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You Can't Live Your Dream Until You Know Your Dream

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

What is your dream? Is it to succeed at work? To become wealthy? To have power? To launch a successful start-up? to run a restaurant? Those are all great dreams but are you sure about what you really want? A surprising number of people chase the wrong dream simply because they do not know what their real dreams are. Let me explain...

Take the person who wants to succeed at work. To do this, he probably works long hours from early morning to late at night. Perhaps he travels often. Perhaps he has to catch up on his work over the weekend. But, if he were ever to stop and ask himself why he wants to succeed at work, the answer is unlikely to be because he loves work. Rather, it is probably to provide for his family, to be recognised or to earn a lot of money. If so, his dream is not really to succeed at work, but to have a happy, healthy and comfortable family; to be recognised for his professional competence; or to be wealthy. 

If his dream is to have a happy, healthy and comfortable family, his solution of working long hours is a mistaken one. It is leading him to neglect his family rather than support them. Sure, he may be bringing in a lot of  money, he may be sending his kids to top private schools, he may be dressing the family in expensive designer clothes. But his most important assets: his love, his time, himself, he is giving to his company, not his family. He may also be overworking himself to a stress induced heart attack by the time he is 50 and that would be doing his family no favours at all!

Question Yourself

In order to work out what your dream really is, you need to ask yourself a few questions − or have someone ask you those questions. If you believe you have a dream, ask yourself why you wish to accomplish that dream. Once you answer your question, ask it again and continue about five times all together, until you cannot dig any deeper into your motivation. This is called the Five Whys and is often used by engineers to analyse problems. But it is useful tool for anyone wanting to analyse her goals.

The five whys is particularly useful for people who have dreams or at least think they have dreams they wish to pursue. Many other people do not have clear dreams or realise they have been chasing the wrong dreams. If this is the case with you, here are some questions you can and should ask to identify your dream.

And for every answer to these questions, ask yourself why. Often, you will find that your answer to the why question is more valuable than the answer to the initial question.

Less obvious, but more powerful questions include (some of these questions were inspired by my interview with Tom Meyers about life change):

Actions Not Results

As you question your dream and yourself, do not just think about a big result, such as becoming rich or having your own business. Think also about the path you will have to take to get to that result because it is very likely you will spend a lot of time on that path.

Too many people go to their graves having spent a life working hard to earn enough money to do something or other such as become wealthy, buy a great house or get promoted to top management. Unfortunately, they end up spending most of their lives working hard and spend little if any time doing the something or other that that hard work was meant eventually to provide.

If you want to work hard, that's great! Do it and enjoy it! But if you want to work hard in order to retire early with lots of money in order to spend time with your family, think again. Your goal is to spend time with your family. Why not work less hard and less time and spend time with your family now! Sure, that might mean a smaller house than some of your old school friends have (and boastfully share pictures of on Facebook), it might mean a second hand Toyota rather than a new Mercedes. But Toyota's are perfectly good cars, you don't need a ridiculously big mansion and, let's be honest here, you've got the greatest family in the world. If you want to spend time with them, reorient your life now in order to do so.

Steve Jobs apparently commissioned an author to write his biography so that his kids would know him. Apparently, he did not have time to get to know his kids while he was alive, doing business. Sure, he accomplished a lot during his life and I expect he loved what he did. But that came at a cost. I personally would be happy with less fame than Steve Jobs (and I am succeeding so far!) but more time with my great sons. How about you?

Focus

That said, Mr Jobs did have one thing right. If your aim is to be super successful, whether in business, the arts or lifestyle, you need to focus on your dream above and beyond everything else in life. If you read about the lives of successful business founders such as Mr Jobs, Bill Gates or Henry Ford, you will read about people who devoted their lives to their work, starting early and working late day in and day out for years.

The most successful artists, writers and musicians likewise spend most of their lives, especially early on in their pursuit of success, on their work. Fun, family, diversity − these aspects of their lives were absent.

If you do not want merely to start your own company, but want to launch a company as successful as Google or Apple, you need to be prepared to give up much of the rest of your life so that you can focus your time, energy and resources on building that company.

If your dream lies in the arts, your struggle will be even harder. Until you succeed, the pay is little. Most artists, writers and composers initially need to hold jobs, totally unrelated to the arts, to survive; and they sculpt, write or compose in their remaining time. In fact, many successful artists and authors still need to have other jobs to survive. 

That said, you should not feel obliged to have a big dream that requires total focus on the dream while neglecting family, fun and experience. Most of us cannot do that. I love living a balanced life that includes writing, time with my family, reading for pleasure and travel. I believe most people want a balanced life of multiple pleasures and that's ok. In fact, it's great!

Big Dreams Demand Early Starts

If your dream is to launch a successful business, become a novelist or compose music, get in the habit of starting your days early. Most successful people wake up before 6:00 in the morning and get to work early on. There are three reasons for this.

  1. Mornings are quiet time. With many people still asleep at 6:00 in the morning, you will be less distracted, allowing you to focus more on projects that require focus.
  2. You set yourself a good example for the rest of the day. If you accomplish a lot before 9:00 in the morning, you set an example to yourself that will encourage you to remain productive throughout the day.
  3. Your first two hours of being fully awake are potentially your most productive hours of the day. It is the time when are most likely to succeed at getting things done. If your dreams are big, you should exploit that.

Make the Right Dreams Come True

There you have it. If you have a dream in life, make sure it is the right dream by questioning yourself about the dream and how you plan to get there. Many people chase the wrong dream. Don't make that mistake. If you are unsure of your dream, question yourself in order to find it.

Most dreams involve a lot of time and effort in chasing them. Be sure you will enjoy the chase as much, if not more, than the final achievement. Better still, forget the goal and make the chase your dream.

If your dreams are big dreams, you will need to spend years focusing on them. Are you prepared to do that?  If so, your first step is to start setting the alarm clock for five in the morning.

What Is Your Dream?

What is your dream? How are you chasing it? I'd love to know about it!

 

 

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