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Last week, Jer posted about chasing our dreams. A few days later, I was having coffee with a friend and the subject of chasing dreams came up. During the conversation my friend spoke of his difficulty not knowing where to start when it comes to pursuing his dreams. It dawned on me that there are many who are like my friend…

As a matter of fact, I used to be the same way.

Now, a dozen published books later, I’ve learned a few things about pursuing dreams. I have a very strategic mind so I tend to process concepts in steps. My friend found the following insights helpful, so I decided that I would share them with you.

Realize Your Dreams

Step 1: Set a “Realized” date: When I start to pursue my dreams I usually start by determining when I want the dream to be reality. A realized-dream date means that the dream has come true. I asked my friend how he imagined life would look 10 years from now. As he shared I started jotting some things down. Without knowing, he articulated his dreams (everything from having a family to positioning himself in a career). We selected one piece of the dream and he nailed down the date.

I did this when I determined that I would be a writer. My realized date was that I would be published by the time I was 30 years old. Since I had that dream when I was in my early 20s it gave me good forward momentum. Many people say stuff like, “I want to have my own business before I’m 40” or “I want to retire when I’m 65” but they never follow through. They don’t commit to that date.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Step 2: Set some achievable action steps: I encouraged my friend to think through what had to be done at the 5th year mark, 3rd year mark, within this next year, and even before the week was out. We actually jotted those things down on a timeline so that they became visible. We then reverse-engineered his life starting from the realized dream date. His dreams began to morph into a doable plan.

In following my dream to be a published author, some of those steps included: talking with authors about how they got published; determining what I would write about; researching; learning the craft, etc. I even began to write my college papers with the intent that I may use them as publishable material down the road (none were published – but my dissertation became Teenage Guys, one of my bestselling books).

All these things kept me in the pipeline moving forward with my dream.

As a side note – you can even do this with a dream of getting married and starting a family. I’ve spoken to many people who have this dream saying, “I want to be married before I’m 27,” but they give up because there is no one in their life who would be a part of the dream. One of the first steps that I recommend is that they find a network that could allow them to expand their social connections, within the first year of this timeline. The goal is to expand their social circle so they could meet other people who may be a potential partner or introduce them to someone who could be the person of their dream. This could include, taking a class, joining a fitness group, going to a church hat has an active age-appropriate ministry, joining an online dating site, etc. Achievable action steps become a strategic part of every realized dream.

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

– Colin Powell

Step 3: Write it down and verbally commit: By writing these things on a timeline or chart, in a journal, or on post-it notes on your bathroom mirror, you make your dream more tangible. You can see it; you can work through it; you can watch it come into fruition. There is incredible power in such declaration, when we articulate our dreams and the steps to achieve them.

Do this with someone who is going to champion your dreams. I realize that it can feel very vulnerable, but this is another place to leverage your mentors and armor bearers. Taking this risk makes you accountable to others – and even more so to yourself. Many times a trusted friend can give you positive insight, help you accomplish steps, be resourceful on your behalf, reshape your dream to be more realistic, etc. This step is critical because you can’t finish the rest of the process without it.

When I started writing, I shared my dream with several trusted professors. They raised the bar for my coursework. It seemed brutal at the time, but they made me write well. Friends also asked me often about how the writing was coming along. Many asked to read portions of what I was writing and gave good feedback to empower me.

I once had a literary friend cut down one of the ideas for a book I was dreaming of writing – tell me that it basically sucked and I probably couldn’t do it… Being vulnerable with him hurt and could have shut down the dream. Instead, I let it fuel the fire. That book became my first award-winning book.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

– Walt Disney

Step 4: Determine where the land-mines are: Dreams always cost you something. The cost, difficulty, challenges, and set backs are the land-mines. Speaking with friends and others who have preceded you in accomplishing the same dream will help you discover the land-mines that could blow apart your dream. Most people never see their dreams realized because they hit a land-mine and they quit. When you know some of the land-mines you can more easily push through or compensate.

Fear is usually a big land-mine. Fear of not knowing what or how to do something; fear of failure or rejection; fear of losing, etc… Fear kills dreams unless you plan for it and overcome or maneuver around it.

When I was writing The Crest, I gave the first 100 pages to my daughter Andrea to read. Andrea is an avid reader and plows through 1 to 2 novels a week. The next day she came to me and said, “Dad, I have to be honest – this sucks.” She also came with examples of good writing and bad writing from various books she read. I had not written fiction before, so I defused the fear and rejection land-mines by accepting that I might need to hone my skills. I rewrote the entire 100 pages and brought it back to her to find that it was much improved After that I couldn’t write fast enough for her to devour the book.

“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”

– Jesse Owens

Step 5: Be flexible and readjust: Here’s one final truth that many people struggle with: You’re going to take detours en route to achieving your dreams. People find this disheartening, but it’s unavoidable. Don’t be so committed to your goals and timelines that they overshadow the dream.

Goals, tasks, timelines, etc. are important and will get you to where you want to go. But see them as tools to help you keep the momentum moving forward and your dream becoming reality. The inability to be flexible and readjust itself becomes a significant land-mine.

Even now, as you’re thinking about your dreams in light of this post, accept that challenges will come, land-mines will explode, and even good life events (e.g., having children) will serve to deter you from the shortest path to fulfilling your dreams.

Let me say this emphatically: That’s ok!

Be flexible (shake it off) readjust (reframe the problems and rescale the plan) and keep moving forward. Before you realize it, your dream will be close at hand.

“Don’t be so busy trying to make a living that you’re too busy to make a life.”

– Dan Miller

Leave a Comment: Tell us about your dream and steps you have or will take. What tools in your dream achieving story worked?

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