On May 1, I have my first public talk of the year on the subject of inspiration and the importance of setbacks on the path to realising your dreams.
Read on for an abridged version of the talk
Stories are such an important part of our lives. They’ve been a part of human culture from as far back as we can track, and the tradition carries on in obvious ways today. We tell stories every single day, whether it’s telling our friend something that happened to us at the bank or sharing our plans for the weekend with our families. We read them to relax before bed; we watch them to escape from the daily grind.
But the truth is stories are more than something we share with each other, it’s what we are. Every single one of us has a story to tell, but also one to live.
My plan was to continue on the same theme I’ve touched on before – the importance letting inspiration guide you. Because what else drives us to get out of bed in the morning and slog through the rest of our responsibilities other than the energy that comes from chasing our dreams?
But, in the best laid plans, all of my intentions this time fell apart, and for the last month I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a topic.
One of the reasons we chose May 1 as the date was because my book was supposed to be available by now, and I was to announce my book launch. So I’ve been in a rut. A delay came up with my current book that set me back a month and a half with a financial hit. That delay led to a cascade of other delays, and rushed deadlines, and extra work that’s had me buried under heaps of hair-tearing frustrations. Buried under all of that was the message I wanted to give for my talk.
Because how could I offer a talk on inspiration when I had so much trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? It’s not like anyone else here can relate to that feeling of being at a bottom of a pit and believing it’s impossible to dig your way out – right?
And obviously all of these frustrations and disappointments and sense of stagnation are permanent, and I’m never going to move forward and nothing is ever going to change – right?
The more I asked myself these questions – and realised how silly they were – the harder I searched for a topic. Along the way, I started thinking about how much is actually going well for me right now, and as I thought about all of these positive things, I came back to this idea of story, particularly the story of chasing your dreams, and how the plot is never as straightforward as it seems from the outset. Because that’s a hard truth about dreams and inspiration – the results are never as easy to reach as they might appear from the beginning.
At the beginning, everything seems rosy. The inspiration to achieve a certain dream comes to us when we’re not thinking about it – in meditation or while we’re doing something mindless like walking or washing the dishes. In that flash of epiphany, we get a glimpse of that ideal painting we want to create, or the business we want to start, or the novel we want to write.
The inspiration comes without any obstacles and appears as the finished project – the glory of what COULD and WILL be.
Only it’s never that easy as “see it and make it happen”, is it? Almost immediately we stumble on the roadblocks that hold us back. Money – skills – strategy – other people.
This is where a lot of people throw up their hands and walk away. When you can see the final result so clearly in your mind, the realization of how much effort needs to go into it to realise that final product can seem daunting. The steps can seem greater than anything you feel prepared to deliver.
But what if we look at these projects with an analogy.
What if birth is the inspiration and death is the final result? Do we really want to rush to reach that end? Snap our fingers and say “Well, that was fun. What’s next?” No, we want to draw it out. We want to experience things as they happen – so why is it so hard to do that with our dreams?
I believe one of the greatest reasons for frustrations and disappointments is that we tune out our inspiration and we listen to what people are saying. People, right? They always get in the way. Especially when we try to step outside of the expected norms of society to do our own thing, which is what we do every single day when we’re on the path of realising our dreams.
When I decided to leave my job behind and write full time for a year, many of my co-workers asked me – out of genuine and kind concern – if I was sure I was ready to make such a big decision.
I saw what they meant. Not only would I have to be able to cover important expenses like rent or food, I would also need to invest in the business. I would also be isolated, so have a higher chance of depression. There were days when I debated the wisdom of my choice, and if I’d been any less certain, I would have allowed those questions to hold me back.
But when we’re sure of what we want in life, the voice that guides us to take the leap will be louder than the ones that tell us to stay put – as long as we’re listening for it.
And the voices of opposition don’t stop after you’ve taken the first step. Reviews, feedback, nay-sayers, they’re always around, and they’ll weigh us down, even if they’re not aware they’re doing it. Even if their intention is to be supportive and caring. It often has nothing to do with being mean, it has to do with you stepping outside the bounds of expectation.
And the farther you go outside the norm, the louder those negative voices become. So what’s a dreamer to do? If it’s clear that the people around you don’t like what you’re doing, or think you’re not great at it, or that you won’t succeed, then the only obvious decision is to give up and walk away.
Wait, what? If it sounds ridiculous when I say it, why do our brains make us think it’s a really great idea when we tell it to ourselves?
If realising our dreams was supposed to be easy, we could pick them up at the corner store.
In my own experience, every mistake I make, every perceived failure, every negative review is essential for my progress. They teach me so much along the way – even if the lesson is how to drown them out.
I recently read a wonderful book about the importance of failing. How every failure can open the way to opportunity. Last year, I gave myself the goal of making as many mistakes as possible, and, yeesh, let me tell you, I succeeded. Every delay that happened at the beginning of this year can be attributed to the mistakes I made last year.
But I learned from it. And more importantly, I learned it for myself. Because we pass many people in life who believe they have all the answers, and sometime these people are exactly who we need to meet at exactly the time we need to meet them, but at other times, the lesson they’re trying to teach us is not one we’re ready to learn, or they’re delivering it in a way that makes us think we can’t succeed. We have two choices when dealing with this latter group: we can discount what they say or we take their advice and find our own ways to learn the lesson. Only then can we move forward with the confidence that our dreams are our own and not someone else’s.
Everything is learning.
The challenge is holding on to your faith. Believing that the more you work, the more you’re moving forward, even when it doesn’t feel like you are. Even when all you get is obstacle after obstacle.
Does that mean sometimes changing the method you’re using? Yes. Does that sometimes mean taking a break from your task to hone up on your skills? Absolutely. But even delays in reaching our dreams are worthwhile if it means we’ve learned something along the way.
The challenges are no less important to the journey than the successes.
The same is true of any story, and, absolutely, every single one of us is a story.
Imagine you’re reading a book, and from the front cover to the last, there’s nothing but good things. The hero meets the girl, gets the girl, gets the dream job, rises to the top in a matter of years, has kids, grandkids, and spends the rest of his retirement travelling the globe in his private jet that he can afford because his life is so perfect.
That sounds great for him, but boring for anyone else.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be reading that book thinking, “Where does the dragon come in? When does the wife get abducted by aliens and he needs to use all his riches to build the space module to go after her? When does he DEVELOP?” Because I guarantee that a character with that much perfect will be the same man on page one as he is in the final paragraph.
And the same is true for every single one of us.
Achieving our dreams is a fantastic, wonderful, ultimate goal, but the ups and downs are required for any good journey. Any good story. Drama, loss, fear, excitement, wonder – they’re what make the plot interesting.
If you have a dream and you’re on the fence about going for it, what’s stopping you? The fear that you won’t achieve it? All that’s standing in your way is you. The worry that you don’t have what it takes? You probably don’t. Not at first. But you’re not achieving your dream based on what you know now, you’re achieving your dream based on everything you’re going to learn between the starting point – today – and the end goal, which could be tomorrow or ten years from now.
It won’t be easy, and it won’t be painless, but every lesson you learn along the way will give you the satisfaction of moving forward – the knowledge that you’re on the path you know in your gut you’re supposed to take.
You can’t prepare for everything, but if you keep the goal in mind – that perfect image of the final result – you can weave your way through the minefield that comes when you get distracted by your loud, muddled thoughts and get caught in the quagmire of opinions, and mistakes, and what some people might perceive as failure.
But even in those moments, remember the wise words that an internet meme once shared with me. “When things don’t go according to plan, yell PLOT TWIST and move on” – because it’s just part of your story. It’s part of the journey. And when you finally reach that top step and grab your dream – that perfect image that inspired you to push through the troubles to begin with – appreciate every spill and tumble you took to get there, because without one of those falls, you might not have reached the goal.
We all have our own stories to tell, but, more importantly, we are all stories. Every morning, wake up reminding yourself of that. Every day is a new blank page, just waiting for you to fill it with your own words and your own dreams. So what are you waiting for? Go on out there and chase them.