The Power of the Sh*tty First Draft

One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.” -Paul Coehlo


For many years, I didn’t move forward on what I truly desired; there were many factors holding me back.  Now, I see my most significant barrier was expecting absolute clarity and preparedness before moving forward. In other words, I was waiting to be perfectly ready and for a direction to be so unambiguous that there would be no doubt as to whether or not it was the right path for me.

That was a long time ago and you won’t be surprised to hear that I thought and worried a lot about my dreams and goals, but didn’t make much progress. Everything changed when I started to apply the concept of the sh*tty first draft. Anne Lamott, NYT best-seller author, describes the concept in her book on writing, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

Of course, this sense of doing it just right applies to more than just writing. It is relevant to starting a business or choosing a new career path or starting a blog or showing your photography or going back to school or…

Rather than waiting to be ready to start or 100 percent positive that I was choosing the right goal or creative project (read having the experience and expertise of someone who had already done it well), I started to produce sh*tty first (and second and third) drafts, by taking imperfect action.

And although mistakes are a part of the process, the sh*tty first draft is how I became a VP and Leadership Board member at a start-up, started my own technology consulting company, co-founded my first girl empowerment company, wrote my first book, traveled to India with Habitat Humanity, backpacked through Europe, and how my admittedly non-athletic self even ran my first 5k and sprint triathlon.

All, because I was ready to take imperfect action, sometimes in a very public way. I was (and still am) willing to be a novice, even when I feel embarrassed because what I am producing doesn’t match my high standards or creative expectations.

That’s how I made real progress and you can too! So, don’t wait, okay? I am down with reflecting, preparing and planning as many of you know, but action is the only way you will make progress and gain clarity.

Take 5

For more inspiration, check out this video by Ira Glass on taste and the gap. Then start working on your sh*tty first draft today.

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Why You Should Do It Badly


“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” C.K. Chesterton

Recently, a psychologist who I deeply respect sent me an email regarding my book for teens, Take 5 for Your Dreams. Here’s an excerpt:

“I was nearly in tears reading your beautiful book…Somehow you were able to take such huge concepts and bring them into focus for moms and teens in a way that was just beautiful – I love the graphics too!”

OMGosh, are you kidding me?! I respect her work with women and teens and was humbled by how clearly she captured the intent and essence of the book. She also passed the book onto a few friends who run mother-daughter book clubs. Wow. Really? That’s quite an endorsement.

But, in addition to taking in all of her juicy, feel-good encouragements, I felt a little embarrassed that she read my book…and had to resist the urge to enumerate the major flaws and inadequacies of the book in my reply. Not out of insecurity, but because objectively Take 5 could be a whole lot better and a part of me wanted her to know that I knew that.

But I did talk myself out it…that would not serve a useful purpose. As imperfect as it is, Take 5 has also impacted thousands in a positive way. Besides, despite its flaws, I did it – I published a book about a topic that matters deeply to me, all while raising two kids and running a profitable consultancy business. The process was pretty darn messy, but also incredibly rewarding. 

The moral of the story is do something that is so important to you that it is worth doing badly. Please don’t wait until you’re ready. Don’t let perfect get in the way of making your difference in the world and living a happier life. Don’t wait for the perfect timing because we all know when that will be. Most importantly, whatever you do, don’t wait for permission to do that thing you want to do.

Other than newborns and nature, I have never seen any flawless work released into the world. Start today. Do something that it is so important to you that it is worth doing badly.

Love, Paula

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How to Feel Good About Yourself


In just the last few days, I have read and heard countless ways that I can feel good about myself…from consumerism…upping my physical appearance (because we all know that mascara is really how us girls feel more confident) to positive habits like eating clean (it’s not about losing the weight anymore…wink, wink.), decluttering my house, accepting myself just as I am, having goals (wait?! did I read my own stuff), etc. etc.

And at one level, I am bought into all of it (minus the mascara)!

For example, I am working on several new projects and my desk started to look like it was hit by a tsunami so I organized and decluttered it, which has cleared my head (and even enabled me to take this minimalist desk selfie)…unnamed-9

I feel good about starting to run again and my new Saucony (winner of the Runner’s Choice award at least according to the sign at the store, by the way) sneakers.

Of course, when it comes to exercise this isn’t unique to me; The research is conclusive that when you exercise regularly, you change your brain chemistry and so actually do feel better. 


But still, all these ideas for feeling good strike me as very temporary; When I look back at my life (or even my year) if I spent most of my time focusing on looking good and keeping my house clean, I’d actually feel pretty devastated about myself. 

This led me to thinking about actions and pursuits that even years later, make me feel good about myself in a deep positive way — an organized desk or finally coiffed hair was not on my list…I suppose those sprint triathlons I finished were pretty cool, but even those were not on the list.

Consistently, what was were ways I stood up for what was right, took action that reflected what I believe in and made a difference in someone else’s life.

So how can I feel good about myself? By knowing my deepest values and striving to live by them everyday.  Making decisions and taking action from my brave core – that part of me that knows what is right at the deepest level and follows that action.  Habits like taking a run or decluttering are awesome only if they lead me to loving more and taking action from a place of deep integrity as a way of life.





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7 Reasons Your Start-Up Isn’t Working (and How to Fix it)

Photo by: Marco Verch, CreativeCommons.

Photo by: Marco Verch, CreativeCommons.

Many of the women in the Reclaim Your Dreams community start entrepreneurial ventures. Starting a business can be hard (even when it is your dream), but for many of us the freedom, meaning, and financial upside make it worth the risk and challenges.

As I look to 2017 and my personal and professional goals, I have been considering what mistakes companies that I have worked with make (never me, my execution is flawless) as they move toward traction-point. Not always, but my experience is major issues pretty consistently comes down to not addressing the following fundamentals. (Interesting that these same principles apply to other goals too.)

  1. Unclear vision. Know where you are going. Being firmly committed to providing a product or service that provides benefit to a particular customer is always the starting point. Write down the answer to these three questions and you will have the start of your vision. What’s your product or service? Who is your target customer? Why is it important (beneficial, life-changing, impactful, etc.)?
  2. Bad idea. Evaluate your idea and ensure that it is providing significant value to your target audience. Every day I drive through a small town center. Among the flourishing storefronts, I have seen many business failures. For the most part, it’s been painfully obvious from the moment that they opened their doors (even to my kids – who would do there?!) that the owner did not have a viable business model. Business success is not guaranteed, of course, but you can reduce your risk of failure. Start by completing some baseline market research. Also drill down on a revenue and expense model to ensure that you will be able to make a profit.
  3. No short-term goal. Research shows people achieve goals when they are no more than eighteen months away. Beyond that, know what action you are going to take today. I love big visions, but every business needs short-term goals as well. What are the goals of your business in the next six months to one year? I recommend three goals: a revenue, give-back, and organizational.
  4. Doing too much. Focus is non-negotiable, especially if you are bootstrapping your business. It may feel counter-intuitive, but the more you hone your focus the larger your market opportunity. Commit to one product or service to a very targeted customer and expand from there.
  5. Poor business development plan. Let your customers know that you exist and why! Build it and they will come is a nice idea, but who is they and how will they know you exist? Many business owners avoid selling because they don’t like to feel sales-y.   Your job is providing information to your potential customers and it’s up to them to determine whether or not it’s beneficial.
  6. Not hitting launch on your imperfect product. No action. No progress. The new business model favors businesses that are willing to launch imperfect products. It’s easy to get derailed by unimportant tasks or the next shiny idea to talking about your plans. Once you know your goals for the year and have a plan, start every single day with essential micro steps that will move you toward that goal. If the unexpected happens, hustle like a motha and figure out your Plan B for staying on track.
  7. No support. Bootstrapping a new venture can be a lonely endeavor; know who your go-to business peeps are. It’s a better alternative than wringing your hands or hiding under a blanket eating a pint of ice cream when you encounter an obstacle or make a mistake.

You may need to adjust and rework, but address these issues one step at a time and you will increase your likelihood of success tenfold!!

Take 5: Write down your company vision and/or your six to twelve month goal.

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One Life-Changing Question I Ask Myself All the Time


But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too  -Stevie Nicks, Landslide

Fall is a good time to get bolder and reflect on big questions like,

Am I spending my time (equals spending my life) the way I want to…am meant to?

I ask myself this life-changing question at least once a week…and three times a year (one being Autumn), I set aside bigger chunks of time to consider my time in a deeper way with openness to making changes.

As I have been consciously thinking (feeling and praying) about this question, I want to be bolder this coming year. Two goals that are core to my purpose keep coming to the surface; ones that I had get buried.

One is related to writing and I am pretty psyched to be taking imperfect action by creating a daily authentic writing (and posting) habit.  The first step to a dream that includes a creative pursuit is easy as it often requires daily habit, but not necessarily hours of time each day (yet). The other goal is more complex (because it is very time (aka life) consuming) so I am still discerning how and if I will make it work. To be continued.

Take 5

Right now, take a few minutes and consider whether you are spending your time (and your life) that way you are meant to?

Write down whatever comes to you about activities you don’t want to do anymore or a pursuit that you have let stay dormant for much too long. Don’t worry about the how as you never have to make changes if you don’t want to or can’t… (Pro-tip. Don’t skip right to the number two thing on your list because it feels safer. Start with what’s at the top, the very top of your list before you bury it. There is no risk in writing down your reflections on this question.)


5 Ways to Hustle Like a Motha’

untitled-design-2The word hustle is often used by online marketers to describe the relentless hard work of moving toward a vision or dream. When I read the bravado on this topic, it annoys me. Not because I judge ambition. I love and respect ambitious and hardworking people (including my own)! But I know what the hustle looks like when you have kids or are a caregiver (and/or are working a full-time while starting your dream business) and it doesn’t look like most of what I see online.

Recently, I made my perfect Monday hustle plan on Sunday evening including a check in call first thing Monday morning with a colleague that is my writing buddy who helps me keep on track with my writing goals.

Great structure and accountability habit, right?! …Except my son was running late for school (which he never is) and missed the bus. We planned to speak a little later than usual…but her mom, who is in the early stages of dementia, needed to be taken to an emergency appointment. (Backdrop…my colleague also has two teens and runs a very successful acupuncture business.) Early afternoon then? Well, typically, but my daughter was sick and had to be picked up from school. Although my husband works from home, he was at a meeting in Boston.

When you are responsible for other humans, hustle can feel disjointed some days even for those of us that have the luxury of working from home and have supportive partners to share the load. (The woman that waited on me at Starbucks this morning is not as fortunate.) The rhythm may be different and the pace even a little slower than you would like sometimes, but it is doable to make the professional progress you desire in the midst of it all. I have done it in my own life and have witnessed many other women (including some of you) doing it too. Here’s how I hustle like a mother:

  1. Know your goal, why it’s important to you, and write that sucker down.  It sounds trivial but this is the most important step. Without clarity of purpose, there is always a reason to not get something done. Exceptions are more the rule in life. The question I always ask about my goal is “how can I get this done despite my current circumstances?”
  2. Narrow your focus by quitting. I hate this one because I want to be helpful all the time to everyone. Last year I learned how critical it is to narrow focus to one or two specific goals for the year. Even dreams need to be prioritized. I rarely say an immediate “yes” to anything anymore. For example, I wouldn’t have grown a technology practice to seven figures, started the What’s Your Brave project or written Take 5 for Your Dreams and Reclaim Your Dreams if I hadn’t resigned from almost every volunteer commitment I had (and the list was long). This is hard for me; I still feel guilty about it sometimes. But I was replaceable – and I mean that in the kindest way; when it comes to volunteering/work, we all are.
  3. Plan your one non-negotiable action the night before. And I mean ONE. I make the day’s plan the evening before, know what the one non-negotiable priority for my day is and chunk that out into one to five essential micro steps I can accomplish to get there. 
  4. Focus on values. I don’t want to hire out picking up my sick daughter and my colleague wants to take care of her mom. Now that my kids are getting a little older, I see these moments as opportunities to connect rather than interruptions and distractions, but I also have vocational goals that I feel called toward and I am not willing to sacrifice those either. Now I know my values. I don’t need to clean my house or lead volunteer committees, but I want to spend as much time with my kids as I can and move forward on my vocational dream.
  5. Practice self-compassion. (Or alternatively, a who-cares attitude about stuff that doesn’t matter to you.) It never doesn’t always look pretty and my house is kind of a mess, but I am learning to keep it in perspective. 

Did I hustle that Monday in the midst of it all? You bet, though not at the time or in the way I prefer. Rather than putting my goal off until the next day, I asked, how can I get this done now despite the changes in my schedule? Later that day, I went for a quick run which always stimulates ideas and wrote in my car. It wasn’t pretty or perfect, but it was done.

How about you? How do you hustle like a mother?

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4 Actions You Can Take While You Are Working *Only* for the Money

My job is soul-sucking.

It’s not the first time I have heard this phrase from someone that is miserable in their work. Many people that are deeply unsatisfied and unhappy at their jobs describe an oppressive (and sometimes hostile) daily existence including: a lack of trust in their co-workers or management, feeling pressure to perform without support (or sometimes active sabotaging), political game playing such as others taking credit for their work, experiencing subtle or overt sexism, finding the work meaningless, boring, or in some cases morally bankrupt, etc…

Others say they feel as though they are not living up to their potential or want to be involved in work and people that matter to them. At some point during the conversation, I usually ask:

So why not quit?

And the response:

I can’t afford it.

This is smart response. Financial security and taking care of your family are meaningful reasons to stay at your soul-sucking job temporarily. If timing is your choice, I never recommend quitting your current position without a transition plan and an understanding of what’s next for you.

Sometimes though, especially for those in high-paying and/or prestigious positions, the conversation leads to staying because of the importance of maintaining a certain lifestyle.

Reminder: A few weeks of family vacation where you worry about your work often, that beautiful house where you can’t sleep without medication, or weekend’s where you feel depressed and exhausted…is not much of a lifestyle.

Whether you are at a soul-sucking job or simply want to do something bigger or more meaningful, there is a third option. Stay while you plan your escape by:

  1. Saving. Reduce or alleviate the financial risk of making a big shift. Reduce your expenses, get a second job, support your spouse in working, or start a side gig. Most people that are unhappy at work feel that they do not have any other choice but to stay. Without some level of financial safety net, the risk and anxiety of leaving your job may be too significant.
  2. Dreaming. There is zero risk in dreaming about what you want. Carve out even five minutes a day to explore and be intentional about your work and life dreams by asking yourself the big questions. Reflect on what it is most important to you in the next phase of work and life.  With the right questions and process in a short time you will see patterns and a direction emerge. Reconnect with your dreams first and then get very practical about what is feasible and what would be a financially profitably way to approach it. Here are a couple of questions to get you started. Remember these are brainstorming exercises, so no filter and no right or wrong answer. This is between you and you.  Your answers may range from specific and small to visionary to vague: If time, money, or the opinion of others were not a factor, what goals and activities would you pursue? What issues, causes, and problems that need solving have you been particularly drawn to.
  3. Taking micro steps. Don’t stop with dreaming, because without action (and eventually a plan), you won’t make progress. Once you know what you want, then start making a list of infinitesimal, doable steps you can take toward it.
  4. Finding something meaningful in your work now. Bringing more of yourself into your life can help. Try one of these every day: write down one way in which you are contributing in a positive way to your company; start the day by recording one thing you are grateful for at work; reach out consciously to someone at work with a kind or encouraging word; go outside at lunch and breathe the fresh air; or brainstorm out-of-the-box ideas to help your company that would also fuel your own passions.

How about you, what one small, infinitesimal step can you take to begin toward work that is meaningful to you?


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One Change to My New Writing Habit

CreativeCommons. Copyright Steve DePolo.

CreativeCommons. Copyright Steve DePolo.

Last week I committed to blog five days a week. For the following 48 hours, it seemed like everywhere I turned I was met with advice and messages on the importance of action and daily habits. Like this one from John Rohn:

“Success is nothing more than a few disciplines practiced every day.” 

And this short video posted by a member of my private Reclaim Your Dreams community on finishing here:

Finished Not Perfect

And this on the side benefits of writing daily from Life Hack:

10 Reasons You Should Write Something Each Day

 I found it more difficult to write today (Monday) after taking the weekend off…and even missed writing on Saturday and Sunday. Interesting, that once I started, more ideas for future posts started to flow. (Though I did journal but not anything I am ready to post yet.)  

Given this, I have decided to expand my writing habit from five days a week to daily.

Even if I only post an inspirational quote or photo and thought of the day, my sense is it will help with the momentum and discipline habit of it all.

Still in the honeymoon phase according to this piece on habit formation; I hope you will join me by subscribing to my list below as I continue to focus on taking action on what matters most to me. It’s absurdly obvious, but without action, there is no progress.

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When Overthinking Destroys Your Dreams

I am a great believer in signs, but I’ve learned that we increase the likelihood of spotting them when we’re moving down a path, not waiting but expecting. -Paul Boynton

Creative Commons. Copyright Nate and Tilly Ritter.

Creative Commons. Copyright Nate and Tilly Ritter.

During a meeting on an empowerment program that I am piloting this fall (based on the work of the What’s Your Brave project), our conversation turned to the dreams of the adults in the
room. As often happens, one of the grown-ups sheepishly offered that they are still figuring it all out.

To which, I said:

Thank God!

Me too!! Awesome!

This means you and I are still growing and discerning how to achieve meaningful work and life and how we can best impact to make this world a better place. This is so alive and the alternative is to be a spectator in your own life.

Here’s where most of us go wrong.

When my five siblings and I were growing up, one of my mother’s favorite mantras in exasperation was:

You think too much.

As the ultimate overanalyzer, I was indignant that she would minimize the importance of considering issues from all vantage points.

But my mother was right. Many of us want to analyze and think our way into our dreams and goals. Reflection and planning will save you time, heartache and money, but it will only take you so far.

It’s embarrassingly obvious, but without action, you won’t progress. Action builds momentum. Overthinking destroys it.  

Listen to my mother (who is now in her 80’s)! You can’t think your way into clarity and progress on your dream; you grow into it through action.

Take 5

There is no actual risk in taking one small action toward your dream today. Not sure where to start? Do the thing that is at the core of your boldest dreams. Want to be a writer? Write (and read) every day. Painter. Paint. That’s where the magic will happen.


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