How to Live Your Dream

Even though my high school graduation wasn’t all that long ago, the world is still a very different place than what I imagined it would be. The idea of stable work has moved out of board rooms and into living rooms, but some sacrifices come with so much freedom.

Hustling has become the full-time occupation of my generation with nearly everyone holding down multiple side jobs or part-time gigs to make ends meet. In some ways, our society is more focused on work than ever before. The pendulum then naturally swings to this question: What am I doing all this for? What is the purpose of working non-stop if you aren’t working toward something? There has to be something out there, right?

Time to Change

Unlike some, my dream didn’t suddenly appear in a clear vision of a mountain to climb or a space-station to board. For me, it was a much more ordinary journey to finding out what I wanted.

I was working two jobs, feeling the weight of not being a dedicated enough worker to my corporate role while also not being as involved with my kids as I ached to be. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around. Sure, we were living in our nicest house ever, and all the bills were paid on time, but I was wilting under the strain.

Eventually, I broke down. I knew something had to change. I didn’t want the big house and the fancy new car. I didn’t want to climb any ladders. I wanted to be at home with my family. I wanted my energy to go to dinner and dishes and housework. I wanted to facilitate my daughter’s artistic streak and my son’s love of science.

Shame overwhelmed me every time I thought of admitting those dreams out loud. I knew they were small. I knew some people would say I wasn’t living up to my potential. Maybe they were right, but what is the point of potential if all I ended up with was misery?

Whatever your dream life looks like, board rooms or tiny houses out west, real, lasting happiness is possible with a little bravery and a lot of dedication. Still, the big question is how. How do you live your dream life?

Define It

Before you can do anything, you have to know what your dream life is. What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do your dreams fit with your current lifestyle? Grab a pen and paper and follow these steps to figure it out.

Step One: Assess

Taking your dream from ideal to reality requires you to be honest about where you are now.

  • Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper.
  • Label one half ‘Keep’ and write the things you love about your life
  • Label the other half ‘Change’. Write the things you want to change including those things you feel are missing.

If part of you aches to travel something inside of you calling out for a shift. Write it down. If you’re working long hours but want to be at home with your kids, write it down. If your weekly yoga class revitalizes you, keep it.

Allow yourself to be human. This is hard work. You might feel guilty for wanting the things you are longing for. Your goals may seem too big or too small if you’re like me. There could be financial repercussions to your dreams that keep you from being honest about your desires. Write them down anyway.

Your life will change when you admit what you want most. This is especially true if you’ve been hiding these desires. When you acknowledge your dream life to yourself and write it down, you will feel a weight lift from your shoulders.

Set aside the worry of what is possible. Even if you can’t make a radical jump to a new life, there are small steps you will be able to take to bring your life into harmony with your desires.

In short, this is not the time to be practical or limit your subconscious mind. Write it all out. Write down the things you think are impossible. Write the things you feel stupid for wanting. Ignore that voice in your head whispering that it will never happen, and write it all down.

Step Two: Sketch

As you are writing your lists, your dream life will probably become clear. Maybe at your core, in the places you hardly admit to yourself, you want to live the life of a traveler. Maybe your college degree and successful career haven’t ever squashed that adventurer spirit.

Perhaps you dream of taking your craft, art, or passion from your studio to the public. Or maybe your dreams are for stability you build with your own hands. Maybe a home with lots of kids and a boring routine are the only things that dig deep inside of you and unknot the tension in your chest.

Whatever those themes are, they are the beginnings of your Dream Life Sketch.

Take your pen, turn to a new page, and write out what a typical day in your dream life would be. In your imagination, are you rising with the sun to set out on a new adventure or gently waking with a cup of coffee before sending your kids off to school. Whatever it is, break it down into one day. Your perfect day. This sketch is going to be the fuel for your dream life.

Step Three: Set Broad Goals

The last step in defining your dream life is going to be to take a step back and see the big picture. Set big goals. These goals will be broad and far-reaching and aren’t meant to revolutionize your existence this very minute, but rather help you take that vision and discover what underlying values should be guiding your goals.

Not all goals are equal. It is important to know that the types of goals you set for yourself will greatly impact your happiness, both in the short term and as your life progresses.

Setting a goal based on external factors like ‘make a million dollars’ does not lead to lasting happiness. These types of goals are known as extrinsic goals, and research shows the temporary high you feel when you achieve these goals, no matter how incredible or noteworthy, is short-lived. Failure to reach these goals or failure of the goals to live up to the emotional payoff you expect actually creates more unhappiness than having no goal at all.

Instead, set goals for yourself that focus on either improving and expanding the things you listed as fulfilling positives in your life or on limiting the areas of unhappiness you identified.

Dreams are individual, and your goals should be too.

I wanted less. Less city, less exciting, less achievement. I wanted quiet and slow and predictable. I wanted peace and stillness. When I incorporated that ideal into my conscious mind, I was able to start making choices to get me closer to my goals.

Maybe my dream life sounds horrible to you. It could be that your life is already too quiet and you want adventure. Regardless, your goals should reflect what you want your life to feel like instead of specific boxes you wish to check off your bucket list.

So, my broad goals are a more peaceful, predictable life with my focus being on time with my family. These are intrinsic goals, driven by the kind of person I wish to be as well as the life I want to have.

Your goals should provide direction by reminding you who you are and who you want to be. Here are some examples to help you get started:

  • I want to go on adventures.
  • I want to see the world.
  • I want to experience other cultures.
  • I want to spend time helping others.
  • I want to show kindness.
  • I want to create a sense of family.
  • I want to be less scheduled.
  • I want to live sustainably.

Once you have your broad goals in mind, you will be ready to start making practical changes in your daily life to make those goals reality.

Start Living Your Dream Life Today

Keeping your vision clear in your mind will naturally start to bring about changes in your mindset and your life. You will start to get impatient with things that don’t fit in with your goals, and they will begin to fall away. Likewise, you will start to see opportunities to bring little bits of your dream into your current situation.

These aren’t going to be huge leaps at first. Maybe it’s just selling an expensive stereo system to buy that rock climbing gear you’ve always wanted to try out, or finally overcoming your fears and applying for the promotion that will allow your spouse to stay at home with the kids like you’ve both dreamed.

The point is, you don’t have to wait to have a certain amount of money in the bank or until some phantom date on a calendar to begin. You can live a dream life on the way to accomplishing your dreams by following these steps.

Set Small Stretch Goals

Goals are a lot like muscles. If your workout goal is to get more flexible, but you get so excited your first week that you overextend and pull a muscle, you’ve set yourself back instead of getting closer to what you want. You have to assess where you are right now and set realistic objectives for getting to where you need to be. After all, “Happiness increases when we discover a strength and practice it,” according to Nemours.

The same thing is true of your dream life. There is a zone of growth that produces the most progress, and as James Clear explains in his article “Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals”, you can find this zone for yourself by setting not just a minimum, but also a maximum goal you think you are capable of achieving.

If your big objective is to be a mental health advocate, your minimum goal might be to engage with the #MentalHealthAwareness hashtag on social media once a week, but what would be the maximum you could do? On a good day with no distractions, could you engage with the online community twice each day?

By establishing this upper limit, you are going to find your optimal goal zone. As you go through your daily life, your engagement may fluctuate, but with some focus you will be stretching yourself in a healthy way toward the person you want to be.

The real benefit will be an immediate and active engagement in the life you want to be living. These small bites create forward motion that will feed your motivation and in-turn inspire more action. So do something today, no matter how small it may seem.

Find Everyday Happiness

In the pursuit of big things, don’t forget the little ones. Remember to include everyday happiness and appreciation in your daily habits. Make it a practice to do things you love that are congruent with the life you’ve been dreaming of.

If a slower life is your ultimate goal, then set aside half an hour every day to put your phone down and enjoy a meal, a cup of coffee, or a short walk without distraction. Notice the sensations that make you smile. Let your mind wander. Be happy in those moments.

By contrast, if your dream is to travel the world and jump from planes, your everyday happiness might come in the form of a less extreme sport that’s closer to home. By mountain biking or learning to skateboard, you can get small hits of adrenaline that fit into your current schedule.

Smile. Take pictures. Enjoy things. Celebrate small things because research proves that happiness, even in your dream life, is not dependent on achieving tasks. It is the mindset that you are fulfilled wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Happiness is something you can practice. It is something you can begin to live right now.

Be Ready to Adapt

Since happiness is not a fixed destination, it’s possible you are going to be wrong about the things you want. In fact, it’s pretty likely that as you begin to get the things you thought you wanted, you will realize they aren’t what you want at all.

This happens when you unintentionally set goals based on what you believe you should want, what others want, or even what you think it’s normal to want. All of these reasons are external, extrinsic goals, but unlike the obviously outward-focused dreams like “I want to be rich”, goals based on expectation are sneakier. It is then a priority to be honest with yourself and be ready to adapt.

Do not see these adaptations as failures. Getting to know what you want and going for it is a massive success and the key to your dream life which leads to the next point.

Incorporate Passing Desires

Chasing your dream life can feel like deciding to get married, but you are not married to your goals, not if you want to live your dream life now. By allowing yourself the freedom to include hair-brained ideas like “Go skydiving”, “Take a pottery class”, or “Learn to knit,” you will open yourself up to this reality: Your dream life is just you giving yourself permission to live.

Live and experience. Learn and grow. Make mistakes. Learn the things you hate to narrow in on the things you love. Allow yourself to live fully  and watch how much more fun living becomes.

A word of warning, there may be people in your life who fall away. This happens because as you get closer to what you want, who you want to be, you will be getting further from the things that don’t fit into your dream.

As those activities and interests that used to bond you to friends and family are redefined or eliminated, you might find yourself making new connections with different people whose dreams are like your own. This is natural and will help catapult you toward your new life. It is imperative that you don’t let the fear of how people view these changes keep you from changing your life.

Your dream self, your dream life is right in front of you. Give yourself permission to live it.

Prioritize Purpose

Goals can include things like buying land, having chickens, buying an RV, or starting a nonprofit. Purpose, however, is that almost intangible quality that lies underneath these goals. Hopefully, your purpose is becoming clear after completing the steps above. Now it’s time to set this purpose as your priority.

By defining your purpose and keeping it the focus of your dream life, you are creating a framework of sustainable, achievable happiness. More than anything, you are establishing a life that fulfills you even when you aren’t trying.

View Work as a Tool

At the end of the day you still have bills to pay. You still have to work. If you’re lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t completely drain you physically and emotionally, changing your mindset can go a long way to your current happiness.

View your job as the tool that allows you to start living your dream right now. Maybe it isn’t your forever job or your dream field, but right now, it’s the thing allowing you to dream. Imagine it like the manual screwdriver that lets you build a new bed. Maybe it’s slower and more frustrating than an electric screwdriver would be, but it will still get the job done.

If your job is crushing you or not providing for your basic needs, then it’s time to re-evaluate and start applying. Just the process of looking for work in a field you are passionate about, or one that grants the flexibility you long for will have an immediate impact on your happiness.

Find the right tool for the task at hand. Find the job that will facilitate your journey to your dream.

Plan for Stress

Here’s the truth, even your dream life will have stressful days. You might start to question if you made a mistake giving up so much to pursue a passion that isn’t panning out the way you hoped.

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and adapt, but even if you find the perfect dream to chase, there will be hard days. Ask any homemaker.

The joys of being a caretaker requires major sacrifice and dedication. Fevers and homework on top of potty training and errands can be as overwhelming as any board room, only there is no clock out time for parents. There are no vacation days or sick leave, and every honest stay-at-home parent will tell you they’ve questioned their decision to give up work for the household at one time or another.

In those times, you must have a plan to handle the stress no matter what life you’ve chosen.

Whether it’s in person or online, find a community. Find someone you can vent to who will understand your frustrations without asking you to change your goals.

In other words, this is not the time to turn to your childhood bestie who challenges every new move you are making. If you are working toward a trip overseas but have to keep using your travel funds for emergencies, turn to other travelers for tips or just a sympathetic ear.

Most importantly, develop a plan. Find support, and remind yourself of the good things.

Make a Way to Remember

Part of sustainable happiness is avoiding pleasure seeking that is often just chasing the high of the next experience and moving on to something else. You have to find ways to make the spark of joy last. As a bonus, revisiting memories will help you through the stressful days by reminding you why you are doing what you are doing, it will also extend your sense of pleasure and pride.

Looking back on photos, journals, or blogs you’ve made as you grow and get closer to your objectives will renew your sense of pride and reinvigorate your sense of purpose. So, start a website or just buy some disposable cameras and cheap notebooks and record the things you’re doing.

In the haze of reaching for goals, it’s easy to forget the ones you’ve already achieved, so you also need to designate time to review. Look back and remember. Look back and celebrate what you’ve done and how far you’ve come.

A Word of Warning

Just as there are steps you can take to make your dreams reality, there are ways to sabotage your progress. External motivators, pleasure seeking, and setting goals too high are just a few of these traps. Comparisons present an even bigger danger.

As discussed above when you look at others, at what they think you should be doing or how you should be doing it is a sure-fire way to steal happiness from yourself. Moreover, looking at your dreams through the lens of someone else’s eyes will only delay figuring out what really makes you happy. It will keep you on paths that don’t lead to your dream life.

Even more dangerous, the habit of comparison is likely to keep you striving for things that might not be best for you. Goal setting and dream actualization come with an inherent bias toward ableism. There is a lot of talk about trying hard enough or reaching further.

For some, no amount of effort will overcome certain limitations. This is why research emphasizes goals that are “challenging yet attainable”.

Whether physical or mental, there may be things in your life that need to be realistically incorporated into your dreams. Routine, for example, might sound boring, but for those with mental health concerns, it can be imperative for overall wellness. Living on the road year-round may be an exciting ideal, but regular access to physicians and prescriptions might be necessary.

Instead of seeing your well-being as an obstacle that stands in the way of your dream life, find ways to make it part of your plans. When you incorporate your health into your dream life and make it a priority, you don’t just live; you live well.

Acknowledge your reality and honor it.

It’s Time

When you are born, you have exactly one purpose: to live. Nothing else. You exist, and that’s enough. Once you embrace that singular obligation, you will truly find what you are seeking.

Whether your dream is jumping from planes or being a stay-at-home parent; making spreadsheets for nonprofits or reading all the romance novels at your local library, it’s yours to live. All the tips and tricks in the world won’t replace your commitment to change, though. You have to make the decision. You have to take the conscious steps daily to draw nearer to the things you want.

So, go.

Discover your deepest desires. Embrace mistakes. Adapt. Learn, and above all else, be authentically yourself every day in every decision. That is the dream life, and it’s in yours for the taking.

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