No matter how small, every tiny bit of progress counts.
This post is a pep talk. For you and for myself. I have always been a little bit of a neurotic overachiever. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and make my dreams a reality, and that pressure occasionally builds into an internal melt down where I question my ability to accomplish the goals I create for myself. Then I spiral down, lose track of my dreams, and sit in front of the TV for a couple of days. I know I’m not the only one who suffers through this cycle, and this is why I’m writing this.
Creative people are dreamers by nature. We think of wonderful big ideas and hope we can some day make them into a reality. Some of those dreams are lofty and superfluous, but some are 100% attainable if we get out of our own way and focus on small and achievable tasks.
So, I’m going to share with you my 5 steps to stepping toward my dreams. Step step… step step step… I’m in a weird space right now, guys. Bear with me.
Oh, and this post doesn’t apply to just artists or creatives.
Step One: Make your ideas tangible
Do you feel productive when you write a to-do list, even if you don’t manage to cross anything off the list? I do. Getting your ideas down on paper is a step forward. Just the act of taking electrical impulses shooting around your noggin, and physically making the words appear on paper or on a device is productive.
Don’t just think about your ideas. Write them down. Capture them. Build upon them each day. I have made a habit of writing down ideas as they hit me on Google Keep and OneNote on my phone.
Make a checklist, get a planner, start bullet journaling, have a white board in your office or use a wall for sticky notes. Take your dreams out of your head, and make them something you can hold in your hand. Literally.
Step Two: Create a schedule
When you have a creative dream, it can be tempting to just wait for moments of inspiration to make progress. Any successful creator will tell you this won’t get you very far. It’s important to create a schedule for yourself that is independent of your inspired states. Regardless of how you feel, you need to sit down and do the work your dream requires.
On Tuesdays, I write these blog posts. Most of the time, I don’t want to write them. In fact, I avoided this particular post my entire morning. Writing these posts, although rewarding, still feels like work. If I waited for inspiration (like I did before January 2019), you would see a post every month or two. Now, you get a post every week. Inspired or not, create a schedule and stick to it.
If you are employed, work 40+ hours a week, and have a family to take care of, maybe your schedule will be 15 minutes in the morning while everyone is still sleeping, or 2 hours on Saturdays. That’s okay! You can still make progress towards your dreams.
Don’t get stuck thinking that if you can’t give your dreams the time they deserve then you shouldn’t give them any time all. It all adds up. Even 15 minutes a day for an entire year is 91.25 hours. That’s a pretty good hunk of time.
Step Three: Break your dream down into smaller tasks
I know how hard it can be to tackle a giant dream when all you can see is this massive, intimidating, and damn near impossible task to complete in front of you. When I quit my job in 2016, I had a dream: Make a living with my art.
That goal itself seemed unattainable to me. I had no idea how I was going to do it. I didn’t fully believe it was even possible. I felt paralyzed quite often when I thought of my dream. Until I started to shift my focus away from my dream as a whole, and began looking closely at all of the the little components that shaped it.
Step closer and look at the smallest tasks you can complete right now. Post on Instagram, make a to-do list, paint a mini piece of art and record the process, write 250 words of a novel, apply to an art fair, ask a local coffee shop to host your art, sit outside and write 7 lines of poetry. Small tasks add up.
Your dream is a wonderful thing to think about, but you should only step back and look at it as a whole for about 5% of your time. Use your new schedule to tackle the tiny tasks, that will eventually add up over time to manifest your big, seemingly unattainable dream.
Step Four: Accept that Failure of some kind is inevitable
I have to be completely honest, working toward your dreams will suck at times. Most of what you do will be challenging, and you’re likely going to fail in some way, shape, or form. Failure is part of the journey.
When you take on any sort of challenge, you will run into obstacles. Maybe your Instagram following won’t grow beyond 500. Your art isn’t turning out the way you hoped. You haven’t made a sale. You got a rejection letter from a gallery. Whatever it may be, you failed to meet your expectations in that moment. And that’s okay, because failure is not a reflection of who you are. Failure is not evidence that you should give up on your dreams. Failure is not terminal.
Failure is just an unexpected result from your actions. It’s a lesson of what doesn’t work. Don’t accept failure as the end result. Adjust your actions and try a new approach. Keep moving forward.
Step Five: Enjoy the process
You know that pressure I was talking about before? The pressure that builds when we haven’t reached our dreams, and we’re stuck wallowing in our perceived failures because if we just reached the end, attained those dreams, did all of the things we think we need to do, we’d finally be happy and at peace? Yeah, it’s a trap.
If you reach the end, and your dream is wholly and completely your reality, it won’t magically give you a new level of happiness and contentment. You’ll likely just think of a new dream and start the process all over again. This is why it is essential that you find joy in the process of trying to reach your dreams. There is no guarantee of happiness at a later date. Figure out how to find joy in what you are doing right now.
I say this, because I have to remind myself of it all the time. Find joy in the process. Not just in the end result. It could take you decades to fully attain your dream. Do you really want to spend those decades being moderately miserable? I don’t. Which is why after I hit publish on this post I am going to celebrate. I have dreams that I won’t reach for a long long time and some that I quite frankly might never make into a reality, but it sure does feel good to conquer this one task.
Dreams are wonderful, but making them a reality isn’t an easy feat. You will second guess yourself, punish yourself for failures, question the possibility of your dream, and even let your inner critic tell you that you suck. Chasing your dream will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Especially if you master step five.
Do something today. Even if it’s just putting your dream on paper.
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