Starting something new can be overwhelming.
Sure, you’re excited and eager to get going. But figuring out where to start can be paralyzing. Worse, after bravely taking steps forward, you become frustrated with others’ failure to understand and bond to your vision, lack of support from your friends and colleagues, or the difficulty of developing and maintaining momentum when you encounter obstacles.
Start by acknowledging that anything new, no matter how seemingly small or enormously ambitious, is hard. Further, any project that requires input or cooperation from others is doubly difficult.
There are specific actions you can take that may improve your results. You’ll still hit snags (sorry!) but you’ll have the tools to deal with setbacks when they happen. Consider these steps to smooth the way for new projects, activities, and habits:
Clear your calendar
The first and most significant step is to clear your calendar or a portion of your schedule to make room for a new experience.
This action is one of the hardest yet most crucial. Finding time doesn’t mean becoming more efficient with your current workload. Sure, efficiency helps. But so does having plenty of hours to devise strategies, plan logistics, take action, reflect on what is working and what isn’t, refine your plans, and repeat.
Clearing your calendar will most likely involve making difficult decisions about your time and priorities. You may need to give up community or church leadership positions, refrain from signing up for even occasional volunteer tasks, or change your work schedule.
If you are ready to move in a new direction, don’t look back or stop and wait until someone competent takes over your old role (unless finding a replacement is a component of a paid position). Offer support during the transitional period, but don’t let the absence of an obvious successor prevent you from setting aside time to tackle something new.
Study and learn
Before you dive into a new project, start a new activity, or adopt a new habit, study the topic and learn the basics.
Get familiar with the lingo and identify major points of interest (or contention) among those deeply involved in your subject. Use this information to converse intelligently with experts, develop a sense of the challenges you may face, and design the structure to hatch your plans.
Books and seminars generally provide a comprehensive overview of a topic. Magazine articles and blog posts are useful but often give you more of a slice of information that may or may not be relevant to your goals. Some resources are textbook oriented, giving you a foundation to understand how things work under ideal circumstances. Others are more down to earth, relating personal stories, challenges, frustrations, and triumphs. Consume a mixture to get a broad understanding.
For example, I read books on congregational development, change management, and leadership development plus poked around strategic planning websites (including paid subscription tools) in the months before I became the strategic planning team leader for my church. This information helped me to develop a structure for the planning process.
Talk to people about your goals and listen to their advice
Locate and tap resources among those in your network, or make new contacts willing to answer questions and provide guidance. Look for people who have accomplished what you are attempting or have been part of a group with similar goals.
Be honest about your fears and concerns, and allow other people to be honest with you. Just because someone is accomplished today doesn’t mean that person hasn’t struggled in the past.
For example, a friend who is a fast and confident cyclist told me that when she first started riding, she accompanied a couple of women who trained at a lightning pace. Not to be outdone, she kept joining them despite the fact that they simply took off and didn’t look back, barely giving her presence and needs a second thought. In addition, I learned that she had a fear of a wheel disengaging when she descended hills at 30-40 mph. Our conversations taught me that 1) training with people faster than you is a great way to get faster and 2) checking your bike before you ride (especially after replacing a tire or tube and then re-installing a wheel) is a good idea, even if the idea is based on obsessive-compulsive thoughts.
Look to those with real-world experience for tips. Don’t expect intense coaching but ask about their solutions to specific problems you anticipate or have already encountered. The more you can pinpoint your needs, the easier and more precisely they can give you tips on what has worked for them.
That said, I have also found that some people lack compassion or understanding of a newbie’s struggles. If someone can’t help, move on and work with the folks who can give you insights about potential paths to success.
Start noticing opportunities
Your preparation will be useful in recognizing opportunities to move forward. They’ll appear when you least expect them, from sources you can’t anticipate, and in ways you could have never predicted.
For example, in my decluttering project, my husband identified one of our older bicycles as an item to give away. Though I know I can’t always find a perfect home for every thing, tossing such a valuable item to the typical places didn’t seem right or practical given our timeline. Then, I got a phone call from my kid’s high school (specifically the Key Club president) asking for donations of bicycles for people in developing countries. The opportunity to give the bike to someone who can use it to go to work, attend school, visit a market, or even have fun is a godsend; plus, we can get a tax write-off for the donation.
Not only will great opportunities surface, blog posts, articles, movies, conversations, etc. will begin to give you insights and understanding needed to launch and complete your project.
Don’t be alarmed if everything doesn’t go perfectly. Because it won’t. You’ll experience outside opposition, stubbornness, and apathy from people who you thought would be the most helpful. And problems will still occur in situations as you feared.
But by responding to a call, tackling new projects, trying new things, and adopting new habits, you’ll have the opportunity to experience God’s grace. You’ll start to see how He works not in some vague way but through real insights to complex problems, real people who can help you in some way, and real results.