When I was nine years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a writer.
Loving and supportive and deeply pragmatic as they were, my parents patted my tiny, third-grade hand and said, “That’s great! Maybe you should get another job and write at night. See how that goes first?”
And while I resented their advice even at that young age, I followed it. For years, I taught ESL at a non-profit, coming in early and leaving late so I could write on my work computer.
For two years, I spent every 45-minute lunch break leaving comments on other blogs. I learned to live on, like, $2 because I was saving money to leap into self-employment.
While all this sounds a bit hard-assed and dire in retrospect, I’ve discovered that it’s not unique. Nearly every dream-chaser and goal-achiever I know has a similar story! Last month, Rêve Consulting invited five dream-pursuers and me to speak about what we’ve learned by chasing big, audacious ambitions. I was amazed that so many of us shared similar epiphanies!
Below, you’ll find some of my personal revelations as well as those of Tricia Khutoretsky, founder and curator of the Public Functionary art gallery, Jamie Millard co-executive director of Pollen Midwest, and my husband Dr. Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist for the state of Minnesota.
12 things you learn while chasing your dreams
1. Talent’s important (but it’s not the only thing)
Let’s file this one under the heading of “simultaneously depressing and reassuring.” Being a talented, naturally gifted writer/photographer/designer/visionary is certainly helpful and it will give you a head start in any industry.
But there are a jillion things that are just as – or more – important than talent.
a watertight work ethic
connecting with people
keeping up with changes and developments in your field
good client and customer service
The talent part? That’s just one tiny sliver of the juicy, dream-pursing pie.
2. Sometimes you’ll win the race because everyone else is dropping out
There are lots of components to success but one that nobody talks about? Continuing to show up. Even when it’s hard and inconvenient and you’re not particularly inspired.
And while I mean this in a metaphorical, philosophical sense, I also mean it in the literal sense. I’ve been posting on this blog multiple times a week for seven years; 75% of bloggers quit blogging after three months. As much as I’d like to credit my success to good ideas and writing skills, the reality is part of the reason I can blog full time is because most people quit.
And this doesn’t just apply to blogging! 2.9 billion dollars of federal grant money was left unclaimed in 2014 because college students failed to fill out their FAFSA. 83% of employers struggle with hiring because they don’t have enough applicants. It’s cliché, but it’s true: most of success is just showing up.
3. Do what you say you’re going to do
A good friend of mine is a magazine editor who spends hours every day reading pitches and corralling freelancers. When asked about who she hires repeatedly, she said:
“If I have to choose between an amazing, genius writer who turns things in late and a decent writer who’s always on time and follows directions, I will hire the decent writer every single time.”
Let this be a lesson to all of us.
4. Your dream might look different than you imagined
Back 1988 when I initially announced my professional goals, I imagined that I’d make my living penning books about a family of mice who fought crime.
This has not panned out.
Instead, I write blog posts and magazine articles; I ghostwrite books for major publishers. I didn’t even know these options existed in third grade!
I imagine the same goes for you. The end game of working as an artist or designer or scientist might look different than you expected. Technology is constantly evolving and so are you. Don’t turn down opportunities just because they’re not dressed quite the way you thought they’d be. You never know where you’ll end up!
5. Surround yourself with awesome people who are strong where you are weak
Real talk: I’m not good at everything. And unless you’re Beyoncé, I’m guessing the same goes for you. I’m a good writer and idea-haver, I’m less skilled at design work, SEO, or anything involving code. So I hire those tasks out or swap with friends who are clever where I’m all “what now?”
And this isn’t just about tasks and logistics. If you’re a glass-half-empty type, do you have people in your life who can point out the silver lining? If you really, really struggle with self-promotion do you know people who will gently nudge you to talk more about your work? If you’re a late adopter, do you have a tribe of iPhone 6s plus-ers who will tell you all about Periscope?
A rising tide lifts all boats. Surround yourself with people who lift the tide and be sure you lift the tide for others as well!
6. Don’t publicize your self-doubt
A very wise friend recently pointed out that “no one will notice you’ve gained five pounds unless you go out of your way to tell them” – and I think that holds true for just about everything.
You write your own story and you get to choose how you talk about things. If you’re hosting your first gallery show, there is little benefit to telling everyone “I hate how it turned out! I can’t believe I thought those colors worked! The gallery is in such an uncool neighborhood!”
How can you expect people to believe in you and your work if it sounds like you don’t believe in it? Of course, all of us struggle with insecurities but it’s probably best to save those for deep-and-meaningfuls with your BFF, not the launch of your new product.
7. Lack of resources is not an excuse
When my friend Tricia wanted to repaint a wall in her gallery to accentuate a new piece of art, she realized that the budget couldn’t accommodate several fresh cans of Benjamin Moore.
The gallery didn’t have money for new paint, but they did have two old cans of blue paint and half a can of grey. Mix ‘em together = problem solved.
If it’s important you’ll find a way, if it’s not you’ll find an excuse. You can shoot amazing photos with your phone. You can write your blog on your work computer, after hours (I did this for two years!). You can beg, borrow, swap. Really and truly, if there’s a will, there’s a way
8. Trust the process
Are you doing everything you should be doing? Are you working hard, showing up, and connecting with people? Are you trying new things? Are you sharing your work?
If you are, it’s pretty damn likely that you’re (eventually) going to get where you want to go. It won’t happen overnight and it probably won’t even happen this year, but have faith in yourself and your hard work. If you’re doing the work, it’ll probably work out. Click To Tweet
9. And then find a way to enjoy the process
At the risk of sounding cheesy, chasing a dream is generally a journey, not a destination.
It is usually a loooong process and while there may be milestones – becoming gainfully self-employed, landing the job you always wanted, getting a book deal – few of us ever truly feel like we’ve ‘arrived.’
So find a way to make your dream-chasing sustainable and enjoyable. Make sure you take breaks and vacations. Get enough sleep, water, and movement in your daily life. Talk to people who are pursuing similar dreams. Celebrate the little wins. Be honest with yourself about the amount of time and energy you’ll need to pursue this dream and either adjust your other obligations accordingly or put yourself on a slower, gentler, more realistic calendar.
As a side note: if you can’t find a way to enjoy the process you should, perhaps, reconsider why you’re doing it. Because it’s pretty much all process.
10. Celebrate the little wins as much as the big ones
When you’re spending months – and even years – going hard out on your dream, it’s easy to let celebration and commemoration fall by the wayside. Or you might be saving that bottle of champers for your first five-figure month or landing your first corporate client.
Friend, pop that cork and commit to celebrating the little wins. Pull out a notebook and write down some super doable goals and when you reach them – celebrate them. 1,000 Twitter followers? Cocktails at that fancy bar that has ‘artisan ice.’ Hiring a part-time VA and actually delegating some of your day-to-day tasks? Pedicure with rhinestones. Finally getting your email list auto-responder situation figured out? SPA DAY.
11. If something’s taking you in the direction of your dream, do more of it. If it’s not, do less of it.
Do you dream of creating art for a living? Then, yes! Snap up that opportunity to be featured in the art show your friend curated!
Is it your dream to spend all your free time on Pinterest and all your disposable income at Forever 21? No? Then maybe do less of that.
When you’re presented with an opportunity, an invitation, an idea or a request, ask yourself “Is this moving me closer to or further away from my dream?” If the answer is the latter, I think you know what to do.The choices you make pave the road to your dream. Pay attention to the stepping stones you’re laying down. Click To Tweet
12. To get love, you have to give love
That’s sweet, isn’t it? I mean this in the larger sense, of course, but also in the pragmatic, business sense. Be kind to the people in your life, celebrate birthdays and big wins. Tell people you appreciate them.
In the professional realm, support work that inspires you; promote people and organizations who are doing work you believe in. Share your knowledge. When you make a mistake and learn from it, tell us about it so we can avoid that same trap. Go to that book launch or gallery opening. Tweet about your friend’s new product.
When you inevitably need support or insight or promotional tweets, all those people you’ve loved will love you back.
So tell me! Are you actively pursuing a dream? If you are, what have you learned along the way?