Selecting Projects Wisely

August 29th, 2014 by Steve Pavlina

Sometimes people dive into new projects because they really want to make some money or to “get something going.” They put pressure on themselves to start a project mainly for the sake of trying to create some forward momentum.

While forward momentum can be a beautiful thing, I would actually recommend against this approach. Usually when I see people try to motivate themselves like this, their projects fizzle out within a matter of months, if they can complete them at all. A couple years later, they have little or nothing to show for their efforts. The “I’ve gotta get something going” approach is the dabbler’s strategy. It’s too amateurish to work well most of the time.

The main issue is that these types of projects are selected largely at random. They don’t fit into any greater strategy. They’re just ideas, but they aren’t really inspired ideas, so even a small amount of resistance can kill them off.

I’d suggest thinking instead about a long-term journey you feel you could commit to for at least 5 years — some combo of lifestyle + income streams + fulfilling work that makes for a nice package deal. Then think about projects that align with your vision. This way you’ll be more likely to follow through on those projects; you’ll have more important reasons for seeing those projects succeed.

In 2004 I started on the path of building a personal development business, and I began with two different skill paths: blogging and speaking. On the lifestyle side, I wanted to explore personal growth very deeply, to conduct my own growth experiments, and to share what I learned along the way. It was the overall lifestyle that appealed to me most of all. I loved the idea of centering my life around personal growth for many years. That was an inspired idea that I could really commit to.

In order to make that a reality, I needed a flexible business model. That’s why I picked blogging and speaking for my work outlets — they’re both flexible and travel-friendly, and I enjoy doing them. But most of all, these outlets can support my desired lifestyle.

I knew that both of these skill paths could also be used to create a variety of income streams. I could write books, create info products, do paid speaking, do public workshops, etc. I like variety, so this seemed like a good overall strategy. If I stuck with these skill paths, I knew I’d eventually be able to monetize my work one way or another and make it financially sustainable. That was just a matter of time. But the real motivation was to support the lifestyle of being able to work on personal growth and to share what I learned with people.

As I went down this path, I tried to pick projects that aligned with it. Which projects would help me achieve my big picture lifestyle desires?

Some of those projects fizzled. Some succeeded. I tried a lot of different things to figure out what I liked doing most, what generated reliable income, and what provided value to people. Those projects were chosen because they fit the bigger framework — my long-term commitment to living a certain lifestyle centered around personal growth explorations and learning. You could say that these projects were stepping stones, but I didn’t always know which stones to step on and in which order. So in retrospect some of them may look like stepping stones, but when I originally picked those projects, it was usually because they looked like reasonable ideas that could support my lifestyle journey. I didn’t always know in advance how I might build upon them.

Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs that fits nicely here:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

I think you can also trust in some basic intelligence. If you take the time to get clear about the core of your desired lifestyle path, and then you choose skill paths that can support it, I think you’ll have an easier time picking good projects and not seeing them fizzle so often. Otherwise there’s a high risk of choosing projects that are very disjointed and incongruent.

If your main motivation for selecting a project is money, but you aren’t yet clear about what type of lifestyle that money is supposed to support, then your motivation will likely be unstable and inconsistent. Minor distractions will knock you off course.

You may also be trying to force your project forward, such as by pressuring yourself for financial reasons, but that approach probably won’t create the most inspired work. So even if you complete your project, you may have a hard time selling it. Much to your chagrin, you may discover that no one feels inspired to buy your project that was forced across the finish line just so you could make money from it.

When I started studying public speaking in 2004, it was part of my big picture lifestyle vision. I knew that if I got good at speaking, I could use it to share personal growth ideas, to meet wonderful people, and to generate income. So for the first few years, I picked speaking projects to enhance my skills, to experiment with different styles, to discover my most authentic ways of speaking, and to get really comfortable in front of an audience. I didn’t get into speaking just to make money or to “get something going.” I chose it because it was a good skill set for my desired lifestyle path. This gave me a lot more motivation to stick with it.

Many of the speaking projects I picked in those early years, such as doing a one-day workshop on blogging or speaking at Hay House’s I Can Do It! conference a couple times, were chosen because they aligned with my big picture lifestyle vision. I turned down a lot of other potential projects along the way because they didn’t align with my lifestyle path. I could have gotten into corporate speaking, but I didn’t go that route because speaking at corporate events doesn’t mesh with my lifestyle well enough. Public workshops, however, mesh beautifully with my lifestyle since I get to connect with people who are very enthusiastic about personal growth, and designing a workshop is a great way to delve deeply into a subject that interests me.

I think you’ll find that if you get clear about your desired lifestyle path — clear enough that you can make at least a 5-year commitment to it — you’ll be smarter about picking good short-term projects that align with your lifestyle and your desired skill paths. And you’ll be able to escape the dabbler’s fate of doing random projects that always fizzle.

I understand that it can be hard to take a step back and think about your big picture lifestyle vision, especially when you’re feeling a lot of pressure to get something going. But the get-something-going approach usually just punts the problem a few months forward. When you complete your project (or give up on it because it fizzled), you’ll be facing that same kind of pressure yet again. You’ll still be telling yourself that you need to get something going.

Looking back, haven’t you already been doing this to yourself for some number of years already? If so, then isn’t it fairly predictable that you’ll still be doing this to yourself a year from now… five years from now… ten years from now? Of course you will, unless you choose a different path now.

The people I know who are happiest in life almost invariably put lifestyle first. Yes, they do work they love too, but a big reason for their chosen work is that it supports their desired lifestyle journey.

I really enjoy writing and speaking, but I especially love that these skills support my lifestyle. It’s more accurate to say that I love writing and speaking about personal growth. If these skills didn’t support my lifestyle, my interest in writing and speaking would fizzle — I just don’t care to write and speak about other topics as much. The same goes for other creative projects. It’s the “about personal growth” aspect of those projects that makes them fulfilling and that motivates me to eventually complete them.

What’s your version of the “about personal growth” qualifier that suits your desired lifestyle journey? I think that once you identify it, you’ll find it easier to know which projects fit your qualifier (and your lifestyle) and which aren’t worth your time.


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