Fact: I’m a dreamer. Growing up, I was your stereotypical introvert kid with a love of reading, writing, and drawing. I spent my weekends with my nose buried in a novel, and I lined up outside the bookstore to get my hands on the last Harry Potter book. Like many young introverts, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I spent my days daydreaming, or “catching gapsie” as my Caribbean parents called it, and I wrote a lot: plays, stories, journal entries, and when I got older, blog posts.
I had a lot of grand ideas, like how I would one day steal away to Paris in the middle of the night and embark on a fantastic adventure. Or how I would go to university and study archaeology so I could spend my work days traipsing through the desert and my days off sandboarding down the windswept dunes, my long, glossy ponytail flowing freely behind me.
At some point during my young adult life, I realized that while I never wanted to stop being a dreamer, I could no longer be only a dreamer. I had to get ish done. And so, I came up with the idea of “active dreaming,” or making the wonderful ideas in my head a reality.
I spent the month of March feeling pretty overwhelmed with all the things I took on. A lot of the things I was overloaded with were things I didn’t even want to do. Spending time and energy on things I low-key can’t stand sucks because it feels like I’m wasting my time. It’s a good way to end up bitter and resentful, which are flavours we don’t serve here.
Since then, I’ve found myself being irresistibly pulled toward my childhood and teenage dreams– dreams I thought I had long-since abandoned. France? Maybe I should go back–and speak the language this time. Remember how I wanted to be a designer? Maybe I can still do it. I always wanted to be a writer: what would be the harm in trying?
Read more: Chasing the Pull (external link)
These thoughts are dangerous to that ever-present little naysayer, Negative Nancy, who runs around inside my head, telling me to stop being unrealistic, that it’s too late, that the things I want aren’t possible.
Unfortunately for her, her free-reigning days are numbered. I think there’s a place for her, because she’s good at keeping me practical when she can express herself in a healthy manner. But she can’t be the boss.
So I’ve been trying, slowly, to line up my life with my daydreams. I’m still figuring things out, but I’m moving. Consider this active dreaming for the practically-minded.
As a millennial in North America, I’m exposed to a culture that really plays up the unicorns in society, the people who’ve made it big and did it quickly. The idea of taking a single dramatic step to change the direction of our future is really popular and heavily romanticized. There are many celebrated stories of people who just quit their jobs and followed their passion, only to find a lot of success in doing so. I love these stories and get inspired by these stories, but they leave me with the sense that the path to success, however we define it, is black and white. Either we make dramatic decisions and race towards success like we’re trying to catch Usain Bolt, or we stay where we are and resign ourselves to a life of mediocrity and unfulfilled dreams. This doesn’t sit well with me. It hides the fact that success is a slow process for many people, and glosses over the reality that many successful people have actually worked towards their goals for years before they made it big. I also think it over-emphasizes things like money, fame, and adventure, when in reality, a lot of us want less glamourous things like financial security, loving relationships, and good health.
So consider this my counter-narrative: I think success is often personally defined and slow. I think it can be things society values less, like resolving a conflict with a friend, or things that society values more, like finding love or making six figures. I don’t think success is necessarily glamourous. I think success is strategic, and not entirely based on luck. And I think taking calculated risks is useful in obtaining it, as opposed to jumping in feet-first, though that has its place too. So I present you the sequence I realize I’ve been inadvertently following in trying to reach my own version of success.
Time will tell if it works.
If I want something, like say, a stint as a working designer, I’ve learned to research it. Sometimes when I learn more about something, I realize it’s something I don’t actually want, that the ideas I had about it were incorrect, or that there are better plans or alternatives to getting what I want. For example, I thought that if I wanted to be a designer, I’d have to spend an additional year in school and thousands of dollars in tuition. When I got a little nagging thought to hold my horses and do some more looking (thanks, God), I realized that I could get a design education for under $100 and it was something I could do while I continue my current education.
Alternatively, I might also realize that something is in fact what I want, maybe more than I initially thought.
After I finish researching something (and I have to try really hard not to go overboard) and decide that I do actually want something, I tend to come up with a plan for getting that thing. As a kid, I used to let my imagination run wild and come up with all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas. There’s still room for that, but I realize that I also need to be practical. This is where my inner Negative Nancy is a beast. She knows my weaknesses, my insecurities, my areas of need. Would I have the time to dedicate to learning design on top of what I was already doing? I couldn’t handle commuting anywhere to go to class with my current schedule. And what about credentials, or at least a piece of paper? Employers like those.
Even though these aren’t exactly fun thoughts, I think these are all good things to consider when trying to plan. What resources do I have? What am I missing? How much can I commit? When do I want to get this done? My dad has told me that doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is a useful planning tool. You can read more about that here.
When I was younger, I would get stuck in the research or planning stage and never actually follow through. I think this is one of the big differences between kid me and adult me: adult me understands that results matter and that a plan isn’t very helpful if I don’t carry it out, no matter how good it might be.
Still, for someone who loves thinking, taking action is the hard part (if you’re a doer, then research and planning might be hard). This is when that stereotypical millennial advice about just doing it (and maybe even quitting your job) comes in handy. There is nothing to do at this point except plow through like you mean it.
I was so nervous when I was about to sign up for my design courses that I chickened out like three times before I actually did it. But I did it. Taking action feels so final, like I’m committing to a decision. It’s uncomfortable for me, but it’s necessary.
Be flexible (and patient)
I’ve found that the story doesn’t end when I take action. First, I will use the obligatory (and dreaded) c-word: consistency is important after I’ve taken the initial step. We all know this, so there’s no need to beat a dead horse.
But I’m also realizing I need to be flexible. Circumstances change and so do people. A great plan I had might no longer be viable, something might come up that prevents me from going further in the same way, or with more exposure, I might find that what I wanted no longer fits my vision of success. And of course, sometimes we fail and we have to deal with that.
So then what? At that point, it would be time for me to tweak. Even if my goal doesn’t change, sometimes my steps might have to. For example, if I find that I can’t finish my design courses in the time frame I planned, I might have to start a backup job instead of going straight for a design job like I hoped.
For me, being flexible also involves being open to other plans. I ask God to direct my steps. Because if something isn’t the path I’m supposed to be on, I don’t want to be on it.
And finally, there is patience. Another dreaded word because it means that there are no shortcuts. I love shortcuts–we all do. But sometimes ish just takes time. Success can be slow. And that’s the point at which I have to remind myself what I’m working for and just take the time to enjoy all that I’ve been empowered to do (again, thanks, God) and all the other things going on in life.
Here’s another counter-narrative: I think stopping to smell the roses can be helpful when it comes to success: it helps us to stay on course for the long haul. Because success if often a marathon, not a sprint.
What are you doing to help you achieve your goals? What does success look like for you?
Image via Godisable Jacob @ Pexels
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