“Don’t dream your life. Live your dreams.” – Author unknown
I love this quote and carry it close, referring to it often, especially when I feel myself slipping into old, destructive, or counterproductive habits. It inspires me to keep looking ahead instead of over my shoulder to where dreams get consigned to oblivion.
We all need dreams, don’t we?
They call to us, filling us with hope and a glimpse of all we are destined to be.
The problem with dreams is that for many of us, they become rooted in our minds without branching out into something tangible. While our heads may go deep in pursuit, their yen for overthinking serves as the anchor that prevents us from taking any real action.
I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.
We don’t literally dwell in stillness day after day. We’re in constant motion raising families or working, and in many cases, both.
To keep the juggling act alive without missing a beat, we bid our personal ambitions a “temporary” farewell, storing them upon a shelf somewhere in the cobwebbed recesses of our subconscious, with plans to dust ’em off and give ’em a go “someday.”
But what if someday never comes?
What if 10, 15, or 20 years from now, you reflect back on your life only to wonder where all the time went?
What if the gulf between where you are now and where you want to be just seems too daunting to cross?
Here’s the short answer:
It’s never too late to live the life you want.
If that just made you roll your eyes all over the place, I wouldn’t think less of you. I’ll admit that such “chase your dreams” statements are often conducive to an initial “yeah, whatever” response, and that’s okay.
I get it. Who has time for dreams anyway?
If you’re like me and 99% of the population, you’re super busy — possibly even burnt out. With all the continuous (and often repetitive) demands placed upon you, it’s common to get lost amid those daily obligations.
But that’s what you signed up for, isn’t it?
When you took that job. When you said your “I-dos.” When you had children. That’s the life you created by your own design. No sense investing in yourself at this point. You gave up that right when you made those other choices.
Okay, that was harsh. While some might not appreciate my sarcasm (my own family is still on the fence about my so-called “wit”), my intention was to draw out the ludicrousness of thinking we’re permanently nailed down by our choices and circumstances. Or that we’re not entitled to seek enrichment or to self-diversify.
That it’s wrong or even selfish to want more.
So let’s get something straight…
More is healthy.
More provides purpose.
More doesn’t mean flaking out on your responsibilities, or abandoning the people who love you, or giving your existing life the proverbial middle finger. It means you’re allowed to add something to your life that’s just for you.
Maybe you already know this.
Maybe a lifelong goal has been at the forefront of your mind for years. Maybe you were even compelled to write down a list of affirmations, create a vision board, and imagine yourself living the dream while binge-watching clips of The Secret on YouTube.
Perhaps I’ve even done some of these very things myself. Or all of them. Maybe.
I’m not discounting this stuff, by the way. Everything you add to your motivational toolbox has value. Yet it’s not so much the tools that will make a difference in your life, but the elbow grease behind them.
Therein lies the challenge.
What if you can’t get beyond the list-making phase? What if it seems as though the world is passing you by while your wheels keep spinning in the mud?
What if you just feel… stuck?
Stuck in the past.
Stuck in an unfulfilling job.
Stuck in your habits.
Stuck in your fear.
Stuck in your own head.
You may even decide it’s easier to live with your stuckness instead of dealing with the possible fallout of rejection and the belief (no matter how false) that maybe you’re just not good enough for the dreams you’ve conceived.
If this happens, you forgo your passion and resign yourself to a life of maintaining the status quo.
That’s not living. That’s settling.
When you settle, things may seem copacetic on the surface, but down in the underbelly of your soul, a bomb is detonating in slow motion. That’s not fair to you or the people whose lives you impact on a daily basis.
So how can you exist in alignment with your dreams when you’re forever wedging them between despondence and inertia?
1. Be Grateful
In my opinion, adopting an attitude of gratitude is by far the most important step you can take if you ever truly hope to make some headway in your personal progress. When you shift your focus from what you don’t have to what already do, you begin to see things in proper perspective and appreciate them.
Do you have a spouse? A partner? Children? A supportive family? Good friends? Do you love them beyond measure?
Are you healthy? Do you have a roof over your head? Clothes to wear? Food to eat? Water to drink?
Do you earn a regular paycheck? Does that income provide for you and/or your family?
Answering yes to some or all of these questions allows for clarity, a “lifting of the fog” so to speak, revealing a deeper cognizance of your priceless relationships and those basic human needs you never have to go without.
2. Be Optimistic
We all act like Negative Nellies on occasion. Kind of hard to avoid when circumstances can turn on a dime, sometimes in a most unfavorable direction.
Your stick-to-itiveness will be tried and tested again and again. There will be times when you’ll feel like giving up. It’s going to happen, and when it does, you’ll be tempted to blame others or slip into a convenient world-is-conspiring-against-me temperament.
But don’t give in. Don’t withdraw. Don’t hide behind passivity.
Stay true to your vision. Be a glass-half-full kind of thinker. This won’t happen overnight. It requires practice, and lots of it.
Take responsibility for your stagnancy so you can get on the other side of it.
3. Keep Your Lists Short And Sweet
Lists can be extremely helpful, but keep them brief and specific so you don’t become overwhelmed.
Composing a ten page Word document detailing all the things you want to achieve in life might seem like a good idea in theory, but then seeing it all laid out in front of you in 12pt Britannic Bold font can actually feel rather intimidating.
I suggest writing down 1-3 attainable benchmarks each day. You can even scribble them on a post-it, which is what I do. Having just a few tasks to accomplish in a 24 hour period sets you up for the successful completion of a few more tasks the next day, and the day after that, and so on and so forth.
4. Surround Yourself With The Right People
I remember when I shared my dream of becoming an author with my husband back in 2012. He was the first person I ever told. I worried that coming out with, “Hey babe, I think I’ll write romance novels for a living,” would be met with either a sour puss or insane laughter and a rebuttal along the lines of “Umm….okaaaaay. What’s next? A pink corvette and a boob job? Be sure to let me know when your midlife crisis is over.”
Of course, he would never really say such things to me, and his actual response was sincerely supportive, which quickly put my mind at ease. Knowing I had someone in my corner made all the difference in the world.
Give voice to your personal goals. It’s okay to ask for help. Tell your spouse, your partner, your parents, your kids, your best friend, or all of the above. Just be sure these people are positive influencers who will lift you up and cheer you on no matter how rocky or perceptively endless the road becomes.
By and large, I think you’ll find that people who love you will be all too happy to assist you in your personal endeavors. Let them.
A word of caution: Some people won’t want you to succeed, especially if they’re feeling stuck themselves. You know what they say… misery loves company.
People like this are toxic. You would do best to avoid them if at all possible.
5. Face Your Fears Head-On.
How many times throughout our lives have we been told to stop being afraid?
I’m thinking a gazillion sounds about right. But that’s like being told to stop laughing when The Big Bang Theory is on.
Not gonna happen.
It’s not a crime to be scared. If you weren’t then your dreams wouldn’t be important to you.
Confession: My hand shakes uncontrollably every time I press “publish” on Amazon, and I still get heart palpitations while awaiting feedback on something I’ve written.
Every. Single. Time.
I don’t think that will ever go away. Even so, I was eventually able to apply the following mantra…
Whatever happens one way or the other, I’m going to be okay.
It’s possible to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have, and so can you.
There’s a book by Susan Jeffers called Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway (a phenomenal read that I highly recommend). The title says it all.
Even though all those things that scare you will try their damnedest to hold you back, acknowledging them will get you a lot farther in life than wasting time and energy in search of a cure.
Your fears may look something like mine:
Fear of being alone
Fear of repeating history
Fear of rejection
Fear of failure
Fear of success (Yes, you read that right. The struggle is real, folks.)
Fear of ridicule
Fears are persistent buggers. You can’t outrun them. So face them head-on, stare them down, and push past them to do what you need to do to close the distance between you and your dreams.
In case I didn’t just make it obvious, the key word here is DO. Don’t just think about doing. Take action. Otherwise, you become a slave to your fears, and they win.
Are you going to let that happen?
NO EFFING WAY.
If you hit a wall, don’t despair. It’s HARD. Cut yourself some slack when those demons get the better of you. Just remember that every day, every hour, every minute, and every second is a chance to try again.
6. Enjoy The Journey
Every step you take in the name of personal progress is cause for celebration. Fulfillment needn’t come solely from your arrival at that final destination.
Take pleasure in the learning process, honing your skills and then applying those disciplines. Instead of always thinking of the big picture, crop it into manageable increments.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to where you want to go. As long as you keep moving, you’re already living the dream.
Fluctuating levels of frustration are to be expected. Trust me, if it was easy, you wouldn’t want it anyway. But if every hurdle you scale feels like pulling teeth, then what’s the freaking point? There is power in hard work and persistence. There is pride.
There is joy.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I’ll finally be happy once I…”
Me too. That’s because dreamers get trapped in a mindset of delayed well-being.
But guess what? You don’t have to wait. You can be happy now.
No matter what you’re doing, whether it be taking a course, learning a trade, or meeting new people, you should be reveling in those accomplishments. Every day you get out of bed to strive for whatever it is you’re after is a life lived with purpose.
7. Become your own definition of success.
We all need that special something — a passion, a creative outlet, a career path — that will enrich our sense of self, something that can coexist with, yet is separate from, marriage and kids, etc.
We need to feel successful on a singular, personal level.
Society tries to define success in terms of job titles, padded wallets, trophy homes, fancy cars, and the like.
However, and I’m probably preaching to the choir here, true happiness has nothing to do with financial wealth or the accumulation of “stuff” or how many credentialing initials follow a person’s last name.
Nor am I saying it’s bad or wrong to want these things.
But they don’t, and won’t, reflect your worth as a human being.
So when is it safe to consider yourself a “success?”
Any damn time you want.
Are you a good person with a generous heart? Do you pay it forward? Do you give back to the community? Do you care about others? Do you give time and attention to the people who count on you?
If so, then I’d say you’ve already knocked it out of the park.
Now, get out there and make those dreams of yours a reality!
Copyright © S. A. Healey
This piece was first published on VoElla.com in October 2016.