“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 reasons 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.
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:
- 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