This week, I published the 100th edition of Midlife Cues.
There was a time when I would have given this a slight nod of the head, said “Eh, no big deal”, and simply went about my day.
Thankfully, I’ve since learned the value of marking milestones, acknowledging the efforts it took to get there, and celebrating wins — big and small.
So, here you go. 100 Editions! Hooray and 💃🏽
As part of marking the progress, I reflected on what I’ve learned through this experience and came up with five key takeaways.
If you’re embarking on a new adventure or starting a biggish project — especially something you’ve never done before — these may be useful. These aren’t only applicable to a writing project.
Some notes for context
- Midlife Cues is a weekly newsletter. I technically started it in early 2020 — more than 100 weeks ago. But I didn’t number it immediately, the reason is in the lessons below. And TBH, there were a few weeks of intentional (and some unintentional 🤭 ) breaks, also in the lessons.
- You will not find a takeaway about “knowing your why”. This wasn’t something I learned from this experience as it’s already been drilled into my head many times in previous projects! I’m sure you’ve heard this enough times too.
- One final note: The following takeaways are written in the second person “you” because, really, I’m talking to myself when I wrote these. I can imagine needing to remind myself of these lessons from time to time and especially when I get on the next grand experiment.
1. Some questions cannot be answered on Day 1.
You’re going to want to plan. Your previous work experiences will kick in and you’ll feel the urge to come up with a well-considered “project plan”. Because planning is important, right? It shows you’ve thought about your new thing through and through.
You’ll want to address the many questions bubbling in your mind. True, some of these questions will indeed need your attention. But many don’t need answers right away and some, you can’t really answer on Day 1.
It’s like driving in a fog. You can only see so far. But if you keep inching forward, more of the road ahead will be revealed.
So, satisfy your project management urges and draw up a plan, if you must. Just get comfortable with marking many of them TBD or with question marks. Don’t worry. Trust that you’ll figure out the answers to these soon enough. Leave them for future you.
2. You don’t need to explain everything to everyone.
There are people in your life who might want to know what in the world you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Some of them legitimately care about you and your well-being. Some are curious. Some may even be paying attention to your projects because they, like, look to you as a sort of role model or something. Know that you don’t have to give everyone a full-blown answer.
You have a list of people whose input you seek. For them, explaining what you’re doing makes sense. But for the rest of the world? Nah.
The beginning of things can be hard to explain. Don’t add pressure on yourself by having to get everyone’s buy-in right out of the gate. There will be a time for that.
Bouncing your ideas off people is a great exercise. You get feedback that may help you refine your idea or streamline your process. Keep in mind though, that the line between bouncing off ideas and getting “permission” to do your thing is a fine one and you’ll want to be careful that you don’t veer off to the other side accidentally.
Get comfortable saying, “I’m testing something out” to anyone who asks. See next lesson.
3. Experiment and don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it.
Appreciate the value and the fun in asking, “what if” and then testing out your hypothesis. You’ll enjoy the experience so much better if you’re not so tied to a particular outcome or result — which, let’s face it, was simply a best guess in the beginning.
Test your theories, your assumptions, even your so-called givens. Test to see if you’ll enjoy doing the dang thing. See if it’s something you’ll want to do for a long long while.
Pay attention to signals so you can adjust your plans, your process, or your project. Signals can be internal, i.e., your feelings about what you’re doing, your energy level, your fears, etc. They can also be external, i.e., feedback or reactions from other people who are interacting with you or your project. Don’t just pay attention to external signals.
4. Solve for consistency.
There’s no point coming up with a process that has a snowball’s chance in hell in getting followed regularly.
Be honest with yourself. What will it take for you — energetically, mentally, physically, time-wise — to deliver something weekly (or daily, monthly, whatever the frequency)? What process will allow you to do that consistently? What in your life needs to give a little for you to be able to do what you want? “Something’s gotta give,” as they say.
Don’t assume that just because you are passionate about your project (or have a strong why) that you will be able to do what it takes consistently. Test your process. And also, see the fifth lesson below.
The other side of this equation is considering not how you can deliver something consistently but WHAT you can deliver consistently. Perhaps you can only do a part of the whole thing for now, while you’re testing things out and figuring out your process. You can always add and iterate. Solve for consistency.
5. Honor your rhythms and cycles.
You are naturally inclined towards time management. You’ve always been conscious of maximizing the results of your efforts. But being productive isn’t all about time management. It’s also about managing your energy and matching the work that you do with the energy that you have on any given day (or portion of the day).
Creative energy is different from executive energy is different from administrative energy. Your project will require different kinds of energy from you. Forcing yourself to do creative work when your energy barometer is pointed at the administrative level is a losing battle. You’ll end up exerting more effort than you would otherwise need.
One thing to remember: When things happen in your life in the middle of your grand experiment, your rhythms and cycles will likely change. Respect that and don’t get too frustrated with yourself.
• • • • •
Creating Midlife Cues (which by the way, was previously nameless, then called successively, the newsletter, the Second Breaks newsletter, Briefing Notes) is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life 😊 .
Producing it has been educational for me, cathartic, challenging, and frustrating at times. It has stretched me in different ways and in different areas. I’ve learned new skills, found my voice, and grown as a writer. And because this project naturally lends itself to learning, I think I’ve become a better person too.
I believe the lessons I learned from this experience will be valuable and applicable to future projects as well. I hope you found some gems in there too. Good luck with your project. Go get it.