Help! My Goal is Too Big: How to Get Started when Your Project is So Massive it Scares You
Photo courtesy of Krikit.

Help! My Goal is Too Big: How to Get Started when Your Project is So Massive it Scares You

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals

When I moved to Portland a year ago, I had this grand idea that I would create a space where multipotentialites could live and play together. It would be a physical space, sort of the real world version of the Puttytribe. And it would be awesome.

However, upon moving here, I realized very quickly that pursuing this goal right away would be impossible. I didn’t know the neighbourhoods, or have the ideal housemates picked out. Most of all though, I didn’t have the funds. Would I rent? Buy? What would these creative collaborations look like? How could I make all of this happen when I wasn’t even fully financially independent yet?… Pursuing this goal at the time was simply impractical. (And that’s not a word I throw around lightly– or at all).

“Impractical” is Normally the Language of Naysayers

Usually when someone tells you that your dream is “impractical,” they mean it in the bigger sense: It’s impracticable, period. Let it go, move on to something more realistic. Or they use language like “someday,” which we all know usually means never.

Bleh. These people are Naysayers. You have no time for such folk in your life.

No, what I’m talking about here isn’t giving up on your massive dream (which is 100% achievable by the way. People with fewer resources than you have created some absolutely wacky things in this world!), or even putting it on hold. Just the contrary. You want to be working steadily towards your goal, but you want to do that by breaking your goal up into smaller projects and tackling those individually.

You may not be able to host your own cooking show on the Food Network right this very second or get a publishing deal for the novel you want to write. Not right now anyway. But there’s a lot you can do in preparation. In fact, there’s a lot that you must do in preparation if you ever want to be ready.

Getting the Building Blocks in Place

You may need to acquire certain skills, resources, and/or develop some key relationships before being able to tackle your ultimate goal.

Of course, you may not even know what you need to know. But that’s okay. I bet there are a few clues– enough clues to get started on a couple smaller project anyway.

Where to Start?

1. Make a List

Make a list of all the skills, experiences, and relationships that you think you might need. Do this brain-dump style. Get everything out of your head.

Feeling nice and overwhelmed? That’s normal. Now lets narrow it down, because I promise you, most of the stuff on your list isn’t nearly as important as you think.

2. Whittle it Down to the Essentials

Go through that list again and star the items that you know you will need to pursue your project. For instance, if you want to host your own cooking show, then taking a cooking class or going to culinary school might be an important experience, as opposed to say, learning how to network. (That might be important too, but we’re prioritizing here.)

Another important skill for your goal might be getting comfortable on camera. You might not have a show on network television yet, but could you start your own blog and create short videos about your concoctions?

Take your starred items and create a new list. Write this list on a new page in your notebook or if you’re doing this digitally, create a fresh document and close the old one. You want to make sure that you can’t see the old, overwhelm-inducing list.

3. If these Projects are still too “impractical for now”, then break them down even further

Can’t afford culinary school? How about acquiring some culinary chops (boo) through blogs and YouTube tutorials while you save up? Or maybe you could skip the formal education altogether. It depends on whether that particular experience is important to you or not (either way, it’s cool).

Narrow down your list until you’ve got projects that you could actually start now.

The Best Way to Choose: The Fun Test

When multipotentialites ask me which projects they should pursue, I usually impart advice that’s, granted, a little cheesy, but it’s advice that has served me well. I suggest that they listen to their hearts.

It’s so easy to feel like you should take the safer or more profitable route, but I generally believe that if you’re yearning to do something, there’s a reason. Ask yourself which project sounds like the most fun, and start there.

You can pursue more than one of these smaller projects at once. I would keep the number of priority projects down to five though, and dabble in the others during your Scanning Time.

And of course, the truth is that it doesn’t really matter which project you begin with, so try not to lose too much sleep over the decision. There’s plenty of time to do it all.

Over-Preparation Can Kill Your Project Too

Now for an annoying caveat…

You will never feel ready to pursue that massive project.

I certainly didn’t feel fully ready to launch the Puttytribe (Don’t you need an enormous subscriber base to launch a membership site? That’s what they tell you anyway…) It took me weeks before I was brave enough to even set a launch date. And despite all of the research, I was certainly not prepared for everything that puppyhood entails! But I’m not sure I ever could have been.

Sometimes the only way to learn, is to stumble along in the dark, fail a few times, and then take smarter action as you move forward. We learn a great deal more from our failures than our successes anyway.

Perfection is the Enemy of Done.

When it comes to preparation, there will always be more that you can learn. It’s easy to over-prepare and put off taking action out of fear. “I’m not ready” is an excellent rationalization, isn’t it? It makes so much “logical” sense to wait… At a certain point, you just need to jump or it’ll never happen.

I try to live by the following rule: learn only as much as you need to learn to get started, and then start.

Your Turn

How do you approach those massive, scary, overwhelming projects? Do you break they down into smaller projects?


  1. Sarah says:

    Great post Emilie! I have a lot of big dreams that feel impossible to achieve sometimes, especially if I think about my situation right now. But you’re right, they’re not impossible or impractical, I just need to break it down into bit sized pieces to make them easy to swallow :)

    Also a physical version of the putty tribe sounds like an amazing idea!

    • Emilie says:

      Sweet! That’s awesome Sarah. I also think that focusing on smaller projects gives us a quicker sense of accomplishment and helps to build momentum.

      And good to hear… If I do create a physical Puttytribe, I will definitely let you know. :)

  2. Colleen says:

    Thank you so much for putting out there that “impractical” simply means “I don’t quite know the whole road yet.” That’s an amazingly empowering thing. And while I probably knew that in my heart, it helps so much to have just a little outside confirmation.

    And I love the idea that you can jump into the part that really matters to you and speaks to you without taking the baby steps to get there. It might not be the easiest way but, as you say, it’ll certainly be a lot more fun.

    • Emilie says:

      You’re welcome, Colleen. :)

      And yes, I have a tendency to poo-poo those “balanced” spreadsheet-like approaches to choosing projects. I’m a big believer that the universe (and your gut) knows best.

  3. Erin says:

    I think you’re in my head, Emilie. Not that I mind :)

    With the support and guidance of the Tribe, I’m following pretty much exactly the steps you outlined. My project is small compared to some (getting my Etsy shop open), but for someone who’s never taken any step like that at all, it’s a good first project to tackle. I know there will be more to come.

    For me, having the right tools in place is huge. I have to keep daily overwhelm down so that my main source of overwhelm, when it arises, is the project itself. I’ve gotten my systems of storing and organizing information, tracking projects, and minimizing computer-generated overwhelm in place. I still have to work on time management. But, having systems that fit my brain has been immensely helpful.

    As for Puttytribe in real life? Man, I’d move to Portland for that :)

    • Tim says:

      I’d move to Portland for a Puttytribe in real life as well.

      Well, I might move there regardless… but that’d be one huge extra incentive.

    • Emilie says:

      Ha awesome Erin. I will keep that in mind.

      Your Etsy shop is definitely a great project to get you going. It’s both achievable, and pushes you slightly out of your comfort zone I’m guessing. Awesome.

      • Erin says:

        Exactly, it’s both of those things. Just getting it launched will be a huge confidence boost for me…following through on a bigger project!

  4. When I start to feel overwhelmed I sit down, take deep breaths, and try to center myself… I ask myself what is the next most important step to take. I look at my list and decide. As long as I keep taking steps, even tiny baby steps, I make progress. I spent years being paralyzed and not taking steps. Where could I be now if I had just taken the steps, the steps I am now taking? I don’t beat myself up about it (well, I try really hard not to!!) I just keep taking steps and propelling myself forward.

  5. Lori says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for this today!

    I am indeed overwhelmed – but very excited about a project that feels to way too big and a tad out of my comfort zone. This is just what I needed to hear.

    You are an inspiration!!!!!!!!


  6. This is a great post! I’ve got TWO massive projects/dreams in the works and I’m realizing that it can’t all happen RIGHTTHISMOMENT, as much as I want it to. I’m working to slow down, step back and be honest with myself about what’s doable. Starting with one project, while allowing myself to give bursts of inspiration and energy to the others so that they continue to move, but I also make progress and LAUNCH one at at a time. It’s going well and I’m learning to find some semblance of BALANCE.

    I need to make a brain dump for sure, there’s so much swirling in my head, so much research, people, resources, ideas, etc that I need. Thanks for this post! xo

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Stephenie! It sounds like you’ve got a good system going on. I agree, each small project brings momentum and energy to the next. Also, I think small projects are a bit less intimidating to multipotentialites. Less time to get bored, and we get to move on to the next one relatively quickly. :)

  7. Tim says:

    Gonna have to keep in mind those last two things. I’m getting ready to launch my new blog on Saturday and I’ve become increasingly tempted to change the launch date (and I might, care to convince me otherwise?). But, I need to remember that I can’t prepare for every possibility and make everything 100% perfect.

    Perhaps I need to just launch it and then work on tweaking all those little things as I go along. I know they’ll certainly happen a lot faster if I make it public. But, I also don’t have a month worth of content ready, which is something I really wanted to have before launching it. Thoughts?

    • Erin says:

      Noooooo! Just launch it. The site looks great (at least, the designs I’ve seen) and you have a solid sense of what you’ll be writing about. I believe you also have a whole lot of potential content that’s already chosen and thought out and just needs to be written. There’s no accountability like having your site public, especially when it’s a site you really want to have succeed :)

      ALSO, if you let the hype go on too long, people will get bored or forget. I mention that only because I see you’ve got your profile here linked to the countdown page. If I had just discovered your site after reading a comment somewhere, and I was excited for its launch in x days an y minutes, I’d be disappointed if the numbers went up! I’d rather see a fledgling site go live and start poking around.

      As for writing a month’s worth of content…ack, the only time I did that was when I knew I would be out of the country and mostly internetless…

    • Emilie says:

      A month?! I launched with 3 backlogged posts. Now I have exactly zero. Heh.

      I’ve never met anyone as ready to launch as you Tim. Launch! :)

  8. Chris Dillon says:

    “learn only as much as you need to learn to get started, and then start”

    Amen. Thanks for the push.

  9. kim says:

    Eek, I swear this post was written for me lol. I always keep putting things off because “things just aren’t perfect yet”. Thanks for the wake up call!

  10. Milo says:

    Great post Emilie! Listening to your gut is such a big one for me. I always get caught up in thinking too much, instead of listening to that small voice inside which knows what I really need. But I’m getting better at it!

23 Comments Trackbacks For This Post

  1. 42 Things I loved on the internet in June « by.dana.sitar
  2. How Do You Eat an Elephant? | Purposeful Woman

Leave a Comment