Crafting a life you love is the ultimate creative adventure. The journey to your dream life may not be the smoothest path you could take. No, the road to your dreams is probably paved on difficult terrain, sprinkled with potholes and blind curves, but somewhere along the way, you should find fulfillment, happiness and that elusive emotion — joy. Your dream life is closer than you imagine; so pack your courage, strap on some confidence, leave fear behind and head out into the wild unknown.
“You can not direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Anonymous
Step: 1: Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life.
Your ability to visualize a life that is fulfilling, rewarding and authentically you, begins with taking a cold hard look at where you are, a realistic accounting of your current reality. Once you have a clear picture of where you are and where you want to go, then you can create a plan to bridge the gap.
Take a good look around your life. Search for the truth deep down, behind all of the excuses, compromises, regrets and insecurities — your own personal truth. Are you fulfilled with your life? Are you and the people around you happy? Do you feel balanced? Are you surrounded with beauty and comfort in your life? Are you getting what you want? And, the biggest question of all, are you fulfilling your life’s purpose?
If the answer is no, then congratulate yourself. Acknowledging that your life is not what you want is very brave. Most people in society today fill their life with distractions to avoid this realization, especially women. Our lives are overloaded with responsibilities and compromises, and the last person’s needs on our giant to do list is usually our own. It is a woman’s natural instinct to take care of others first. And yet, there is a reason why airlines insist mothers give themselves oxygen in an emergency before their children, a suffocating mommy is no good to anyone. Making yourself happy has a ripple effect, resulting in far more joy for everyone around you.
When you know you are not where you want to be, the first step towards finding your best life is to take 100% responsibility for every aspect of your current situation: your level of achievement, the quality of your work, relationships, income, debts, everything. This is easier said than done. It is not an easy concept to truly accept. After all, the sum of everyone’s life is a result of compromises and sacrifices. Early on in childhood, we suppressed our dreams of being a fairy princess, when our parents informed us that we needed to find practical goals that will pay the bills, a real job.
I remember as a child telling my mother I wanted a job I loved. She informed me that all jobs, no matter how great they start out, eventually become just a job. She told me to find one that paid well, so I would have the freedom to do fun things outside of work, where my real life happened.
Thankfully, I realized the flaw in this line of reasoning. Even at seven years old, her career counseling didn’t sit well with me. It seemed odd that someone would spend the majority of their waking day doing a job they didn’t enjoy. For what? So they could go on a cruise once a year, on a ship with thousands of other people who are there to enjoy their one week of happiness a year, too?
At some point in everyone’s life, we have all felt trapped by others’ expectations and boundaries, but the reality is that we either create or allow everything that happens to us. Don’t live someone else’s dream and stop settling for less than what you want.
Too often in our over-scheduled world, we totally lose sight of ourselves. Between jobs, partners, children, parents, spouses, houses, exercise, car payments, diets, siblings, friends, Facebook, TV shows, volunteering, shopping, we leave little time for introspection. Days, months and even years can go by until something, often catastrophic, breaks our debilitating stare. Have you ever been driving and suddenly realized your mind is totally somewhere else? Life can be like that. You are living your life, but your body is simply going through the motions.
No more autopilot, no more excuses. It’s time to take the wheel and set a defined course. The perfect time to start, when all the stars align is right now. Don’t let advancing age, obligations and responsibilities deter your resolve. Regardless where you are or how you got there, it is time to move forward.
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo
Step 2: Dream Big
You get what you expect, over and over. Scientists continually prove that the placebo effect not only exists, it is responsible for a significant improvement in health and mental well-being. Most people who fail do not lack the skills or aptitude to reach their goals; they fail because they simply don’t believe they can achieve them. You must choose to believe in yourself. Usually, this is a skill you must learn on your own.
Although most parents love and support their children, they inadvertently pass down the same limiting beliefs and negative conditioning their parents taught them. Cautionary conditioning is often a parental instinct to protect children from heartbreak and disappointment. Parents try to guide their children to a path they view as safe and prosperous.
When my 8-year-old son tells me he wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up, I slightly cringe inside. He is a good player, but he isn’t practicing for hours at home, playing baseball non-stop. To reach the professional level requires a tremendous talent and obsession with the game. The number of hours athletes of that caliber spend on their sport is amazing (10,000 hours according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers).
My son doesn’t have that kind of love of the sport, at least not yet. So until I see potential I cannot deny, I will be introducing alternate options. He is a math wiz and very artistic, so I suggest engineering or architecture as possible career choices. I believe these fields play to his strengths and he might enjoy building things like his grandfather (my dad). Only time will tell the man he will grow up to be and only he can ultimately decide where he wants his life to go. Whatever he decides I will support, but I feel it is my job to guide him into a direction that I think he would enjoy and is attainable, until that day comes. So, I am again inadvertently passing on the limiting ideals my parents placed on me.
As women, the discussion of oppressive parental visions could fill an entire library. It’s amazing to think of how new the idea is that women can actually have a life of our own making. It’s sobering to recognize this is the first millennium where women truly have a voice that is counted. Less than 100 years ago, women couldn’t even vote in America. Women in Saudi Arabia still cannot legally drive an automobile in the 21st century. Hopefully that will change soon.
We live in transformative times. Never before in the history of mankind have women had more opportunities. Regardless of your age or your location, you can become the women you dream to be.
Most high achievers were not the most talented or gifted person in their field. They simply believed in the goal more than others. They worked hardest to achieve it. The latest brain research shows that with positive visualization and self-talk combined with professional training, coaching and practice; an individual can learn almost anything. The only person stopping you is you. So give yourself permission to dream big. You truly do deserve it!
Step 3: Write It Down
This is one time in life when being self-centered is necessary. To define your personal dreams, you must set aside society’s ideals and external standards. Set aside some time in your schedule when you can be alone with no distractions. In a new notebook or journal, write “My Dreams” on page one.
The goal of this exercise is to identify the things you feel passionate about. What words come to mind when you think about these ideas?
1. Next write about the places you’ve been that you enjoyed. How did these locations make you feel? And why?
2. Now, think back to days when you felt best about yourself. Special days that stand out in your mind. What words would you have used to describe yourself on those days?
3. Imagine winning the Powerball jackpot. What would you do, where would you go, who would you help? Think about all the amazing things you would do, if money were no object. Think about it overnight, live out the fantasy in your mind as you go to sleep. The next morning wake up and think about what you would do next. After all the initial fantasies of the lotto win are done, what would you do? Write down how your life would look, where you would live, who would be in your life. Would you work, volunteer, create art or music? This exercise helps you break through the boundaries to discover what you truly value. And then, you can use that knowledge to craft a winner’s life without the millions.
4. Now, make a list of your Strengths and Weaknesses, not just skills but also your physical, emotional and psychological traits. Then ask those closest to you to make their own list of their perception of your strengths and weaknesses.
Keep in mind that friends and colleagues may be most astute; family can often have deep-seated impressions from years past, not necessarily based in current reality.
Finally, it’s time to read back through all of the information you’ve gathered through this process. Notice all links and pay particular attention to the way you feel. What ideas bring you calm or excitement? Let your intuition be your guide (Find the similarities among the various ideas and feelings.) as you assess the core of what makes you truly happy.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. ” Anais Nin
Step 4: Reality Check
Now that you have a clear picture of what makes you happy, it’s time for a dose of reality. Contrary to what some self-help gurus teach, I think it’s important to be realistic. While I’m a fan of inspirational, positive affirmation, feel-good philosophy, I also live in the real world. When I say that you can live your dreams, maybe I should add a disclaimer stating that there are “limitations.”
For example, a 55-year-old woman is not going to live out her childhood fantasy of being a prima ballerina for the New York City Ballet. Let’s call this fictional middle-aged ballerina, Susan. She can have her dream, but through an alternate path. If Susan spends time analyzing her youthful fantasy, she will find the core of what she actually desires.
Perhaps when Susan was young, she loved moving her body by dancing. She enjoyed performing, the feeling when people appreciated her performance and the warmth of the spotlight. Training and competing made her feel strong and proud of accomplishing her goal.
Obviously, Susan’s prima ballerina days are over. BUT, she can change her life and open herself up to an entirely new world. A world where she can capture those feelings that created her fantasy. She could join a ballroom dancing class or club and meet others who share her interest. She could step it up a notch to fulfill her dream of performing by training to compete in ballroom dancing competitions, wildly popular since “Dancing with the Stars” debuted. Or she might enjoy taking adult ballet classes. She could practice ballet and improve her health and fitness. She could even do both activities and successfully manifest all of the feelings that fueled her fantasy, bringing renewed vitality and excitement to every facet of her life through dance.
Living the life of your dreams doesn’t mean you need to tear down your entire world. Sometimes our dream life is just around the corner. To Susan’s surprise, her dreams are not in New York, rather the Arthur Murray Dance Studio might be a good place to start.
However, it’s important not to mistake realistic goals with settling. Far too often people water their dreams down so much that they bear little resemblance to the real thing. Once these lukewarm goals are reached, they still feel unfulfilled with only one decipherable choice- to move on to the next tepid fantasy; and, thus continue the treadmill of deception. The media bombards us with images and fantastical ideals of achievement and yet so few people are truly happy. Drug addiction, obesity, violence and depression are the symptoms of the dilemma plaguing modern society.
The purpose of setting realistic goals is to access the truth underneath your fantasies. The feelings are at the core of your desires. Once you establish this set of parameters, creating a path that fulfills those needs should be the goal, not recreating a fantasy existence. A rich, full life based on truth is the ultimate goal.
Perhaps you want to be a classical pianist. Does that mean you can only play classical music? Do you only want to play a grand piano or might you like an upright? Do you need to perform for a living or is this something you can do part-time or weekends? Do you want to perform or teach? Would you like to join a band or perform solo? One idea is to start with weddings and parties in your area.
Maybe you dream of having a family, but you have not found the “right” man. Do you need a spouse to raise a child? Do you need to raise a child from infancy or would you be happy adopting an older child? Far too many children in this world desperately need a loving home.
Whatever your dream life looks like, it will be uniquely yours. Once you see it, don’t let it go. Write it down — all of it. Imagine what it feels like living it. Tell your friends and family about it. Own it; believe it and you will make it happen!
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Mark Twain
Step 5: Get Going
Now that you have deciphered your
true needs, you must convert them into specific measurable goals and objectives. Then take action to turn those dreams into your successful new reality. Break your goals down into specific weekly, monthly, and quarterly steps. Also, add one breakthrough goal that would move your plans forward in an exponential way.
Write your goals down and look at them three times a day. A vision board can be a great way to illustrate the life you want. Some people find it useful to carry goals with them in their wallet or on their phone. When Jim Carrey was a struggling actor, he wrote himself a $10 million check for “acting services rendered,” post-dated it 10 years and kept it in his wallet. By the time the ten years rolled around, he was being paid over $10 million per movie.
Always remember that failure only comes from standing still. Go through open doors when opportunity presents itself. Don’t be afraid of defeat, it is only a learning experience. Looking back from the perspective of wisdom, it is only the missed opportunities that foster regret. No one ever says on their deathbed, “I’m glad I didn’t take more chances.”
Step 6: Stay Positive & Confident
Once you have a clear vision of the life you want, don’t let others try to dampen your dreams. Beware of other people’s negative attitudes. Sometimes you have to follow a dream no one can see but you. Do not get stuck looking backwards with negative thinking; always move forward.
Instead of being negative, believing the world is conspiring against you, turn the tables. Trust that the universe is conspiring to bring the right people and experience to you at the right time.
When something goes wrong or someone disappoints you, look for the positive in the situation and absorb the lesson from experience to make you stronger. All situations, regardless how terrible they appear on the surface, have seeds of goodness.
A crisis is often the catalyst that opens many people up to new possibilities. In fact, the Chinese symbol for the word, “crisis” is made of two characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” The ancient Greeks also understood the significance of such life events; the root of the word, “crisis” is “Krinein” which means “turning point.”
Change is one of the few constants in life. Learning how to adapt when a door closes is crucial to being happy. Rather than spending your time lamenting over missed opportunities or lost choices, you must close the door firmly behind you, and pivot to focus on the doors ahead of you. Your next act awaits.
Confidence is an important part of positivity. Someone asked me recently where I got my confidence. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I don’t know exactly where I picked it up. I didn’t get it from my parents. While they were both successful people and gave me a good example to follow in life, they did not bolster my confidence as a child telling me I was brilliant or special, in fact, quite the opposite.
I was expected to get good grades. I don’t remember ever being rewarded for a good report card. I was expected to be kind to adults, get along well with my classmates, excel at activities, and be an all-around good kid. No one ever gave me a trophy if I didn’t win and compliments were few and far between at my house. My parents were good people and well respected, and they expected that I would grow up to be the same. I suppose I’m an overachiever, because I’m hoping someone will notice.
Nevertheless, I am a very confident woman. And if I’m not confident I can do something, I convince myself I can. I’ve always told myself: if I don’t believe I can do it, how will anyone else? Somewhere along the way, I learned that confidence is not something anyone can give you; it is a gift we must give ourselves.
I am also a firm believer in the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” That whole philosophy of dress for the job you want, not the job you have, has the ring of truth. We all have moments of doubt. At some level, we all hope people don’t find out that we don’t always know what we are doing. Being confident isn’t about always being the best; it’s doing the best with what we have to work with.
It’s important to note that true confidence does not resemble arrogance. No matter how good we look, how smart we are, how witty our jokes or how much money we make, someone can do it better and sooner or later we will run into them. That reality will keep you humble.
“You have to believe in yourself when no one else does — that’s what makes you a winner right there.” Venus Williams
Step 7: Avoid Comparisons
Embrace your uniqueness. You are one-of-a-kind so don’t waste time comparing your success and progress to anyone else or some external checklist drafted to fit a non-existent average life. So many people spend the majority of their life trying to fit in, only to find once they are inside, they want nothing more than to break out.
The fashion and beauty industry spend billions of dollars every year manipulating our image of beauty. Models are airbrushed into illusions feeding society’s ideals in order to entice women to run out and buy the latest product to keep up with the fantasy. Enough already.
We all have different definitions of success. Happiness is not a one size fits all concept. Don’t waste your life comparing your existence to anyone. Be bold, be YOU!
Step 8: Seize Today
It’s not too late to make your dreams come true. You can live your best life regardless of your current path, stage in life or financial situation You might need to make some course corrections and possibly the life of your dreams may look different than you imagine when you arrive, but that’s what makes it exciting.
In the phrase, “pursuit of happiness,” most people concentrate on the word happiness, as if it is a destination. But, happiness is a moving target.
My definition of happy changes throughout the years. What I considered a good time at 25, not so much at 45. I’m thinking at 65, it will look different as well.
While we must consistently appreciate the blessings of the moment, it is crucial that we always expand our horizons, continue to learn, try new things and dare to dream. After all, isn’t the meaning of life something we define for ourselves over our lifetime? I can tell you, Siri doesn’t know the answer.
I asked: “Siri, what is the meaning of life?” No joke, my iPhone responded, “I can’t answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.”
Those kids at Apple, they are a clever bunch. Prove them wrong, make something GREAT happen.
By Jules Lewis Gibson, Founder GRAVITAS.
For more in depth reading, please refer to the following books: The Success Principles, by Scott Canfield, The Confident Woman, by Joyce Meyer, and Second Acts by Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine.