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It’s easy to envision that other people’s paths (career or otherwise) are somehow smoother than yours.

Have you ever had thoughts like that?

Notions that everyone else who has some form of success achieved it by taking smart, consecutive steps that always led them forward, while you:

  • Take two steps forward, one step back
  • Stop to dance a little
  • Forget why you’re even standing up, so you sit down for a bit …

It can feel like that, but I have to remind myself that I don’t actually believe success comes from making “ultra productive, wise decisions” all the time.

The “continually-trying-to-figure-things-out” shuffle goes hand-in-hand with a professional creative life.

You can practice mindful decision-making to increase your chances of a favorable outcome, but that doesn’t make you immune to challenges.

And sometimes challenges are exactly what we need to get clear about our priorities and make the next right choice.

To remind us that working toward a goal is typically more awkward than elegant, here are seven — seemingly unpleasant — signs of progress.

1. Someone tells you “no”

It could be a content creator who doesn’t respond to your collaboration request or a site that rejects your guest post idea.

The first time I sent a guest post pitch to Copyblogger, I didn’t hear back from the team.

But that “no” was an indicator that I was trying something new, and it helped me focus on doing some serious work.

If either no one looked at my pitch email or they just weren’t interested in my idea, I decided to trust that we weren’t a match.

“Trusting” didn’t mean that I gave up, though. I found a blog that wanted to publish my article, and I invested time in finding the right sites for all the guest posts I wrote.

Three years later, Copybloger asked me to guest post for them.

That original “no” was a priceless part of my growth as a writer.

2. Someone doesn’t like your work

Just because someone tells you “no,” it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you or your work.

You can’t take “no” personally.

Other times, people will actually dislike your work, but you can’t take that personally either.

If everyone in your audience has the exact same perspective, your audience probably isn’t that big.

But if you reach new people on a regular basis, you’ll encounter someone who doesn’t like what you do.

They might even tell you about it. This is the internet, after all.

You should celebrate when your content has extended beyond your “yes” community and landed in front of people with different opinions and worldviews.

3. You turn down a client

It’s a tough thing to get used to, but you can say “no,” too.

To help you move passed those nerves, consider what will benefit your business in the long run: a crappy client or more time to market your business?

If you’re worried about financial responsibilities, many writers have other jobs that have nothing to do with writing while they also work on their craft.

Having that type of balance in your life gives you peace of mind. Your monetary obligations will be met, and your writing and marketing sessions will be focused and passionate.

Low-paying, time-consuming clients are not only frustrating, they can cause you to grow bitter about writing.

It’s smart to assess how you want to spend your energy, so that you make the most of your time.

Turning down a client who isn’t right for you is a turning point in your career.