Okay. Disclaimer. I’m a twenty year old chick who travels the world and is definitely very privileged. I’m just getting going, and I’ve yet to massive fail anything to an irreversible point. So feel free to call me an idealist. BUT. I’m not 100% a rainbow sprinkle. I’m not living on my daddy’s bill. I do have quite a bit of experience with working like a crazy person to achieve goals. I do set the bar high for myself. And I’m about to set off on a year and a half trip that has been my dream for a while now. As I take off, I’d like to share some encouragement with you where your own dreams are concerned.
Have you tried to chase down any of your dreams? Are you currently trying? It’s incredibly hard, isn’t it? If it wasn’t, maybe it wouldn’t be quite so worthwhile. I’m lucky enough to have grown up watching dozens of people fight for and achieve even their most challenging goals. My childhood has allowed me a unique perspective from which to watch the dream-achieving process and learn about some common setbacks, reasons to persevere, and tricks for “making it happen.”
To start with, here’s the top three reasons most people don’t chase their dreams. Let me know if you have any you’d like me to add:
1. External sources say you can’t do it.
Maybe it’s your parents, your coworkers, a sibling, a friend. I think most of us know what it feels like to have a dream or a goal and to be told it’s unrealistic, silly, or just too much. Sometimes we even hear that we’re not actually good enough for the path we’re interested in. I’ll tell you what others told me when I first started to get negative feedback about my own goals:
Most people are just projecting their own fears onto you. They may be well-meaning, but that changes nothing. If someone criticizes your idea, first ask yourself whether they hold a central position in your life and if they actually know what they’re talking about. If not, smile, wave, and ignore their “helpful” comments.
If they are important to you, take the next step: ask yourself what they’re afraid of. Perhaps they don’t want to take a wild ride on a chicken bus in Central America, but why shouldn’t you? Maybe they wouldn’t want to eat exotic foods around the world and blog about it, but who asked them? It’s your dream. Own it. In the end, their opinions and horror stories about the camping trip with Aunt Marge don’t matter. If they’re genuinely concerned about your safety, find facts and stories that will put their minds to rest, but go anyway and rock your life. When you’re starting something new, it can feel like half the world is telling you you’re crazy. Don’t worry about it, unless the 2% of the world who is already living your dream is telling you you’re nuts. At that point, you can re-evaluate. ;)
2. You tell yourself that you can’t do it.
Okay, this is my biggest problem. I simultaneously like to dream big and have a secret low-confidence problem. Every six months, I sit down and rewrite my goals list. I see what I’ve achieved in six months; where I missed the mark and how to try again; and write my goals for the next six months, with extreme optimism. I never do this around New Years, in case you’re wondering. I’m not going to intentionally jinx myself. The day after I write my list up, I take another look at it and instantly despair. Damn, I’ve set the bar too high again. How the heck am I going to do this? I decide it’s impossible, but I don’t give up.
With everything in life, there are a million different ways you could fail. There just are. But there is absolutely no point in worrying about them if they aren’t happening right this very moment.
If the zombie apocalypse does start, we’ll worry about it then. Until then, know that there’s a good chance that you CAN do it, especially if other people are already doing it. Find that community and get involved. Set small goals for yourself in order to achieve the big ones. Do your best to believe in yourself, and don’t send any emails on those days when you can’t. It takes tiny steps, one after another, and a determination to never give up. You’ve got this. Duct tape your inner voice to silence and keep going.
3. You really can’t do it.
It’s okay. You’re allowed. I’m learning that there are some things that I just can’t do also. That said, someone recently encouraged me, saying, “Just because you can’t do it THAT way or right NOW, doesn’t mean you can’t do it another way.” Is there any other way to reach your goal? Sometimes our journeys don’t look like we thought they would at first. Sometimes dreams have to adjust to new obstacles. Be kind to yourself and do things at your own pace, but don’t be afraid to dream big.
Those are the three I’ve come across most often. With all three, 90% of the time there is still a way to encourage yourself to keep working towards your dreams, even if they have to evolve. Yes, it’s a ridiculous amount of work. And yes, holding on to those goals can be exhausting. But there’s a reason we continue to do so. Multiple reasons, actually. I counted six reasons not to give up on your dreams, just off the top of my head:
Because a life without passion is just survival.
Humans have to have something to really live for. It doesn’t need to be a huge dream, like sailing the world or becoming a 5-star chef. Maybe you want to finally put together and publish that book of poems you’ve been dreaming about for years. Maybe you’d like to pick up a new instrument. Maybe you have a fitness goal you’re working towards, or a vacation you’re saving for. Whatever it is, our dreams drive our enjoyment of life. They fulfill us. Don’t give up on that.
Because you may conquer your fear.
Truly worthwhile dreams, the really big ones, scare the crap out of us. They’re supposed to. It’s a healthy thing and it shouldn’t stop you from going for it. To be honest, I’m extremely nervous about heading to Guatemala in a bit. I’ve traveled before, but this is my first time as an adult, going solo, to a country where I don’t comfortably speak the language and don’t know anyone locally. I very nearly cancelled the trip a month ago, that’s how nervous I am about it. But I’m going anyway. I know for a fact that I’m going to come away from it feeling twice as confident about solo travel as I do now. My next trip won’t scare me.
Because you are capable of more than you can imagine.
I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to underestimate myself. It’s easy to set goals that we know we can achieve. It’s much harder to take our big dreams seriously and try hard to make them happen. That said, you might be surprised by what you can achieve when you set the bar high and take your abilities seriously. When you have a goal in mind, the world seems to conspire to help you achieve it. In reality, it’s just our subconsciousness helping us to make choices that point towards success, but hey. It does feel like magic. Magic + a ton of hard work and commitment. You’ve got this. In the end, there is no better feeling than achieving a goal you’d set as an impossible challenge.
Because you have this moment, now.
I think about this a lot. We aren’t promised tomorrow. And we have no way of slowing down today. As my Gramps says, “Once it slips past the keel, it’s gone.” We all like to talk about our bucket lists, which we’ll accomplish “someday,” but someday may never come. You can’t rely on your body to be healthy forever. You can’t assume you’ll be alive in a week. When you have a dream, you’d better start calling it a plan. We can only be sure of this moment, now. And even if we live full lives, 80 years is nothing. There’s no way I’ll fit all the adventures I want to have into 80 years. So if you have a dream that’s been wandering around the corners of your mind, stop putting it off and start living it. What’s holding you back, really?
Because you won’t regret it.
I was reading an article recently about how dying people typically regret the things they didn’t do during their lives. We hardly ever truly regret the things we have done, with a few exceptions, of course. But if you go on that trip, write that book, learn that new skill, or challenge yourself in a new way, you are not likely to regret it. You ARE likely to regret never trying to do the things you dream of. My biggest fear is to get to the end of my life, look back, and find that there were many times that I wanted to do something incredible but didn’t even try, because I was afraid in some way.
Because looking backwards is only for goodbyes.
I find that when I’m not actively pursuing a dream, I spend too much time thinking in the past tense. I go over old memories, think back to times when I was pursuing something, and linger over bad experiences. Some nostalgia is good, but I like that working towards a dream or goal keeps you focused on the present and the future. Being engaged in the present moment feels far more alive. We look backwards when we say goodbye or revisit a place that was once important to us. We look forwards when we’re driving towards something new, about to tackle a challenge, or preparing for an adventure. Pursuing dreams keeps us truly alive.
Life is short, and we’re born with wild imaginations for a reason. I wish you all the ability to be brave, to stand up to your fears, and to dream big with me. Don’t give up on your ideas and your passions. Live for what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Let’s spend every moment of this life truly living fearlessly!