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7 Simple (and Surprising) Tips to Help You Realize Your Dreams

Kid trying to catch a star with a butterfly net. Digital watercolor.

“Don’t be pushed by your problems; be led by your dreams.” ~Unknown

It’s tricky sometimes, isn’t it?

Trying to find our place on this planet.

Tapping into our inner desires.

Sometimes we know what we want but not how to get there. Sometimes we know “this isn’t me,” but we have no clue who “me” is. And sometimes we think we’re already there, then something out of the ordinary happens and we realize, this isn’t me at all.

At each stage there are pitfalls than can keep us looking in the wrong direction, stuck in fear, or stressed about how to move forward.

I know, I’ve been back and forth through all of them.

At twenty-five I had a postgraduate science degree and no wish to use it. At thirty-five I wanted to teach, write, and paint, but no idea what form this would take. And at forty-one, my work is read by thousands and every day I receive emails telling me what I do makes a difference.

(Keeping it real: People also email me and tell me I suck.)

Through it all, I’ve learned simple laws to help navigate the ups and downs of discovering and following your dreams.

1. Don’t think about “your path in life.”

Sounds contrary, doesn’t it?

Because isn’t that exactly what we should be thinking about?

Yes, and no.

Where it can be detrimental is when we stand at the precipice of making a decision and we worry, “Is this my path in life?”

A path is a track laid down to walk on. A path implies there’s only one way, a preconceived singular course. It implies that you can make a wrong decision.

Watch it! Don’t step off the path!

Yes, our life is wonderfully, marvelously one of a kind. No doubt. And trying to make it look like someone else’s is a first class ticket to unsatisfied-ville. But thinking about our path, now, can put unnecessary pressure on us. It makes us feel nervous.

There are infinite routes to a satisfying, uplifting, life. Whatever decision you make—and have made before—you’re on the right path. It’s all “the path.”

2. Forget everything your guidance counselor said.

Do you remember after high school, tossing around a hodge-podge of career options—trying to decide what to do with your life?

Should you become a podiatrist (have your own clinic), or an actuary (pays well)?

You talk to other podiatrists. You find out what an actuary actually does.

You listen to your parents. You seek advice.

We live in a world saturated with messages about what we should do. There’s nothing wrong with advice. Sometimes. In moderation. You just gotta push it through your “no one but me knows my dreams and desires” filter.

It’s not that our guidance counselor/parents/spouse/bus-driver don’t mean well. They do. They just don’t know. They can’t.

And we might not know either, at first anyway.

Whatever we hanker for, this gives us the greatest joy. And it’s often not some grand thing—that’s our mind (ego) imposing society’s rules.

I knew a woman once whose three greatest loves were her children, fishing, and next to that, working on an assembly line—she loved the camaraderie and seeing things get done.

3. Ask this simple question.

When I was young, if you’d asked me what job I’d like, assuming I had all the skills necessary, I’d have thought it was a trick question. I thought everyone wanted this.

I wanted to be a writer and painter.

If only I had been given those talents! And I surely hadn’t. (Can’t draw, painting even more tragic, messy handwriting.)

I trained in nutrition science. I was even fairly good at it. But I don’t believe it’s what I’m here to do.

Pay attention to your desires, even when—no, especially when—they seem ludicrous. Roll the idea around in the back of your mind. 

What life would you choose if you could wave a wand and have every skill that you needed?

No pressure. Just notice.

4. Stop worrying about how to get there—or if “there” is even a good idea.

Human beings are wired for safety. This is why we want our trajectory mapped out.

An illusion for sure.

To get to where we really want to go, there is no pre-drawn map. The good news is that we don’t need one! All we need is the next step. And we always know this.

For instance, say you have the feeling that you’d like to make shoes. Rather than worry about the fact that almost no-one makes shoes by hand anymore, consider, what do you feel moved to do, right now?

Maybe it’s a simple as ordering a copy of How to Make a Shoe. Or arranging to meet a friend of a friend who’s a clothes designer.

Big changes come from a series of incremental decisions. Trust that there is a wise hand guiding you (because there is). Take notice of seemingly small inclinations.

Sure the shoe thing seems far out, but so would most successful ventures when they started.

5. Learn the difference between an inner desire and unhelpful mind talk.

Most of us know the value in listening to our intuition. But it’s confusing sometimes.

Is the voice telling us to buy snowshoes—even though we live in Texas—our intuition? Or is it our mind (ego) fooling with us.

Here’s how I tell:

My mind uses logic and likes to copy others. It sounds like: “Bill moved to Italy and now his life is awesome, so I should go.”

When my heart (intuition) speaks, it’s more like a deep feeling. I can see myself wandering around Rome, eating pizza.

(Then, what usually happens is that my mind comes up with reason’s not to do it—”You’re gluten free, you’ll starve in Italy.”)

As author Chetan Parkyn says, some people are guided by strong gut feelings that hold true from start to finish. For others, their gut feeling is less sure, and where they find clarity is by taking a tentative step, then reassessing.

If you’re not sure, dip your toe in. See how it feels.

6. Be happily confused!

What if (after everything) we can’t feel the tug of our inner desires? Or, we’re uncertain about the next step?

Answer: Don’t worry.

Don’t worry, because the only way to get where we’re going is through uncertainty (and sometimes turmoil). Feeling discombobulated is part of it.

It’s not a bad thing. Rejoice!

You’re on your way!

You might be drawn to actively search for an answer. Or maybe you feel like sitting back and giving it some time. Or a combination.

Go easy on yourself. Be lazy. Have fun. Try things. Spend time just sitting and being quiet. Spend less time online. Take a job and don’t worry about how it fits into your plans.

Allow yourself to be in a state of confusion. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s perfectly normal.

7. Expect to feel afraid.

Making a lunge for what’s important to us is scary.

Always is.

Every time I’ve followed what was in my heart, most people thought I was loopy. But you know what? The voice of derision you most need to watch out for is your own.

I’ve found these things helpful:

  • Mentoring
  • Not telling people what I’m doing—I didn’t tell anyone about my blog for six months.
  • Reading books like The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
  • Reading books about others who followed their dreams (or blogs like Tiny Buddha)

Finding our way is as much about getting out of our own way. Letting go of ideals that have been imposed on us. Taking leaps. Stumbling and getting up. Trusting our inner guidance.

And remembering, always, we’re doing fine. Even when it seems like we’re making a mess of it. We’re not.

Photo by Ingo Schmeritschnig

Profile photo of Lisa Esile

About Lisa Esile

Lisa grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Los Angeles. Lisa and her husband Franco are the authors of WHOSE MIND IS IT ANYWAY: GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND INTO YOUR LIFE (Penguin Random House, 2016). You can grab a FREE copy of her book, "The Lazy Person's Guide to Feeling Awesome and Ultimate ALL the time," here!

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  • Jessica H.

    Thank you for writing this article. I really needed it today because I made a major decision to join ROTC at my college. My gut is telling me this is a good idea, and my mind is making excuses of how it might not work out. My family and friends are telling me that it is a crazy idea. And for the first time, I am doing this for me. It might not work out but there is no harm in trying.

  • Alex

    Hi Jessica good for you! I’ve recently graduated from college and am going to join the military. Everyone (family& friends) thinks I’m crazy and it’s a bad idea. However, I’ve considered their concerns on my own, and through my own intuition have decided that this is the best route for me now. Therefore as long as you know that your taking this step for you, it doesn’t matter what other people think. And if there is uncertainty, don’t be afraid, because if you never try you’ll never know.
    Hope it works out for you!

  • Hello Lisa, nice article and some good tips! I’m chasing my dream at the moment of becoming a successful writer and coach. I just started a blog/website with my girlfriend.

    My best tip for realizing your dreams is not so surprising but very true. It is: work your but off…. All successful people have this in common. They all worked really, really hard and never gave up, even when things went wrong.

    I’ll have a look at your book ;-).

  • Cleo

    Thanks for writing this Lisa. It’s helpful to be reminded that it’s okay (albeit uncomfortable) to just not know.

    When I was a kid I wanted to be a vet, save animals, etc. I love being with animals – feels as though they help me stay grounded. I remember when I told an adult that I wanted to be a vet he told me I would have to go to school for a long time and take a lot of science. I didn’t like school and wasn’t a good student so that scared me right off. Done, dream dismissed like a wet paper towel. I get my animal presence with my cats and chickens.

    Now a recent change in my job has me wondering if I made the right decision. I either had to accept the new role or take a package. I chose to stay on because it’s a job, not my dream – this much I know is true.

  • Lisaesile

    Ha! Yes, working your butt off can be very useful. Good luck with your website/blog. As a fellow blogger, can I just say how wonderful blogging can be. It’s taught me a lot!

  • Lisaesile

    You’re welcome, Cleo=)
    It can be uncomfortable not knowing, can’t it. But it is part of it. Best wishes to you.

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure, Jessica:) Best of luck! Sounds like a big change.

  • Lesley

    Nice article. As for your examples of what your mind will say, “you’re gluten free, you’ll starve in Italy,” made me laugh out loud. A spot on example of mind games!

  • Ellie

    This is a great post for me to be reading now. Not only have I been at a crossroad in deciding which is the right or wrong path to making my dreams come true, but I’ve also been fixated on the end product and all the possibilities.

    I like to get inspired by others works to build the framework for what I want. I’m more of a dreamer than a doer, so despite having all these great visions, I don’t know how to change my mindset to one of doing. I’m only a doer about 4 days out of every month.

    Ill have to figure out how to keep inspired by looking at the possibilities, while focusing on the next step and not losing my passion in the doing.

  • Talya Price

    My dream is to be a full time working actress and travel 9 times out of the year, I am tired of dreaming this and now I just want to live it and do it. I think it is very essential to pay attention to your dreams on a subconscious level.

    I have been sending my details to casting directors and agents and I have been making my own films. Sometimes I feel stuck however I know great things are going to happen to me and I believe that I am worthy for success.

    Thank you for this post, Lisa.

  • Erica

    One of the most helpful, comforting, reassuring posts I’ve ever read on “life purpose”, finding one’s “path”, etc. So, so awesome. Thank you for this! What you’ve mentioned are things that our subconscious minds likely already know, but our conscious, busy minds can use a reminder as often as possible! At least mine can. 😉
    I think many will be able to exhale now and view this topic as more of a fun journey of self-exploration with lots of twists and turns and conflicting thoughts and feelings. Scary, but also kind of exciting and thrilling. And we’re all in it together, which is really helpful to remember.
    Thank you again!
    xo|Erica

  • Erica

    Ellie, I chuckled outloud when I read “I’m more of a dreamer than a doer” and “I’m only a doer about 4 days out of every month”…because I can SO relate and say the same thing about myself. Any chance you’re a Pisces? Haha
    I’ve definitely been trying to put things into action more and it feels so good to do so…even just taking TINY baby steps daily makes me feel like I’m not just talking about it, I’m being about it! Good luck to you in all your endeavors! xo

  • Saiisha

    “Don’t think about your “path” in life!” So true – so often we lock ourselves into our dreams and then our “path” becomes a rut! Some great advice here 🙂

    Saiisha

  • Very interesting. I’ve just embarked on a year off. Whilst there’s some things I’ll do, like a bit of travel, there isn’t a master plan – it wouldn’t be a year off would it if there was! Most people get it but some have struggleed with the idea of not having a big goal.

  • Ego is a pest which stops us from really fulfilling ourselves. It always reminds me of a quote – “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

    Don’t let fear or self-judgement stop you from doing anything. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t naturally talented for writing or drawing. Talent is worth about 2% while the rest is achieved through hard work and dedication.

  • If you’re dedicated enough, you will make it, I’m sure of it! I would suggest setting short-term milestones which get you closer to your ultimate goal. That way you’re constantly moving in the right direction and can track your progress in the simplest way.

    If you’re interested, check out this post which has the principle explained in more detail (http://bit.ly/1z2pYEu). Even the example used is “becoming an actress” 🙂

    Either way, good luck!

  • What works great for me is setting the long-term goal (e.g. moving abroad) and then setting multiple milestones (short-term goals) which get me closer to it.

    It’s simple yet effective. Try it out, hope it helps. Good luck!

  • Talya Price

    Thank for the comment.

  • Rachel Colfer

    Lisa Esile you are nothing but a legend. I think of your ideas daily and can only dream that i will be as knowledgeable as you are one day. Thank you for your inspiration. The approach and mentality to suffering is being understood clearly because of people like you. I believe the medical model will evolve to your thinking. Well i can only hope 🙂 Rachel.

  • Lisaesile

    HI Rachel, I think you’re right about the medical model evolving to this way of thinking. I hope so, anyway:) I was relieved to discover a branch of psychology recently, which also operates along similar philosophy as mine (well, it’s not mine, but what I learned)—”Three Principles Psychology. So yes. Maybe there’s hope. Thanks so much for your note. And very kind words. (I really have to give the credit to a wonderful teacher!)

  • Lisaesile

    You’re very welcome, Erica. Love that idea of exhaling and seeing it more as a fun journey—an inspiring idea. Thank you, too!

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure:) Best wishes to you.

  • Liz

    LOVE this post! EVERYTHING in it is just what I needed! THANK YOU!!

  • Jimmy

    Talya, you have the right attitude and if being a successful actress is your goal/dream….keep going until you arrive…then set out for bigger dreams…and I like that you are not afraid to create your opportunities by making films, you never know who will see your creative work….its the folks who are just crazy enough to go after their dreams that make it a reality. those foreign ports all over the world
    have your name written all over them awaiting your arrival!!!

  • Henar

    Infinite thank you Lisa you because this is what I needed to hear!

  • Leke

    I’ve had problems with my career, place in society, or whatever you call it. I still do, but I recently found out that I was probably a scanner: http://getmotivation.com/articlelib/articles/barbara_sher_scanner.html since I’m very typical of all those things.

    This got me to thinking — well what if this concept of dreams, purpose of life etc… is an unnatural construct? An unnatural source of burden.

    Well, I don’t know. I just want to live out the rest of my life without too much worry about whether this or that is good or bad choice. It’s when things are forced upon me, is the time I can be really unhappy. I guess making ‘right’ career choices can stop these forced things being forced upon you, so there is some happiness to be found in that, but going back to my scanner mindset, I can’t find anything I can hold down.

  • Zaynab the dreamer

    My dream is to become a doctor. I have already wasted 3 years, my grades were bad and I didnot go to university. I feel depressed at home and the only thing that cheers me up is thinking of pursuing my dream. Should I go all the way back, start from scratch to pursue my dream ( I will be almost thirty when I will become a doctor) or should I follow the path of getting a 9 to 5 job ?

  • Rizwan Shah

    Realize Your dreams , what a nice article it is. I am a Network Engineer in a Bank doing a very comfortable job, but still thinks this is not for me. I am trying hard to get some real ambitions.and still in process. Some times feels worried while some times feels happy. I like this article and an all the comments posted by visitors.

  • Carolyn Barndt

    Crying reading this. So exactly where I am right now. Today I’m having a fear day, yay.

  • I have a dream to be a poetry/journal therapist. But I would need a masters and do not have a bachelor and know desire to get a traditional degree.

  • cindy kettering

    I lost my job house marriage and car last yr I am completely starting over and instead of feeling sorry anymore (tears screaming so on] I’m taking this opportunity to start over again and do my life like it always should have been thank you and all at the tiny Buddha

  • Anahita Kalianivala

    Wow, I’m so impressed you could keep your blog a “secret” for 6mo! I have a problem not verbally processing something just 5min after it happens 🙁

  • mim

    thanks that actually helped

  • Anastasiya

    Thanks for your article. It has been very helpful. for a long time i could’t realise my inner gut feeling imprisoned by other’s people opinions, past experience and fear of doing something wrong. i was always afraid to express my feelings openly trying to hide them, may be thats’s why i couldn’t understand where is my wish and where is necessity Now i will try to open new pathes, experiment. may be u could advise some books or movies to understand more what problems are inside and how to work on them. at the moment i only feel confusion and . i also realise t that i am not able to build relationship with people, people wih whom i used to stay in touch now i have nothing in common. i seemed to understand myself better while studying at school i suppose it was not just stdying school objects but studying myself. then at university i began to study experience life but it didn’t end up well cause now i have no relationship no friend i am expelled from the university, but i want to communicate with others succesfully. the are 2 sides of the medal actually at school i was too shy and at university i tried to live without bounds. now i should find some balance and choose a right direction cause there are some needs which are more than only physiological. at 18 i tried to find my own way, i did experimentate a lot but i didn’t quite understand myself i don’t do now enough but i have some experience and in some moment may be i should think twice in others try to open new horizons. at the moment it can be an advice i would give myself cause nobody understand ourselves better than we do and it is not possible to be happy with others not knowing ur inner gut