We all have dreams and passions, but how many of us are actively pursuing them? So often “real life” gets in the way, keeping us from living the life we truly want to live. We get lost in the fantasy of ONE DAY, that mystical time and place when everything is possible. ONE DAY is very different from RIGHT NOW. RIGHT NOW never has enough time or money or resources.
At least that is what we tell ourselves. That is what I told myself.
I had always wanted to be a writer. I believed I had to wait until retirement to become one.
I decided 9 months ago to start taking my dream seriously. Since then I have published a chapter in a parenting book, spoken at a Mom conference, and am almost done with the first draft of a novel.
When I started, I certainly didn’t have a lot of free time, not with a 3 and 1 year old running around at home. Having gone from two incomes to one when my son was born meant we didn’t have a ton of extra money laying around either. But I decided to turn my RIGHT NOW into ONE DAY.
This is how I did it.
Step One: Define Your passion.
It’s going to be hard to follow your dream if you don’t know what it is.
If you don’t have a clear idea of your passions, start making lists of things that make you happy, make you feel important, make you angry, you could talk about for hours, or that keep you up til the wee hours of the morning (besides Netflix, unless of course binge watching Netflix is your passion, in which case, congratulations! You’ve made it!)
Maybe you have too many passions and interests. You should narrow it down, at least at first, to give yourself a clear direction. For instance, I love reading, writing, art, dance, and travel (who doesn’t?). Maybe one day I’ll write stories and turn them into international, multimedia stage performances, but for right now, I’m going to focus solely on the writing aspect.
Step Two: Surround Yourself with Inspiring People.
If you happen to know people in real life who are already living your dream, that’s awesome! Get to know them even more. Pick their brains. Ask for advice. Listen to their stories. If not, you can look for meet ups and local groups of like-minded individuals to find your niche.
If you live in the middle of nowhere or are a chronically shy introvert like myself, social media is GREAT for this!
I wouldn’t have started my writing journey if it weren’t for Twitter. I originally joined for parenting jokes. It was there that I discovered @KayAyDowling. She has a daughter about my younger son’s age AND is a published indie author AND is still writing. All while raising a toddler. I thought I stumbled across a frickin unicorn (which I did, Kelly is in fact amazing).
I discovered a whole community of writers, some with kids, some with jobs, some in school, some doing all three. I don’t know why but I thought all writers were liberal arts graduates living in their New York studio apartments spending their days in coffee shops. It hadn’t occurred to me that people were out there writing and publishing books in the midst of full, chaotic lives.
It got me thinking: If they can do it, then so can I.
I can’t speak for all of Twitter, but the writing community (and parenting community) on there is so supporting and inspiring. Whenever I feel discouraged or lack luster, I log in and see others struggling, overcoming, succeeding, and cheering on. In no time at all my spirits are lifted and I can carry on for another day. (Beware, it can also be a total time suck. Who knew?)
If Twitter isn’t your thing, you can still check out YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. The internet is a big, beautiful, scary place. Your people are out there. Go find them.
Step Three: Decide it (and You) are Worth Investing In.
You’ll never get anywhere if your dreams are always shoved to the back burner. Of course we all have responsibilities that can’t be overlooked (if only 3 year olds could feed themselves, am I right?) but you need to make the decision to prioritize your dreams and goals. That most often means designating time, mental energy, and funds.
As a stay at home mom to two toddlers, time and mental energy are always on short supply. My only free time is during naptime and after bedtime, when all I want to do is sleep or zone out on my phone. Even when I’m not “sleeping when the baby sleeps,” I have clothes to wash, a house to clean, and meals to cook.
It’s easy to think you don’t have time for anything when life gets in the way, but you’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in even 20 minutes a day. But you’ll never find the time if you don’t make it a priority. Wake up 30 minutes earlier. Write it down in your calendar. Make yourself a sticker chart and reward yourself with ice cream (because we’re adults, dammit).
Unfortunately I am a very unmotivated individual (some would even say lazy). Even when I find myself with down time, it’s hard to find the motivation to write. I need to constantly remind myself that this IS important to me and why. They don’t have professional motivators who will follow you around all day, telling you to get sh*t done (trust me, I’ve looked into it) so YOU need to make the conscious decision to make your dreams a priority and stick with it.
Thankfully for me, writing is, at it’s core, completely free. It’s something you can do with zero financial investment. Note taking apps like Evernote for your phone are free. You probably already own tons of empty notebooks around the house. If not, napkins and those free pens banks give out will do just fine.
However, the more seriously you take your writing (and any goal for that matter) the more necessary money may become. If I decide to go the indie publishing route, it can be very expensive (to do right). When the time comes, I need to decide if it’s worth it for me and to then take steps to raise the money.
Not only that, investing hard-earned cash into your passions signals to yourself and those around you that this IS a priority you are taking seriously, one you’re not going to give up in a few weeks time (hopefully).
So far I have purchased the Scrivener writing program, the domain name for this site, and a trip to New York to attend the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference (my credit card really wishes I didn’t buy that last one, but he’s just gonna have to suck it up). On my exceptionally unmotivated days, I remember the money I’ve already invested and the frugal side of me becomes determined not to let it go to waste.
Spending money is also a vote of confidence in yourself. Subconsciously you’re telling yourself that not only is your dream worth $X, but YOU are worth $X. That can be a hard transition to make. You’re betting on yourself to make the experience worth it. Even if your passion doesn’t result in a 6 figure salary, or any income at all, admitting that your happiness and sense of accomplishment are worth spending money on can be a very freeing experience.
Step Four: Make SMART Goals.
I’m sure many of you have heard of SMART goals before, but it’s worth repeating. Goals keep you focused and moving in the right direction. SMART goals keep your from getting too frustrated.
SMART goals are goals which are:
For example, the goal “Write a novel by the end of the year” isn’t nearly as helpful as “Finish the first draft of chapters 1-5 by September 1st.” They give you a clear sense of direction and help you know the baby steps you need to take in order to reach your overarching goal.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals as you go (for instance, if October is much more realistic than September). But having hard set goals/deadlines can be very motivating.
For instance, I told myself I had to have my site and this blog post ready to go July 30th. I really really wanted to go to bed before finishing this, but my goal reminded me of my priorities. It is 1:15am July 31st, but as long as I post this before I go to bed tonight, it still counts as the 30th ;-P.
Step Five: Celebrate the Small Things.
Most likely your goals are grand and beautiful. But if you don’t consider yourself successful until you’ve reach the finish line, the race is going to feel that much longer.
If we continue this running metaphor, let’s say you are running a marathon. You shouldn’t wait until mile 26.2 to feel good about yourself.
Congratulate yourself for signing up. Cheer yourself on while tying your shoes. Give yourself a high five for making it to the starting line. Pat yourself on the back for every mile you run. Celebrate the halfway point with a giant bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream (ok, maybe not that exactly, but you get my gist).
Any progress is good progress. For my example of writing, when I started last November, I had many 1k-2k word days. But now, I average closer to 200-500. I have a hard time not beating myself up about this. It’s easy to see days like that a failure (or *gasp* days I don’t get any writing done at all).
But I took a step back from drafting my novel to get this site up and running. We’re trying to get our house ready to sell so I have a long list of packing and projects and cleaning to do all while keeping alive two little agents of chaos. Just because I’ve made writing a priority doesn’t mean it’s my only priority.
And hey, 200 words is still closer to my goal than I was yesterday.
Maybe your goals and passions look impossible. Maybe your goal requires going back to school or moving to another country. These things won’t happen overnight and it’s easy to get discouraged in the meantime.
Find the baby steps you can take and congratulate yourself for them. Research programs, start a budget and savings plan, buy a brand new luggage tag. Any progress is good progress.
Step Six: Be Kind to Yourself.
This goes along with the example I gave during step five: not beating myself up for days of low to no productivity. Sometimes life gets in the way and you have to step back for a few days/weeks/months. Instead of getting discouraged and giving up altogether, forgive yourself and move on.
This is a lesson I’ve been learning as I’ve been coping with clinical depression. I was diagnosed during my second pregnancy and let me tell you, it’s a doozy. Forget about writing, I had plenty of days when the kids ate nothing but veggie straws and did nothing but watch TV; plenty of days when the dishes piled so high they were falling off the counter; plenty of weeks we didn’t leave the house because I didn’t have it in me. I have had more than enough chances to deem myself a failure and give up.
What I learned from all this (besides that antidepressants are life-changing) is that beating yourself up for un-productivity does more harm than good. Accept that you have had one (or five) bad days, but that tomorrow will be a good day. And if it’s not, then tomorrow will be a good day. Repeat until a good day comes. Trust that it will.
Step Seven: Do Not Compare Yourself to Others.
While it’s important to surround yourself with successful people to learn from and be inspired by them, don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to them. Everyone has their own journey. Whether you just started or have been working towards your goal for a decade, every person has a different set of circumstances, both seen and unseen, that affect that journey.
The only person you should ever compare yourself to is your past self.
Do you know more now than you did a year ago? GREAT.
Have you nailed down your schedule and become more disciplined? AWESOME.
Are you one step closer to your goal than you ever have been before? KEEP IT UP CHAMP!
All you need to focus on is moving forward and improving from exactly where you are now. Any progress is good progress.
Step Eight: Start RIGHT NOW.
Yes, like, right now.
Hopefully as you’ve read through this blog, visions of grandeur and painted sunset skies with heavenly choruses have filled your mind, confirming within you the passion waiting to emerge fully realized into the world.
So go DO something about it. Right now.
Brainstorm some goals. Figure out the first step. Find where to fit it into your schedule. Read a blog or watch a YouTube video on the subject. If you still can’t define your passion, free write until something comes to the forefront.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Take this blog for example. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I’ve consumed countless YouTube videos and blogs on what and how and when to do it perfectly.
Is this blog perfect?
Hahahahaha. *clears throat*
It’s ok that it’s not perfect. But it’s one step closer to becoming a successful full-time writer than I was before. And as I go, it will only get better (remember, I only need to compare to my own progress)
Pick something and go DO it. Then come back here and tell me about it in the comments.
It’s ok, I’ll wait.
If you’re already following your dream and read this list just for funsies, tell us how it’s going! What is your passion and how is it manifesting in your life? Let us be inspired by you.