Life is not like a sitcom, and yet it's so easy to get sucked into those worlds.
The other week I was watching a Halloween episode of Modern Family. Phil was in charge of decorating and he decided to go with the theme of AwesomeLand. It was not scary and when his wife, Claire, realized there was a neighborhood competition for the scariest house, she thwarted his plans.
Within a matter of a few hours, Claire created an elaborate haunted asylum on their front lawn. The decorations included a gurney, a straight jacket, multiple cages, a giant impaled stuffed bunny, costumes for the whole family, and a bedpan full of candy.
It was an impressive setup followed up with comic banter.
I grew up watching sitcoms like Modern Family. And in between my laughter, I realized how shows like it created within me unrealistic expectations for how long things actually take.
In the real world, people don't throw together and set up amazing Halloween decorations and costumes in the blink of an eye.
I spent two months working on my and my daughter's Halloween costumes last year. We went to multiple stores to get all the supplies over the course of many different days. We mocked up plans, experimented with prototypes, and worked on bits and pieces of them a few hours at a time. Our costumes were awesome because I had a plan that incorporated plenty of time to make them so (full disclosure, my daughter had the vision)!
Establishing realistic expectations for our efforts is an essential skill for highly productive leaders. But when the real-time it takes to turn bold visions into reality are not modeled for us (which they definitely aren't in the world of social media and sitcoms) we can easily set ourselves up for disappointment.
It took me ten years to accomplish what I thought I could achieve with my business in three years. That's over three times longer than I had hoped (and promised my husband).
At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. That's where so many of us go, into a story of being broken. But the truth was, I didn't know what I didn't know. While I had valuable skills, there were many facets of starting, growing, and running a consulting business I was unconsciously incompetent in when I began.
Over my ten years in business, I've watched many peers close up shop because the reality of their entrepreneurial ventures did not meet their expectations. The only reason I could keep my doors open was because I had the privilege of being debt-free (except for an affordable mortgage payment, which was another privilege). If I'd had student loans and car payments to make I too would have needed to take a job with a higher salary.
There are two ways to reality-check our expectations. One is by seeking the advice of someone more seasoned than us. Seeking mentorship or coaching from professionals who have been there and done that is a wonderful hack. But even in those instances, the nuances of their experiences might be markedly different than our own. This is especially true for those of us who are misfits.
The second way is trial and error. Envisioning your future, crafting plans to make it happen, doing the work, evaluating your progress, applying lessons learned and course correcting.
Or as Nike says, "Just do it!"
Even with guidance from those more experienced than us, innovators need to embrace this second way. And doing so requires a growth mindset. One way I've empowered myself to live and learn from my botched attempts at turning big ideas into reality is by approaching my plans as experiments.
This has been especially helpful in those instances where I set goals I did not achieve. When I look at my plans as experiments it affords me the flexibility to shift tactics and persevere. Whereas when I viewed my goals as unshakable decrees I fell into despair because not achieving them made me a failure.
Part of embracing this second approach of trial and error is a matter of consistent practice. Having a planning process, tools, and techniques I consistently use enables me to approach every day as an experiment. The smaller my experiments are the sooner I can apply insights and lessons learned to course correct.
Additionally, investing adequate time in planning enables me to break down the tasks required into bite-sized pieces. When I can be more specific about the tasks I'm doing, I am more likely to complete the priorities on my to-do list every day.
A to-do like, "post a blog" requires many more steps than initially meets the eye. First I have to develop some concepts, then I do the - mostly fun for me - task of writing. I rarely finish a blog post in one sitting and have learned there are many steps to writing including: starting, drafting, editing and formatting. Even formatting has many different tasks associated with it like finding a picture, adding tags, adding links, choosing what to bold typeface, etc.
The more mindful and aware I am of the different steps involved in seemingly simple tasks (and big projects) the more realistic my expectations are for how long they will take to complete.
And when I am embarking on a new to me project, I have to remind myself to put in buffer time - estimating that it will take 2-3 times longer than I might initially think is a good rule of thumb. Otherwise, I will encounter additional resistance and tension when my reality doesn't match my expectations. In other words, I have to deal with feelings of disappointment and discouragement, both of which have the potential to drain my energy levels further.
Facing the reality of how much time, energy, and effort it takes to turn big ideas into reality can be discouraging at first. But it's important to know, you're not alone. No one is an overnight success. And while our society has perpetuated the myth of instant gratification, the cliche "good things take time" has an air of truth.
The other truth is, good things take good planning. Ill invested time will not garner the outcomes you desire. Or as my mentor, Jason Womack says, "Perfect practice makes perfect."
This is why learning how to plan by linking big-picture aspirations to day-to-day priorities is such an essential skill for productive leaders. Not only is it a must for turning big ideas into reality, but it also alleviates feelings of stress and overwhelm. Meaning, I go to bed most nights knowing I got the most important things done and as a result sleep soundly!
In another episode of Modern Family Claire and her brother-in-law Cam turned an unkept suburban field into a perfectly manicured baseball diamond in a week. In the real world, such efforts would have taken a lot more time, effort, resources, and of course, a well-documented plan.
Would you like to feel confident in your plans to turn big ideas into reality this year? Check out the 2022 Annual Planning Workshop and give yourself the gift of up-leveling skills critical to your success and happiness while walking away with a plan that'll enable you to make 2022 a breakthrough year.