Thursday Thirteen – Dream-Chasing
My Thursday Thirteen is a little late going up today, as I spent yesterday evening writing another conference paper. This is going to be the third paper that I have given this semester, which is a lot by anyone’s standards! However, I know that all of this hard work is going to pay off eventually when I reach my goal of being employed as a lecturer in a university. That’s my dream, and I have been steadily working towards it for a number of years now. I am due to submit my thesis next year, so all things being well, I should be Dr. Amy before I turn 30. I’ve achieved a lot in my first 30 years on this earth, and I’m often asked how I manage it all. To be completely honest, I do a lot of it without a great deal of conscious thought, but there are a few things (13 to be exact!) that I can recommend to others who are dream chasing too.
- Figure Out What You Want – First things first! After all, how can you follow your dream if you don’t know what your dream is? Well, to begin with, you need to sit down with your notebook and pen and just brainstorm. Make lists of all the things you enjoy doing in life, all the things you used to do but don’t have time for any more, all the things that fill you with equal doses of fear and excitement. Free yourself from the constraints of reality! Let your mind go wherever it wishes, and note everything down. Two other exercises that I’ve tried and come up with really interesting results, is to note down a list of childhood ambitions, and the other is to ask a loved one to list what they perceive as your skills, and what they could see you being good at. This one was particularly insightful for me (Thanks, Mum!).
- Goal Setting – Now that you have all your lists, go down them highlighting the ones that fill you with excitement and possibility. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by things like cost, as money should not be an inhibitor to your dreams. When I started out on my postgraduate degrees, I had no idea how I was going to pay for them. I filled out the form regardless and got hold of the books for the course, and ultimately the money arrived in time for me to go ahead. I am in no way suggesting that this will always be the case. What I am suggesting though, is that if you are determined to achieve something, don’t let money be your inhibitor. The other thing that I’d like to say about goal setting is keep your eye on the big picture. I watched The Secret recently, and I was disappointed in it as it was so consumer-focussed. The dreams people had were for cars and houses with tennis courts. When I set goals it is not for material possessions, it’s for big picture stuff, it’s about how I want to live my life. If I end up with a nice home then that’s just a bonus!
- Support – Don’t go it alone! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the support of others. It is entirely possible to pursue your path ‘lonely as a cloud’, but I can’t recommend it. When I was studying for my undergraduate degree and I had my two babies aged 4months and 18months, there were many times that I wanted to give it all up. It was the people around me who had faith in my capabilities, who helped me out with the practicalities of studying with such a young family, and who continually reminded me of my goal, of the bigger picture, that helped me stay the course. Find yourself a cheering squad, and go for it!
- Accountability – Every week I meet up with my mum and we both set goals for the week. We check up on each other’s progress on goals set the week before, and we discuss what goals need to be set that week to move us closer to our ultimate bigger picture goal (see 5. Mini Goals). Since beginning these meetings, both my mum and I have achieved so much in such a short period of time. When I scan down my list of things to do that week, I make sure that I have them done by our next meeting. It’s not that we berate each other if we failed to do what we set out to do. After all, life often doesn’t work out the way we expect and things crop up which prevent us from doing all we said we would. When this happens the goal gets added on to the next week’s list, and, more often than not, it is done by the following week.
- Mini Goals – I mentioned in the previous point that you need to set weekly mini goals. These mini goals are like the stepping stones that will get you to the other side; they take you to your bigger picture goal. They need to be small and achievable. If you have a busy week, then don’t set yourself several time-consuming tasks. Instead choose small things such as an email to someone you think may be able to help you (see 10. Mentors), or fill in a form, make enquiries etc. After a while, all these mini goals stack up and you will finally achieve that bigger picture goal.
- Forgiveness – As I said in 4. Accountability, sometimes things crop up, and you are unable to achieve the goal that you set out to achieve. The trick is to forgive yourself, and not to get hung up on your perceived failure. Continue to keep your big goal in mind, and try again. You need to move forward in a positive frame of mind, and if you start to feel negative about yourself, cut yourself some slack. Forgive yourself, and move on.
- Setbacks – Now these are not necessarily a bad thing. They can appear pretty catastrophic at the time, but in actual fact they often allow us to learn something new, either about ourselves or about our dream. There have been so many times that I thought that I was on the right track and everything was moving seamlessly forward, when something has come along and derailed my progress. Use this time to reassess (see 11. Reassessment) and remember that when you reach your goal and you look back at this moment, you’ll see it as the event which contributed towards your success, rather than the point at which it all went wrong.
- Treats – Ah, there’s nothing like an incentive, is there! I don’t know about you, but I work better when I know that there are going to be treats along the way. These don’t have to be big treats, and, in fact, I would argue that the smaller treats are often more effective. Sometimes it can be watching a favourite TV show, or buying a glossy mag. Sometimes it can be a weekend of leisure time or maybe just a 20 minute walk around your neighbourhood. Don’t underestimate the motivational power of the treat!
- Role Models – By role models I don’t mean Madonna or Stephen Spielberg, although if you wanted to choose them I certainly wouldn’t stop you! In fact, if you discovered your dream was to become the uber-queen of pop or a successful Hollywood director, then I don’t think you could do better. I would like to suggest, though, that sometimes a role model that is a little closer to home can be more effective. Look to those who you perceive as having already achieved that bigger picture goal. They are the proof that what you are striving for is indeed possible.
- Mentors – This is one step on from role models. Role Models, after all, may not, and indeed, need not, know what they represent to you. They may not even know you at all! Mentors, on the other hand, should occupy a space between cheering squad and role model. The idea behind mentors, is that they are maybe a few or more steps ahead of you and are approachable. Contacting possible mentors can be a scary business, but in my experience, people like being contacted by those that hold a high opinion of them! I’ve found that most people want to help others move closer to reaching their goal, and all it took to find this out was for me to make first contact.
- Reassessment – Sometimes, particularly after a setback, we find that we need to reassess where we are going and how we are getting there. Sometimes the setback will be a major one and will require that you take stock of the bigger picture. Our values change, our lifestyles alter, and our vision of our future does not resemble the one we used to dream of. Be aware of this possibility, and take the time to figure out if the big picture goal still means as much to you as it previously did. If it does, then find a way through the current setback using the mini goals. If it doesn’t, be flexible and work to discover your new dream, before putting in place the steps that will move you forward.
- Indefatigability – The OED defines the state of indefatigability as ‘unremitting diligence or perseverance’. Let me be completely clear: if you want to achieve something then you will have to be completely determined that you will ultimately succeed. By following the exercise in 1. Figure Out What You Want, you should have discovered a dream that fills you with passion and enthusiasm, as it will be this passion and enthusiasm that takes you through to completion.
- Don’t Stop Dreaming! – There is always more to be achieved. Once you have succeeded in attaining the dream, take care not to stagnate. Set yourself another goal, and keep moving forward. For me, I feel our time on earth is so short, that I want to make the most of it by living as fully as I’m capable of. Just remember that the attainment of the dream is only a part of the fun; the journey is often more important than the destination.
I would love to hear what goals you are all working towards, or, indeed, your success stories. What worked for you? Are there any other pieces of advice that you think should be included?