Hold steadfast and make change

December is a time spent reflecting back on the year that’s passed, and preparing for the New Year ahead.

It’s a time for making resolutions. Next year I will spend more time with my family / grow my business / lose weight / work more / work less / work out more / be more mindful / quit smoking / get a new job / find new love / write the next great novel.

The ball drop on the 31st seems magical. January 1st is not only the dawn of a new day, but of a whole new year of hope and possibility.

But what if

But maybe, just maybe, we’re not looking for change. Maybe our reflections have led us to want more of the same: to reinforce what we’ve already been doing and to stay on that path.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

In 2014, I made a three-year plan to create change in my professional life. I’ve written about this before, so if you know the story you can skip down a few paragraphs.

I knew I wanted to do something new, I just didn’t know what. So those three years would give me the time I thought necessary to explore my options, and start winding down the freelancing business I had built up over a decade and a half.

But then, about halfway in, I started having a really rough time. I was working a lot – too much. I was increasingly exhausted and losing focus and motivation. My health started to falter.

I was burning out.

So I made another decision, another decision for big change, right in the middle of my three-year plan. I was going to take a full year off work. Because if I didn’t, I was never going to achieve my ultimate goal: the professional pivot I’d been longing for.

But it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

It wasn’t part of the original plan. It felt like failure. Fear and doubt built up, pummeling me with negative thoughts and questions and excuses. I’m too young to stop working. I’m too old for a sabbatical year. I might miss out on some great opportunities. I can’t afford not to work. What if it’s a bad choice? Is this a sign of weakness? What if I’m doing it wrong?

Now here’s the part you don’t know

My year off is right around the corner. I’ll be finishing up my final client project in the next few days, and then I’ll be free. On January 1, 2016, the dawn of the New Year, I officially start my sabbatical year.

And I’m freaking out.

Fear and doubt have built up again, pummeling me with negative thoughts and questions and excuses. What should I do with this time? How will I make the best of it? I’m already filling my time up fast. I wanted to slow down, so why am I giving myself so many new things to do? What if I get to the end of the year and I still haven’t found what I was looking for? What if I do it wrong?

The truth about change

The truth about change is that it’s a constant test of commitment. Making change means choosing it again and again. Every. Single. Day.

Making a resolution means making a firm decision to do or not to do something. It means being resolved. We have to be resolved to make real change happen, and to be prepared to confront all of the obstacles—fear, doubt, external influences—that will inevitably stand in our way.

Change is the ability to hold steadfast, which might sound like the opposite of change, when in fact it’s the very essence.

Thirteen years ago, I quit smoking. Since, I’ve never once said that I’m a non-smoker. No. I’m a smoker who wakes up every day and decides not to smoke (confession: I sometimes dream about smoking).

There were days when my resolve waivered. There were days when I was stressed or someone was smoking next to me or I was sipping a cup of coffee and I thought: screw this I’m gonna smoke. It was so painful, too much to ask of myself at times. And what did I know anyway? Plenty of smokers live long, healthy lives, right? <laughter>

I’ve worked with hundreds of small business owners over the years. The most successful among them all had one thing in common: steadfastness. They had the will and focus to make plans for their businesses and stay the course.

The ones I saw suffer the most were those who were constantly making plans, but then second-guessing themselves. A competitor would launch a new product or service and they would upend their plans in reaction. Or a new technology would appear that they felt they had to chase. More often than not their course-corrections made them stray from their ultimate paths, and didn’t give them the opportunity to discover what rewards those plans might have reaped.

Change for the sake of change, change out of fear, doubt and outside influences, makes us end up running in circles, not moving forward.

So how do you know?

I think we know what we want. If we listen to ourselves, really listen—not to the fear and doubt and external forces—our path is clear. But it’s still a path, one that must be traveled: a journey full of surprises, things to be discovered and challenges to be met.

I can’t possibly know the result of my year off. I don’t know where it will take me or what I will do on January 1 of the following year. All I can do is be resolved to stay on this path. Every. Single. Day.

And when the right opportunity presents itself, I will be ready to make that change too.

The only way you can really do it wrong is to forget what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. Fear and doubt are normal. They keep us alert. They keep us in check. So how do you know? How do you know when change is moving you forward or making you chase your tail?

Maybe we don’t always know. Maybe we don’t always listen to the sound advice of those we trust who try and show us the error of our ways. But again, I think deep down we do know, if not the answers, then at least the goal. And that’s what’s important to not lose sight of.

Make a plan and stick to it

I imagine my father summing all of this up in just a few words, “Make a plan and stick to it, kid.”

In steadfastness, there is change. We adapt to the ever-evolving landscape around us, in order to hold our ground. We must constantly navigate obstacles that come from outside and from within, to reach our goals and live the lives we dream up for ourselves.

In change, there is steadfastness. Creating change requires resolve, discipline and a deep belief in our actions. It means constantly navigating obstacles that come from outside and within, that try and prevent us from making that change.

January 1 is just the day after December 31. It’s just another day in a series of days. It’s not a magical day. It doesn’t hold special powers to make us more resolved nor to facilitate change.

We have this power to decide, to change, to hold steadfast, every day of the year. Every. Single. Day.

But it is useful to have checkpoints. A year, six months, three years, a lifetime. Using time as a guideline helps us measure our progress. It can help us define how long we want or need to maintain our resolve in order to ask ourselves that pointed question: Hold steadfast or make change?