But it’s not bloody likely.
I know. I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there. But I’m struggling like a worm at an angler’s convention to find support for my dreams. Having support for your dreams can be the difference between making it and giving up. Having support for your dreams can be the difference between burning bright and burning out. Having support makes things easier[note]Not to mention more fun – you get to follow your dreams without losing your energy.[/note].
And it’s damned hard to get it sometimes.
1. Find a tribe
Finding your tribe is at once the easiest and most difficult thing you can do. Your tribe aren’t your friends, although the can be. Your tribe aren’t your fans, although they can be. Your tribe are the people to whom you turn to follow your dreams and who will never, ever turn you away.
Having a group of like-minded people who support you, and whom you can support in turn, is a truly invaluable resource. A successful “tribe” of writers can pick you up when you’re down, spread the word about your work, and grant you insights you might never have come up with on your own. And you can do the same for them.
– Daniel Swensen
So how do you find your tribe? Jeff Goins sums it up nicely:
There once was a man who had 10 good friends. These men would do anything for him, even die. But this was not enough. He wanted more.
So he campaigned and lobbied and raised support so that he could become famous.
Soon, he had a hundred friends. Then, a thousand. Pretty soon the man was a rock star, with millions of adoring fans, following every move he made.
At first, the attention was nice. But soon he found that there were expectations associated with his new-found status. People asked for favors and handouts, wanting special attention. They made demands he couldn’t meet.
He felt trapped, overwhelmed, and confused. Isn’t this what he wanted? Why was he so discontent?
Not knowing where to turn, the man went in search of his true fans.
He weeded through the crowds of countless admirers and “yes men,” looking for a few, dedicated followers. Finally, he found 10 people. They were his original true friends. Turns out that was all he ever needed.
Together, they went and changed the world.
It’s a nice story, and while I don’t agree 100 % with Jeff there’s a key lesson to learn here: you will never know who your tribe is until you go out and look for them.
Also, you will have a different tribe for each dream you have.
I searched for a tribe for years, not knowing where to look. I had one, when I practiced martial arts, but when I wanted to write I found myself wandering alone. I tried to make a tribe out of my friends, but they had their own dreams. I tried to make a tribe out of my family, and what a debacle that was[note]It’s nice to think of your family as your greatest supporters who have nothing better to do in life than to carry you around while chanting “yes-great-master-yes-sir-yes”. Unfortunately that’s a zombie sect and not a family. Your family has dreams of their own and while they might (and should) support you, just as you should support them, they likely won’t live your dreams. If you have a family that does, cherish them every second of your life.[/note]. I tried going the distance without a tribe, and that was even worse. You need a tribe.
Then I realized there’s this thing called the Internet. It’s not as great as having your own, private, real life tribe but it works – and you can always find your tribe online, no matter what your dream is.
One caveat though: you’re likely to stumble upon things (forums, sites, mailing lists, blogs) that look like they could be your tribe but aren’t. Be harsh in your search. Ask yourself: do these people really help me with my dreams? If not, they’re entertainment, maybe even friends, but they’re not your tribe. Go look some more.
2. Take Care of Yourself
When I was young[note]And doesn’t that make me feel old.[/note] I worked out several times a week. I’d go down to the dojo and punch my friends, or teach, and I had all the energy in the world. Then I started having obligations.
Yeah, that’s no excuse for not taking care of yourself but when faced with time constraints and external obligations your internal ones, the stuff that only you will suffer for, are easiest to discard. When you need to put in another shift at work it’s you who pays the price. When the kids need taking care off it’s you who have to give them the time. And it doesn’t really matter, does it? One measly gym session missed, that won’t do much, will it?
Except that it’s never one session. It’s always more. And when you skip one it’s so much easier to skip the next. You’ve broken your habit, you’ve set yourself up for failure.
So you fail. You skip going to the gym. You take the car instead of the bike. You take a cab instead of walking. And it’s only this one thing. Except that, like the feces it is, giving up on yourself will smear out over everything you do.
Having the energy to keep going is key to following your dreams. Because your dreams aren’t easy, are they? They require effort otherwise you’d have completed them all a long, long time ago[note]In a Galaxy far, far away…[/note]. And when you’re tired, when you’re so physically bushed that you’d rather stick your head into the oven than write another word, well, good luck with following your dreams then.
So now I have a firm policy: I work out two times a week. I guard that time with my life. If I miss a workout, and that happens, I book a different one, even if it’s something I don’t enjoy. As long as it keeps my pulse up and me in shape I don’t care. I can suffer through a boring or painful session. That will teach me to skip my regular one.
And I feel a million times better for it. I have the energy I need to follow my dreams.
3. Dare to name yourself
For a long time I couldn’t say that I was a writer. Not that I didn’t feel it, or wanted it, but I couldn’t say it, couldn’t write it. Being a writer was something other people did. The published writers, the ones with their faces on book covers. The ones with the multi-million dollar advances. Not people like me who wrote now and again.
A writer is a person who writes. That’s all it takes. You can be an unpublished writer. You can be an unpaid writer. You can certainly be an unappreciated writer. But if you write, You. Are. A. Writer.
So name yourself. Tell people that you are a writer, a game designer, painter, a dancer. Tell them and don’t avert your eyes.
Naming yourself is hard. You’re putting your ego on the line. You’re opening yourself up to mockery. Someone can say “oh, so where’s your book?” and you won’t be able to answer. But naming yourself a writer you will start to think of yourself as a writer. And that helps you to become one.
Naming yourself starts to build your self-identity as whatever it is you name yourself as. Name yourself an artist, a game designer, a race car driver and you will be one step closer to viewing yourself as one.
The other side of the coin is that you’ll need to do the activity. Naming yourself without committing to the actions necessary to be whatever it is you want to be will only burn through your confidence. Saying that you are a race car driver when you don’t have a driver’s license will only bring ridicule down on you. But saying that you are a painter while you’re painting two hours each day will confirm you as a painter. And it will force you to commit to your dream.
Because once people start accepting your self-image they will start asking you about it. They will push you towards it. “So when will I get to read your next story/see your next painting/watch your next competition?” That’s what you want to hear. That’s where you’ll be able to draw support for your dream from the people around you.
4. Stop Wishing
Wishing you were able to follow your dreams is the most destructive thing you can do. It puts the power to follow your dreams squarely outside of yourself. It says that somewhere in the world there is a person[note]Or a God, or a pile of walking doggie-do.[/note] who gets to decide whether you can follow your dreams or not.
There is such a person – you. But by wishing you deny that. You deny yourself the power over your dreams.
And that power always exists. No matter how tough things are, no matter how badly things go, you always have the power to follow your dreams.
Victor Frankl wanted to publish his psychological research. He wrote his manuscript and would have published it – but he was rounded up with other Austrian Jews and sent to a concentration camp. Upon arriving in Auschwitz he pleaded with the guards to let him keep his precious papers. The reply was that the guard ripped his manuscript from his hands, tossed it to the ground, pulled down his pants, and pissed on it.
“Scheisse,” screamed the guard – “shit”. That’s all that Frankl’s manuscript was. It was gone and Frankl had no way to recover it. But he did have the ability to follow his dreams. So during his years in Auschwitz he wrote down his main points on scraps of stolen toilet paper. Once he was rescued he set about recreating his manuscript, which became An introduction to Logotherapy, a seminal work in modern psychology upon which Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based.
So stop wishing. Stop giving away the power over your dreams. Find the one thing you can do, right now, to nurture them.
Then do it.
5. Choose Your Happiness First
This is something I’ve got trouble with. I know that when I’m happy I’m able to give a lot more to the people around me. I’m a better father, a better husband, a better friend, a better worker. And yet, when things get rough, the first thing I limit is my own happiness.
This is a spin on what I wrote above in taking care of yourself, but it goes beyond that. You need to choose your happiness first.
I know it’s hard, when you’ve got obligations and people fighting for your time and attention, to choose your own happiness first. It feels wrong, selfish, short sighted.
If you don’t give yourself permission to pursue your dreams, and make that a top priority, you will grow distracted, unhappy, bitter and angry. It will spill over onto the people who you are trying to help by denying yourself. Your life will be miserable and they will suffer.
My wife used to say that I was distracted, never present. I’d sit down at the dinner table and I’d zone out. And she was right. I wasn’t there. I was in my dreams, wishing that I’d followed my dreams, planning for when things would be different. It put a horrible strain on my family, on my relationships, and on me.
Then I figured out what I needed to do to make myself happy. The bare minimum, mind you, is to work out twice a week, go meet my gaming buddies and play board games once every two weeks, and write fiction at least every other day. And I needed to do this guilt free. It doesn’t give me energy if I feel that I’m stealing the time.
So what I did was talk it through with my family[note]It was a LOT harder than that, but that’s a story for another time.[/note]. And I started implementing my “feel good, me first” schedule. And suddenly my family was a lot happier with me.
Because I was there. When I was with them, I was fully with them. I didn’t resent the time they were costing me because I’d already spent the time writing. I felt good about myself and that made me able to give, freely, of my attention, my time, and my love. Choosing myself first[note]That’s a quote from James Altucher.[/note] allowed me to give them everything I wanted to give them and everything they needed from me.
It’s weird but it works.
One caveat: I’m not saying “choose yourself, forget everyone else”. That’s a recipe for disaster. What I am saying is “find what makes you happy, do it first, then use your happiness to make the important people in your life happy”. That works a lot better.
+1 – Do a Little Every Day
Not every day, but almost every day. Don’t wait for great things to happen, do the small things right now. Do exercises, write a snippet of code, a line of dialog – something small right now is a million times better than a grand thing that may never happen tomorrow.
You need to keep the flames of your dreams alive. Keep them simmering. Keep them hot. It’s way better to do small things continuously than to do one great thing every year because the longer you wait the more you lose of your dreams. You can wait your dreams to death.
You can wait yourself to death.
Yeah, melodramatic. But it’s true. If you don’t feed your dreams continuously they will starve. That’s why choosing your happiness first is important. That’s why you need to find your tribe, the people that keep you fired up about your dream. That’s why you need to do a little every day.
It doesn’t have to be much. Petter V. Brett wrote his multi-million selling The Warded Man on his Blackberry while commuting to work. Working less than 30 minutes a day, while being jostled by a subway car full of white collar workers, he created an amazing novel[note]I’ve read it, I love it, I recommend it.[/note]. And from what I’ve read about him, it made him happy as well. It kept his dream alive, and he created something great.
So do the same thing. Find the small things in your life that bring you closer to your dreams, then do them. Do them every day.