I’ll admit, I’m nowhere near the end of my journey, and I’m not trying to come off as an expert on this topic. But I decided about two and a half years ago that I was going to do what I loved, and nothing was going to stop me.
1. A big part of being happy and satisfied with what you are doing is being happy and satisfied with who you are.
“Joy is not in things; it is in us” – Richard Wagner, German composer, and theater director.
It is impossible to do what you love if you cannot find happiness in just being. The road to realizing your ultimate dream is fraught with frustrations, shortcomings – and to put it bluntly, utter failures.
2. Which brings us to No. 2: Get over your fear of failure. I know you are afraid of the complete and utter humiliation that attempting to achieve your dream and failing could bring. I am. Everyone is. It is a natural part of the human psyche, no one wants to fall flat on their face. But to grow, and to achieve what looks impossible now, you need to channel the 7 year old you. Remember that first time your parents took the training wheels off your bike? Remember how terrified you were? The butterflies zooming around in your stomach? Remember your dad promising he wouldn’t let go, and then one, two, three… he did. Now, I don’t know what happened to you. Maybe you zoomed a block or two down the street. Maybe you fell over. But, for most of us, it wasn’t the last time we got on a bike. Back then, we didn’t know how to let failure dissuade us, we were going to learn to ride that bike. Period. “Like riding a bike” is a phrase we use to describe anything simple, memorable, easy to accomplish, learn or recall, which is interesting, because when you think about it, riding a bike wasn’t the easiest thing… it is not instinctual, it takes determination, practice and fearlessness. So, I’d say, doing what you love, that is like riding a bike. Own it, make mistakes and learn from them, keep at it, and eventually, you will be there—if it is something you love, if it amplifies that joy inside of you—it is so worth it.
3. Now that you have looked inside you and realized the internal challenges you have to overcome, you have reached the fun part: goal setting. One of the most important parts of accomplishing your dream is to know what that dream is. A bit of insight I have picked up, no amount of career testing or counseling can tell you what you want to do. Don’t bother. The only one who can figure out what you would love to do for the rest of your life is YOU. Take one night a week and turn on some music you love, close your eyes and just imagine your life. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? Are you happy? What would make you happier? Try to visualize those things. Each time you practice this, try to start where you left off, each time, picture yourself happier, until you couldn’t imagine anything better. Keep notes, a record so you can reflect on what you come up with. When you reach your “happiest” vision, you have your goal in front of you. It may be hard to put it into words at first, write down everything about what is happening there, figure out which parts you can work towards achieving. When I did this, I saw myself with a very flexible schedule, working with people and helping them get just as excited about history as I am. When my husband spent some time reflecting, he saw himself developing recipes in a kitchen, letting those creative juices fly. Before that, I had no idea he wanted to be a chef, at the time he was working as a server, and outside of making me a couple omelets, I had no no way of knowing that he felt so at home in the kitchen—now he is a chef at a growing restaurant chain, and may I just take a moment to say, WOW, can that man cook! (I know, ladies, I am a very lucky woman!). A dream doesn’t have to be completely concrete. Mine is ever-evolving, and that is the way I like it, concrete dreams leave no room for learning. This goes back to the fear of failure, you cannot fail at accomplishing your dreams, spend a little time every month or so to assess your progress and decide if you need to make adjustments.
4. Come up with an Action Plan. This is not a “someday maybe I’ll do this” plan, this is an ACTION plan. You must actually act on it! This step has always been the easiest for me. I always say my husband is The Idea Man and I’m The Girl With The Plan. But just because it comes naturally to me, doesn’t mean that anyone can’t learn it. Look at your goal, and break it down into easy bite sized chunks. Anyone would get overwhelmed by the concept of completely capsizing their entire life as they know it to run after a whim, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Taking small, easy to accomplish steps, without changing anything else in your life, will get the ball rolling in the right direction and allow you to test drive your dream to make sure that you are willing to make the commitment to do it every day. So, what do you need to do to get where you want to be?
For me, I first knew that I needed to get out there, get researching and writing. My Action Plan looked something like this:
A. Volunteer for People I can Learn From Who Are Already Living Out My Dream. I started by volunteering at the local historical society, they were happy to have someone enthusiastic and passionate on their team, and they had plenty for me to dig into!
B. Practice Those Skills I Will Need and Get Noticed. The skills I was going to need were heavily research and writing oriented. The second step for me was starting a local history blog, I focused on an area that I knew pretty well, Dakota County. I started making a point of stopping at historical markers, asking questions of people who have lived in the area forever, and doing research at libraries and archives to answer questions I had about different events and landmarks.
C. Dip Your Toe Into the Water. Next, after a few inquiries by people who were following my blog to do research for them, I launched a research service. This was one of the most exciting and liberating things I have ever done, it was a huge leap down the path of accomplishing my ultimate dream! Part-time or consulting in the field you want to go into is a good way to test the waters, see if it is practical to make a living with your dream. Sometimes you need to think outside the box, outside of genealogy, consulting is not a popular way to work in the History field. While there are many others who do it, and many who were willing to teach me and give me advice, a lot of setting up my own Historical Research company has been trial and error, again DON’T BE AFRAID OF FAILURE!
Those steps in the year 2010, set my course in the direction I wanted to go. Your steps may look completely different, and that is great! It is your dream, try to think of creative ways to get there, don’t rely on common ideology of the “right way” to do something or get somewhere, because what you are doing—actively seeking out your dreams—is anything but common, why should your plan be boxed and held in those constraints?
5. Finally, take a hint from Nike. You are not going to get anywhere with a pretty multi-color list hanging on your fridge that you ignore day after day. You have to take action. One by one, tick off the items on your list. If the goals seem too difficult to accomplish, break them down further, into mini-goals. (i.e. “Start a Blog” could be, i. google search blogs on topic; ii. spend two weeks reading similar blogs; iii. create blogging mini-action plan: 1 post each week, promote on Facebook, actively seek out guest bloggers; iv. write first months blog posts; v. create blog on Wordpress; vi. design and customize blog space; vii. enact blogging mini-action plan). It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as you need it to be to get it done! The idea is, if you don’t move, nothing is going to change.
Most of all: Enjoy every minute! Life is a journey not a destination. When you set out to accomplish the items in your plan, you have already begun to do that thing you love each day, don’t get caught up in what you are accomplishing. Focus on that inner joy and be thankful that you get to do this thing that you love, and be proud of yourself for realizing it and working toward it. You have already done amazing things by overcoming that fear and setting out to be who and what you want to be!