, countless times I’ve shared the physiology of bears’ adaption to the winter doldrums: hibernating. It’s led me to question why we humans choose a date early in winter (New Year’s Day) to set all of our goals for the next year. No less a date squarely on the heels of a routine- and practice-disrupting holiday season. It strikes me as counter intuitive.
If you’ve already set your goals and made your resolutions, I commend you for ushering in the New Year with growth and change on the brain. And I’m cheering you on from the wilds of Yellowstone Country to make 2016 a meaningful year, personally and professionally. But if you haven’t yet sat down and written your goals for twenty16, I hope that you don’t stress or feel like a slacker. New Year’s is a convenient time to make promises to yourself, commit to a bigger, better and brighter future, but only—and here’s the catch—IF it’s the right time to make these important promises to yourself. If it’s not, then remember: it’s just a date on the calendar. One of three hundred and sixty five days (three sixty six, if, as I’m told 2016 will be, it’s a leap year).
There will be plenty of time (even an extra day) to be reflective, focus on personal growth, work on your mindset and foster meaningful endeavors. New Year’s simply happens to be a logical, commercially convenient time to do so. But shit can—and often does—interrupt logic and convenience.
Two years ago at this time, I spent the seven days in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, with a leg and lungs full of blood clot. I was in ODAAT (one day at a time) mode then and for several months afterwards, as I regained my health. It wasn’t until the middle of April that I started goal setting for the year—a full four months behind schedule.
But 2014 didn’t turn out to be a slouch of a year. After the release of my first book, I toured the west from May-October, my daughter joining me for 80% of the ride. Grizzlies On My Mind hit #1 on a Montana best-seller list. We received tremendous reviews and I inked a contract for my second book. I wrote a ninety thousand work book in six months (something I promised myself, when laying in the hospital bed, to do if I made it through my Christmas saga). I crushed it as a single dad, and for the second straight year sent my daughter to school each day with a belly full of eggs. I met and fell in love with a most radiant woman. And we put a bow on 2014 by getting married in Yellowstone National Park on winter solstice.
Not a bad year, considering my only goal-setting the first weeks of the year were more aligned with breathing through piercing pain, enduring procedures and endless doc appointments—making it through each day.
I share my success in 2014 so you don’t fall victim to the New Year’s resolution hype, believing your year isn’t going to materialize as you hope simply because you haven’t yet penned your vision for the next twelve months.
If you’re off to a flying start in 2016, this blog and my 2014 story may not mean much. But even those who are sprinting out of the gates are likely to pull a hamstring, encounter rainy days and get in a rut. And if you, like me and an untold number of people, find yourself stumbling out of the gates of the New Year, don’t fret. Do yourself a favor. Put the blinders on, tread water, and keep plugging away, practicing your craft, game-planning and re-envisioning what you want out of this year, and in the years to come.
If the calendar and stars symbolizing a new year don’t align as the optimum time for goal setting, don’t fall into the trap of feeling less than your New Year’s resolution-addicted counterparts. Let the brain train run, do the things that nurture your creativity, foster consistent practice and remain intentional in your day-to-day interactions.
Let the seasons be your guide. Let the migration of our winged friends from the south, or re-emergence of bears on the landscape, inform when it’s time to hustle and flow. And whether it’s a day, week, month or more from now—perhaps before spring announces its arrival, before the meadowlark sings its melodic song—sit down and lay down the foundation for a 2016 worthy of your vision.
Head up, eyes forward, feet moving. That’s the mantra my friends.
With nothin’ but love…
Michael W. Leach