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How to Live Your Dream

Photo by kris krüg
Sometimes a leap of faith is the only available transportation. ~Margaret Shepherd

The wind kicked up the desert sands behind me as I leaned forward, cautiously looking over the edge. The fissure had no visible bottom. On the other side, just a few feet away, the trees beckoned invitingly, promising water, promising shade.

There was nothing for me to go back to; if I wanted to go forward at all, I was going to have to jump. My heart ached to advance, but my knotted stomach held me back.

What if I can’t jump that far? What if I fall? What if it’s even worse over there on the other side?

OK, perhaps I’m being a little dramatic; I wasn’t literally standing in a desert. Or technically even jumping over anything. But the fear was completely real.

Standing at the Edge

You see, I wanted to create some big life changes for myself, the biggest of which was starting my own life coaching practice. While my current job had a lot of benefits and had once been immensely satisfying, it no longer fulfilled me.

I wanted to do something different. Yet fear held me back from actually doing it.

What if it didn’t work out? What if I failed? What if I didn’t have what it takes to run a business? What if, what if, what if …

Eventually I found the courage to leave that job and pursue coaching full time, but I quickly discovered that changing my external circumstances was a lot easier than changing myself.

While I had shifted my external world to support the change I desired, I hadn’t significantly altered my own perspective. I was still plagued by my “what if” fears and continued to be held back.

Instead of taking the courageous action that was necessary to be successful, I avoided risks. Anytime an obstacle appeared, I took it as a sign my dreams were doomed, and started searching for back-up plans and safety nets.

Instead of having confidence in my skills and experience, I constantly second-guessed myself.

Even though I had always dreamed of being self-employed, I found myself furtively searching for the security of being an employee at another organization and very nearly took the opportunity when it arose.

So while it might have looked like I had taken the leap to create the life I desired, inside I was still stuck in that desert. I was, by no means, all in.

Maybe you’ve been in a similar place. Maybe you’re there right now, wanting change but scared of the risk that change involves.

Faith

No matter how prepared we may be, creating significant change in our lives always requires some kind of a leap of faith. Most of us don’t have a crystal ball or clairvoyant powers, so we can’t predict exactly what the future holds.

We might think we will succeed, but we can’t know it for sure. In the midst of uncertainty, it is our faith that the reward is worth the risk that gives us the courage to move forward into the unknown.

Yet some of us never attempt the leap. Fearing change, we stay stuck in situations that no longer serve us, preferring what is predictable and familiar despite serious limitations.

Even if you’re less courageous and daring than others, everyone is capable of making a leap of faith. It just might require a bit more inner work for some of us.

Preparing to Leap

That “some of us” definitely includes me.

Although I was terrified of making the leap, I was also growing sick and tired of standing on the edge and worrying.

Now, I’m not one of these think-positive people who advocate a blindly optimistic approach to life. Exploring exactly what it is we are afraid of can help us develop strategies to rise above, rather than simply repress, these fears.

But I had done this already — many times over. I had looked at my fears and deep down I knew I was ready. The only thing left to do was to make the jump.

Still, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t figure out why, until one day I realized something important: I was looking down!

Just think about a time when you had to make a big physical leap over something like a creek, hole or rock. Where were you looking as you jumped?

When we try to go somewhere, focusing on where we want to go is more than just common sense, it’s practically instinctual.

It’s the same reason why, when driving on a narrow road, we keep our eyes trained on the road in front of us, rather than sideways at the passing cars. It’s why, when we are walking or running, we set our sights primarily on the path ahead.

It’s not something we have to logically think about. Some deeper part of us intuitively knows: We move toward that which we focus on.

If you’ve got a minute and are up for a little experiment, just try jumping as high as you can, first while looking down at the ground and then again while looking behind you. It’s really difficult!

You can’t jump nearly as far or high as you can when you look forward.

Ah ha!

I suddenly realized that leaps of faith are a lot like actual physical ones: They’re hard to do when you’re either looking down — at what you fear might happen if you fall — or looking behind you — at what you are or what you might leave behind.

I saw that by focusing my attention on all my fears and “what ifs,” I was looking down.

Breaking the Pattern

I decided it was time to change my thinking: focusing less on what I didn’t want to happen, and more on what I did. I started setting aside time each day to think about the future I was trying to create.

I envisioned how it would feel to achieve my goals, the positive impact I could have on others, the sense of purpose I would have.

As I did so, I began to feel more and more inspired. While I still had my “what if” thoughts, the risks of what I could lose began to seem very small in comparison to what I might gain.Soon not jumping began to feel intolerable; I wanted to be on the other side.

I stopped holding back and started putting all my energy into creating the future I desired. In doing so, I’ve discovered that sometimes a big leap requires making little jumps every day.

It would be a lie to say that I never look down anymore. I do. But I gently remind myself that doing this doesn’t help me get to where I want to be. Then I look forward again — and jump!

Future Self Visualization

Sometimes we look behind or below us because those are the easiest areas for us to see. The future is less clear.

Therefore, it is important to create a clear picture of the future we desire. Increasing our ability to see where we are trying to go increases our motivation, courage, and energy to get there.

Here’s an activity that can help you compelling vision of the future was striving towards.

Set aside 10-20 minutes and go somewhere you can sit or lie down comfortably without being interrupted. Close your eyes and imagine you are five, 10, or even 20 years into your desired future.

You’ve already successfully overcome all obstacles to create the life you want. See this future very clearly. Notice any details. To help you do this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you look like/what are you wearing?
  • How does your body feel?
  • What do you notice in your surroundings? Any particular sights, sounds, smells?
  • Where are you?
  • What are you doing?
  • What does your day-to-day life look like?
  • What emotions do you have?
  • What are your significant attitudes and beliefs?
  • What did you have to do or learn to come to this point in your life?

When you have finished, write down what you noticed in a notebook or journal. Repeat this activity a few times, and notice the impact is has.

You may soon find that leaping doesn’t seem so scary after all, and the other side is a lot closer than you think.

What about you? How do you live your dream?

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About the author

Brooke Wichmann helps individuals manage difficult personal and professional conflicts and life challenges. She offers Conflict Coaching and Mindful Life and Leadership Coaching (in-person or via phone/Skype). She is certified coach, has an M.A. in Peace Education and is a trained mediator and a conflict resolution educator. Download her free audio mediation of managing difficult emotions and like her on Facebook.

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8 thoughts on How to Live Your Dream

  1. Hi Brooke, loved the quote this post began with and loads of valid info that one can use to transform their life.

    My takeaway from this post is :
    “I suddenly realized that leaps of faith are a lot like actual physical ones: They’re hard to do when you’re either looking down — at what you fear might happen if you fall — or looking behind you — at what you are or what you might leave behind.

    I saw that by focusing my attention on all my fears and “what ifs,” I was looking down.”

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Brooke. I can totally relate to your experience of somehow holding yourself back from reaching your goal / dream. I think I do the same thing. I’ve come to the realisation that I think subconsciously I sabotage myself due to not only a fear of failure, but a fear of success. Sounds strange, but there is such a thing as fear of success and sometimes people suffer from it for various reasons.

    I have also done what you did – going it on my own as a freelance writer, but still keeping a lookout on the side for another full-time job – why, I don’t know. I hated the cubicle 9-5 life, but it’s strange how brains still want some form of security. Eventually I stopped doing that as I think mentally one does need to be ‘all in’ to make self-employment work. If the thought is still there to maybe return to a ‘real job’, then eventually we will as that would be the easier route.

  3. Thanks Brook for that post. It is so very difficult to change. We all go through it in our life’s but, what we most times fail to understand we are changing and our lives are changing even though we might refuse to change our attitudes.

    I have resorted to working on becoming more flexible and to see change as an opportunity to become a better person. Even though it is difficult at times and I know there are many things I have no control over, I know I can change my attitude.

  4. I’m completely feeling what you wrote here. Such an apt metaphor – staring down the abyss. And, of course, it’s true that taking the leap won’t kill us, we just need to believe that first.

    I spent years, no, over a decade, staring down my own fissure, skirting the edge, and *talking* about how great my life would be once I jumped. But I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t.

    Eventually, the incongruity of living one reality but desiring another took it’s toll. I became deeply depressed and isolated without noticing that it was my inaction that was slowly killing me.

    It came to a head when I was visiting some friends in NYC. We were having a good time, but one night I needed a bit of personal space. I took a walk, but found myself getting deeper and deeper into a pronounced depression. I – very literally – stood on the brink and stared into the abyss. Something inside me clicked, though, and I didn’t jump.

    I survived the night, but the next day I knew that my old life was done – I didn’t want to leap from a literal bridge, so I had to finally leap from the metaphorical one. I made the decision to stop messing around with my dreams. I decided to take action, to turn pro. I’m now a coach, a web developer, and am working on starting my next business.

    I’m still far from where I want to be, but I’m also far from where I used to be, and I have taking the leap to thank for it.

    One thing I’d add about visualization: it’s really useful to visualize your future in such detail, but I’ve found that one more ingredient is key. After visualizing – really *feeling* – the future, it’s essential to bring that back to today, this moment. The second half of my visualization sessions consist of deciding what I must do today to stay on track to creating that future, then visualizing myself doing those tasks with ease, with love, with curiosity, and with a smile on my face.

    Thanks again for your post!

  5. Ahsoka23

    Thank you for posting this.

  6. MB

    Excellent. Thank you.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this article. What really resonated with me was when you said to start focusing less on what I don’t want to happen, and more on what I do want to happen. That little step has really changed my attitude and prepared me to take that jump. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hello, it takes courage to follow your dreams because it`s so much easier to settle for a job and go with the crowd. But is a life where you will never know what could have happened really worth leaving? I would say a strong NO to that. Yes it takes sacrifice and courage and risk but good things in live never come easy, and this is not just a good thing , this is the difference between true happiness and regret.

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