By the time most kids are in middle school, the adults around them have begun teaching them to be practical. Little by little kids stop believing that their grandest dreams can come true.
Maybe the kids who hang onto their dreams have support from their family members, who tell them not to give up on their most audacious plans.
Maybe they faced adversity early on and overcame it, learning in the process that most of the obstacles we face are not as formidable as we have been led to believe they are.
Maybe the kids who never give up on their dreams are kids who just don't care what other people think. It takes guts to depart from the standard path: Go to school, get good grades, find a good job and keep it whether you like the job, or not.
It takes courage to say "I want to make my own path!"
At any working age it is possible to move closer to your dreams, find work that celebrates you, and run your career like the business it is.
Your career is a business just as surely as any multinational corporation is. It is your ship to steer — but only if you know how much power you possess!
The first step in finding work that will ask more of you — making use of your talents, personality and passion — and also give you back more than a paycheck is to give yourself permission to dream again.
As adults we can feel foolish or exposed when we allow ourselves to dream really big -- the way we used to do when we were kids. But without a big dream to follow, how could anyone take the big steps that will move them into the life and career they want?
The first step is to give yourself permission to create a vision for your life and career.
I'm not talking about setting goals — that comes much later. In the absence of a vision for your life, goals are nothing more than items on your to-do list. To find work you love, you have to get outside your comfort zone and create a vision for your life and career.
Here's how to do it:
1. Get a journal and start writing in it. Write about what you want in your life and career. Don't censor yourself. If you want to act in the movies, write it down. Many famous actors started acting later in their lives — here's a list of some of them. If you want to run a business, explore your creative side, have more money or change your location - write it down!
2. Accept and embrace the fact that everything that has happened in your life so far was meant to happen just as it did. When we complain about our circumstances (stupid job, bad boss, etc.) and look at our current situation as hopeless, embarrassing or less than we deserve, we create our own obstacles to success. Successful people can say "I don't like my life right now. Oh well - that's okay. I'm not a victim of it. I can change it. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe the hardships I've experienced needed to happen so that I could finally focus on changing my life for the better."
3. Spell out your vision for your life in as much detail as you can. "One day I want to work on Wall Street" is not a vision. Get very granular. I tell my students to picture the clothes they'll be wearing when they walk onstage to accept the award they earned for whatever great achievement they have in mind. Picture the auditorium, the audience and the person who presents you with the award. The more clearly you see your own future, the easier it will be for you to steer in the direction you want.
4. Recognize that the reason most of us don't shoot for our dreams is that it's scary to do so. We may have people around us saying "Who do you think you are? You're no one special. Who are you to have big dreams?" Those people don't deserve to be part of your vision. Don't tell anyone about your plans except for people who support you in your quest. You might decide to tell no one about your vision, and that's fine.
5. As your vision takes shape, look at its place in your life from altitude — that is, with perspective. The first response our fearful brains serve up when we create a grand vision is "That vision is impractical! It would take you years to reach it!" So what? That's all we have — years. We have time, or at least we hope to. What else would we do with our time apart from working toward our vision? Get up above your day-to-day struggles and see your path going back to your birth and stretching out to the horizon. Once you see it, you can take your path wherever you want it to go!
6. Now, put together a plan to move into the career and life you want. Lay out the steps. Some of them will be short-term objectives. Some will take longer. Here's an example to guide you.
Monica is a medical office director. She makes good money considering that she doesn't have a bachelor's degree, but she's not happy in her job. Her physicians are impatient and unappreciative and she doesn't like the way her practice treats its patients.
Monica realizes over time that she's wasting her gifts keeping her medical practice running smoothly. For a few years she's been hoping that someone or something would swoop in and save her.
Gradually it dawns on Monica that if anyone is going to save her, it's going to be Monica herself.
Monica gives herself permission to dream big, the way she did when she was little.
When she was a kid Monica was crazy about horses. She didn't love horseback riding lessons, but she loved hanging around with horses. Monica could see that horses held a special place in her heart.
She would love to work with horses as a job, somehow — but how?
"What possible qualifications do I have to work with horses?" Monica's fearful brain asked her.
"Pipe down," Monica told her brain. "The key is to take a step in the direction of my dream, rather than dismissing it as foolish."
Monica started researching organizations related to horses.
She was amazed how many organizations she found.
Monica took a step and joined the Board of Directors of a not-for-profit agency that raised money to buy wild mustangs that had been rounded up and removed from their habitat, and found them new homes with loving caretakers.
Monica had never been on a not-for-profit Board before. She was almost silent at the first few Board meetings, but gradually her confidence grew.
Monica was shocked to see how just being a Board member reignited her passion for horses.
She decided to finish her bachelor's degree, emphasizing finance and fund-raising. By the time Monica graduated from night school two years later, she was president of the Board of Directors and had helped to raise over $150,000 to find homes for mustangs.
In her volunteer work Monica felt strong and capable. As president of the Board Monica talked to local CEOs almost every day. "My day job sucks my energy away," Monica realized, "but my unpaid night job builds my energy up!"
Four months after walking across the stage to accept her diploma, Monica accepted a job as Executive Director for a new not-for-profit organization devoted to advocacy for wild mustangs. Monica helped to found the organization and when the Board launched its search for an E.D., they say "Monica, you are the obvious choice!"
Monica started her new job on her 51st birthday, but her journey had begun the day she realized she was miserable in her medical practice job, three years earlier.
You can do the same thing Monica did. You can step through the fear that keeps most people stuck in unhappy work situations. You can give yourself permission to dream again, the way you did when you were tiny.
It's your life. No one else gets to decide how you invest your time and talents. You are steering the ship — but only if you know how much power you have!