My alma mater recently included me in a feature in their alumni magazine on adventurous life styles. I’m especially flattered because my “success story” if you can call it that, has been anything but typical. The theme of my story is that I left a “normal” job working in bank to pursue a dream in California of riding ATVs professionally. While that adventure is far from over, it certainly looks a lot different know days than it did 5 years ago when I packed that truck and hit the road for So Cal.
I’m no expert at chasing dreams but I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to do and see a lot of the things that I spent most of my life wishing I could do. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that helped or that could have made the process a little bit smoother and a little less painful.
1. Begin with the end in mind
I’m not sure who came up with that saying but that’s pretty sound advice for just about any area of life. Come up with a plan before you start. It doesn’t have to be set in stone and you’ll probably call more than a few audibles along the way. But before you set out on whatever your journey is, chart a course, look at where you are in relation to where you want to be and come up with a plan to get there. You wouldn’t write a book without first researching a topic and creating an outline. Consider it a blue print for your dream. You don’t know how many rooms the finished house will have but you’ve got a foundation and the basic structure all laid out.
2. It will probably take longer than you expected
The best things in life always do. Be prepared to hustle. Better yet, find ways to free up more time now. Nothing is worse than looking back and saying “I could have done that so much faster if I hadn’t spent so much time _____.” You fill in the blank.
3. Plan to work some crappy jobs along the way
You have to eat and chances are, no one is going to pay you simply to pursue your dream. At least not right away. Crappy jobs have a way of developing character, work ethic and teaching us to get outside of ourselves. What’s more, when you hit hard times down the road, it’s great to look in the review mirror and think “Ya know, things are tough right now, but at least I’m not still back there doing that.” It helps put things in perspective.
4. Expect others to not take you seriously
This is your dream. Not theirs. I can’t image what my co-workers at the bank thought every day as I changed out of my business attire into greasy garage clothes in the men’s room. Shouldn’t I be trying to climb the corporate latter, not spending late nights in a garage building some freestyle ramp thingy that was going to be my ticket to moving to California?
5. Put some skin in the game
For me that was a $2,000 investment in raw metal. I had to build a ramp that was a replica of what the pros used in California. I remember going back and forth about whether to shell out the money, time and energy when I had no guarantee of it actually working. To that point, I’d already had one trip to the hospital and two concussions for my trouble. Was it really wise (or healthy) to stay on this path?
It doesn’t always have to be money, but chances are, you’ll have to loosen up the wallet strings a little to get your dream off the ground. Jenny Blake funded her own book tour after releasing Life After College. Making an investment has a funny way furthering your drive to succeed.
6. Find a mentor, supporter or cheerleader
Find someone who can pick you up and encourage you to keep going when you feel like giving up. I’ve had many different people during different seasons of my life but each one served the same purpose; to help me stay on track. Find people who will remind you why you’re working so hard and how far you’ve come. Mastermind groups of like-minded individuals are a great idea as well. You can share ideas and network with people who all share a common goal and want to help each other succeed.
7. Don’t be afraid of failing
You probably will fail to some degree. Day number 2 of hitting my ramp ended in the ER. I honestly thought I was done. Fortunately when my bell quit ringing and I came to my senses, I got back in the saddle and tried again. And again. Failure in my chosen path certainly had some steeper consequences than say writing a book, however the drive to succeed is the same. A bombed presentation, a rejection from a publisher, another “we’re considering other applicants” letter are all obstacles that you’re likely to face. Don’t let them derail you. Ask yourself what you could have done different or perhaps why they weren’t sold on your idea and fix that for the next go around. Don’t give up because you came up short.
8. Be open to new opportunities as they present themselves.
My goal growing up was to earn a living as a professional racer or stuntman. As it turns out, my entry into the industry was through the media after being asked to serve as a guest blogger for a popular ATV website. Rather than spend my time solely on becoming the professional in the spotlight, I spent most of my time in the early days working behind the scenes, building my credibility and growing my professional network. In time, I made all the necessary contacts and was able to transition (on some level) to being the guy in the spotlight, I just happened to take more of a back door approach. It served me far better in the end because when I stopped riding, my involvement with the media has remained in tact and actually grown. I’ve made far more money as a journalist than I ever did as a freestyle rider.
9. Have a plan B
Times are changing rapidly. The unstable economy, not to mention progressive trends in marketing, and technology that’s advancing by the day can make something seem like a lucrative opportunity one minute and be irrelevant old news the next. As you start down the path of pursuing your vocational goals, develop a plan B in the event that things don’t exactly go according to plan. In my industry, there are thousands of youth who are living their lives in hopes of making it as a professional racer. Many of these youth bumble their way through “homeschool” while on the road headed to the next major race and never develop any other sort of skill or work ethic beyond riding an ATV or a dirtbike. Their sole focus is on becoming the next big name of their sport and they give no weight to the reality that it might not happen. Obstacles will come and a plan B will ensure you’re not completely derailed by some unforeseen circumstance or in the event that things don’t work out 100% according to plan.
10. Don’t neglect loved ones along the way
This can be a tough one depending on your life situation, particularly if you believe the end result will provide a far better life for you and your family. I was young single and had no one else to affect by dedicating myself 100% to the pursuit of my dream but not every situation allows for such staunch dedication. Don’t sacrifice relationships for the sake of pursuing a dream. Neglecting those closest to you, even for a time, strains relationships and might just push people away. What good will “the dream” be if the people you hold closest are no longer there to enjoy it with you?
Be open to God changing the plan
This is a bonus. For the believer, God has a way of changing our plans and opening our eyes to His purpose over our preference. That’s not to say God won’t give you the opportunity to pursue your hearts desire (Psalm 37:4) or that the direction you feel drawn to isn’t a part of His plan for your life, but the deeper I go in my walk with God, the more I learn that He is after my heart, not my happiness. God gave me the incredibly opportunity to pursue and live out a specific dream of mine for several years but only after laying that dream aside when He called me to go to college (especially because I had little interest in going to college at all.) I knew that saying yes to God meant saying no to my goal and my plan for my life. In His goodness, God directed my path back towards that dream in a far greater way than I could have ever come up with on my own. Did He owe it to me? No. But in His kindness, He gave me a gift of allowing me one of my hearts desires. His plan is always better. I can’t tell you that if you lay down your desire, dream or greatest goal, that God will return it to you. But I can tell you that His plan is infinitely better than anything we can scheme up and if we can learn to trust His leading, the end result will be greater than we can imagine.