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What it takes to do hard things—reflections from 13 years in business

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I'm a number-one best-selling author, success and book coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders use the power of writing to uncover their unique stories so they can scale their impact.

Hi, I'm Stacy

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to accomplish hard things—those big goals we set for ourselves that seem just slightly out of reach, or maybe even way beyond our grasp.

This has been on my mind lately because I am in the midst of doing a hard thing. In business, I am transitioning my revenue model: growing courses, refining my live program, and stepping out of the day to day client work. In life, I am parenting through hardships with my children, as so many of us parents do; this is an especially hard season for us, and one I hope we emerge from soon.

In each of these instances, the thing that keeps me going, that keeps me moving forward, is vision. I have a tangible vision for the business and life I want, including the life I want to give my kids.

This is all in acknowledgment that we are in a good place, with so much going right. I have a thriving business with thirteen years of history and happy clients. I have two amazing kids who make life truly matter, who bring meaning to my existence on this planet. I have a loving husband who makes me breakfast every day, shops, cooks, and shuttles the kids to school and their various activities. But in spite of all the goodness, I can admit with vulnerability that we are still in a heavy season—one that won’t last forever but feels like drudgery at times nonetheless.

So in the spirit of anchoring to vision and forward progress, I want to share something that has kept me anchored all these years, an insight I continually remind myself:

Things take the time they take. You set your own timeline—nobody else.

I’ve learned this lesson many times, but one particular story comes to mind when I think of the power of self-determined timelines.

I started graduate school at the University of Cincinnati back in 2011 with full funding, meaning I received tuition, health insurance, and a small stipend. To “earn” this, I worked 15 hours a week as a research assistant at a scientific journal affiliated with my school. I was also building my business at the time, and it was my primary source of income since the stipend was meager.

I planned, like most of my colleagues, to complete my program in two years. But toward the end of my first year, life threw another plan my way. I had an opportunity to potentially be promoted to executive editor of Sam’s Club’s national magazine . . . if I moved to Idaho. Remember, this is 2011, before online learning was a thing. I was torn: do I pass on this potential career-making opportunity or quit my master’s program?

Quitting would mean I’d have to give up my funding, something any funded graduate student would balk at. Getting full funding was a crown jewel achievement for those of us completing master’s degrees. Funding was scarce and highly competitive, and I’d already turned down four other offers to accept this one. It had taken months to even apply to the various colleges in the first place and there was no way I was going to go through the application process again. If I let this go, I worried I might never go back to school. Plus, quitting would not be honoring my goal of earning a graduate degree, something I had known since my teen years was part of my life plan.

Thankfully, my advisor, the late (and wonderful) Dr. Mary Beth Debs—”M. B.,” as us students called her—offered another solution: they would work with me to complete my program from a distance, with a combination of transfer credits and virtual learning. Since I had completed the main course requirements and had mostly practical learning left, including an internship, they were willing to make it work for the first time in school history. Of course, I would have to give up my funding but I could at least complete my degree.

Everything was aligned. I could have my cake and eat it too!

And then I became pregnant.

Becoming a mom, running a business, and paying for school out of pocket—often out-of-state tuition—was rough. Instead of finishing in the two years I had planned, I could only manage (and afford!) one class per term. But I kept pushing forward, taking a class at a time, doing homework at night while my belly grew, and continuing to build my business and complete my program while my daughter grew into a toddler.

By the time I graduated, my daughter was almost two and a half, and I was pregnant with my second child. Our little family of three traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, so I could walk for graduation just two months before my due date with my second child.

As I walked across that stage, I felt proud—yes, about my graduate degree, but also because of my willingness to keep going, and to accept the timeline that was versus the timeline I’d anchored to when I began my studies. And I was proud that, with M. B.’s help, I was able to accomplish a lifelong goal of earning a master’s degree.

Now, seven years later, I continue to navigate new challenges—some that are exciting (like growing my business) and some that are hard (like navigating parenting challenges). And I keep reminding myself: You set the timeline. You determine the pace. As long as you keep going, keep moving forward, who’s to say when you should arrive at the destination? That’s for you to decide.

If you’re in a similarly challenging season, I hope this insight anchors you. I hope it provides a reminder that you are in charge of achieving your dreams and destiny—nobody else. No one gets to decide your timeline. No one gets to determine which detours are acceptable or not. Keep that vision and keep going. If you do, you’ll arrive at your vision when the time is right.

I’m curious: what insights help you traverse tough seasons? Is there a moment that a profound insight was illuminated for you? Share with me in the comments! I love learning from you.

Comments +

  1. Patrushkha says:

    Things that help me (in no particular order):
    writing things down (then writing in greater and greater detail until I could manage to accomplish one of them (sometimes it took awhile).

    looking at a calendar then pencilling in some tasks AND some fun thing–that’s the first to go when I feel overwhelmed.

    When I can’t sleep from worrying or trying to catch up with the list:
    take a very warm bath.
    do a sudoku puzzle (I can’t multi-task that way).
    Make myself get sleep with melatonin gummies (they don’t give me any side effects). My dr. recommended Tylenol PM, which also helps me.
    Ask a friend to call at a certain time to get me motivated/ ask a friend to write me a fan letter (that I can read as often as I need).
    There’s more if you need them:)
    Thinking of you!

  2. Ruth Goldberg says:

    I read this list many, many years ago:
    When moving through challenging times,
    Do a physical exercise
    Do a mental exercise
    Do a spiritual exercise
    Do something for yourself
    Do something for someone else
    Do something you don’t want to do that needs to be done
    Give thanks
    This list has seen me through times of grief, overwhelm, shocks and surprises. I can complete each daily, without spending money. I can even combine them for efficiency.
    For example, If I move all the furniture to vacuum and rearrange the space for better feng shui, I have 1) done something I don’t want to do that needs to be done, 2) a physical exercise and 3) done something for myself.
    Thank you for this opportunity to share!

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