I’m going to ask you a question now and I want you to tell me the first answer that comes to your mind.
What’s the one thing that’s holding you back from pursuing your dreams?
Write down whatever came to your mind first. Chances are all your answers boil down to fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Fear of the unknown.
Complacence — because at least you know where you currently are. And that’s the thing. Success lies on the outside of fear. So, what can you do to pursue your dreams anyway?
1. Take the plunge
Never venture. Never win.
The difference between you and the next person with a dream will be this — doing! Unless you are willing to take that first step towards your dreams, you aren’t going to come close to seeing your dreams to fruition. Don’t be one of those armchair activists. Unless you put yourself on that ledge between nothing and something, you aren’t going to know if you have what it takes to achieve your dreams.
Say both you and Person A want to write a book. You write every single day for 30 minutes while Person A holds back on most days because of various reasons — lack of inspiration, time, the need for perfection… Person A might be a better writer than you but who do you think is going to be halfway to finished draft by the end of the month?
All you have to do is show up is every day. The rest will be taken care of.
2. Setbacks are part of the game
Setbacks are part of the game. Look at the best footballers. They spend hours and hours, months, years practising and they still miss goals. Setbacks are okay. It’s okay to fail because you’ll learn what you needed to do better and get back up. If footballers started brooding over every goal they missed, their careers would be over before they knew it. They know they need to get back on their feet. They know what they need to do better to stay in the game. Setbacks are practice. You can’t get better if you don’t have a good starting point. If you start from zero, your rise can’t be mercurial. Only a few privileged folks actually have that kind of rise and their life experience is very different from ours.
Many of us tend to give up just after a setback. They start to seriously affect our confidence. But here’s the thing — what if we started looking at setbacks as stepping stones to success instead? Can’t get better at something unless it gets worse right? You can’t allow a setback to shape your future. A question you can ask yourself in the face of a setback though, is —
What did this teach me to do better?
And the answer will come to you! There are no shortcuts to success. You have to go back to the drawing board and deliver something better every time. And then be willing to do it all over again. The best product guys will tell you the same thing. If you don’t have a good output, what else will you bank on?
3. Take stock
What’s working? What isn’t working? Figure out what isn’t working and why and what you can do instead. Success is also about augmenting your efforts to do better. If A and B don’t work for you, see if you want to do away with A and better B. What can you do better? Do you have a new idea? What can you do with it? How does it align with your dream? A reality check on your progress always helps you stay on course and power ahead.
4. You are not an ice-cream
You cannot make everyone happy. The more you try to cater to everyone else, the more you lose your sense of authenticity. Moreover, you are unlikely to feel happy because there will always be someone you aren’t catering to. And the further you go, the more there will be people who will give you advice. Advice is always freely available — a dime a dozen. Stay on course. There’s only one North. Let them say what they want to. They aren’t taking this journey. You are.
5. Forget validation
Set benchmarks for measuring success at every step. But don’t look for external validation. Don’t go around asking other “success makers” about whether what you’re doing is right. Their story, their journey is unique from yours. They will speak from their experience. You bring your own perspective to your work.
Only you see your dreams the way you do. You have the appetite, the motivation to see things through. What you don’t want is someone derailing the whole thing with advice that isn’t sound.
By all means, seek out mentors, but be careful about speaking to mentors who will tell you the right and wrong way of doing things. All the validation you need can come from within because you can only be accountable to yourself.
6. Invest in yourself
If you want to be an expert at something, among the top 1%, be willing to put the money in learning the craft or bettering it. If your dream is to become an expert baker, invest in a professional baking class. If you want to be a good writer, invest in resources — books, classes, mentoring that will help you polish your writing chops. The more you’re willing to invest in yourself, the more you will be inclined to try out the stuff that you learn. The more you want to implement, the more chances you have of getting better at it.
And honestly, it has to pinch a little to keep yourself accountable. If it’s about 10% of your income that you’re investing, that’s money that’s not coming back and you have no option but to do the work you need to do to succeed.
7. Stop worrying and start living
Worrying about failure is one of the worst things you can do to yourself. You see, our brains have this tendency to think of the worst possible scenarios and outcomes. You have to switch off worry brain!
Failure is not as bad as it’s built up to be. Failure is one of the most enduring teachers there are. Failure will teach you to do better, be better. But most of all, what one needs to do is stop worrying about failure before you even fail! Worrying about failure is almost certainly guaranteeing that you fail. You’ll attract precisely what you’re thinking of all the time — failure.
You know how thoughts become things? Think of the last time you really believed something would come to you and it did! Now think of the same thing happening with all those thoughts about failure.
Only you have the power to achieve your dreams. Believe and take action — that’s all it will take to the set the wheels in motion.
How to stop holding back and start living the life of your dreams was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.