Is there something that you’ve been dreaming about for a long time?
Maybe it’s traveling the world, going back to school, starting your own business, quitting a job you hate, or letting go of an old relationship that you know is just dragging you down.
How long have you been dreaming about this? Are you any closer to making it a reality now than you were a year ago? If your answer is no, you’re not alone.
As Americans, we subscribe to a culture of working to the point of exhaustion and then feeling guilty any time we take time for ourselves. And even thinking about making a major life change makes us feel selfish. That feeling that we’re not sure if we deserve happiness is ingrained in us.
I have recently acquired this really ugly straw hat. (Bear with me here, this has relevance, I promise.)
It got left out in the rain so it’s lost all its shape. It has cheesy little pink flowers on it. It’s sort of fraying on one side. My host gave it to me just so I wouldn’t have to wear my good sunglasses out on the paddleboards and potentially lose them.
And I freaking love this stupid little hat. I wear it everywhere.
Because, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted a straw hat. I have probably tried on at least 35 different straw hats in my life, any time I saw a cute one in a store, but I never bought any of them.
I had this image in my mind of a girl wearing a straw hat on a sailboat with a handsome stranger, or laughing with friends and walking down cobblestone streets in Barcelona.
Girls who wore straw hats didn’t care what other people thought about them. They were too busy having some random adventure to care that they were totally going to have hat-hair later.
Every time I tried on a hat I talked myself out of it.
“You hate hats. You never wear them.”
“Hats make your head look small and then your butt looks too big.”
“You never go to the beach, what do you need a hat for anyway?”
“You’re going to spend $25 on a hat? That’s ridiculous.”
…and so on. I felt that I didn’t deserve even something so insignificant as a stupid straw hat.
No, I’m not saying my big dream was to wear a straw hat. It’s not about the hat. How was I ever going to achieve the big dreams I wanted out of life if I couldn’t even take such a small step towards happiness?
Our heads are full of dreams that float around, keeping us so preoccupied with thinking about them that we rarely get around to the doing.
If you want to get your dreams out of your head and into reality, start by creating a life pattern. Maybe you’re buried in debt so you can’t go out right this minute and buy a round the world ticket. Maybe you just had a baby, so climbing Kilimanjaro is out for the immediate future. That’s okay. I’m not saying you have to turn your entire life upside down this very minute.
There are simple steps that you can take to bring yourself to the point of ultimately living that dream.
Want to make lasting connections? Start with the people already in your life. Call up your college roommate that you’ve been thinking about for ages, but haven’t because you ‘don’t have 2 hours to spend catching up.’ Maybe you won’t get your laundry done. Screw it.
Been feeling frazzled and harried? Go get that pedicure you’ve been itching to get ever since you broke out your flip-flops 2 months ago.
Want to be a writer? Submit something you’ve written to the New York Times. Will you get rejected? Probably, but that’s not the point.
Do something foolish; something impractical. At least once a week, do something small for no logical reason other than the fact that it makes you happy. Why?
Because you are creating a habit. A habit of doing things that make you happy instead of just thinking about them. The point is not to achieve greatness in one fell swoop. The point is simply to do.
People comment that I’m so lucky to get to go travel, and every time I want to say to them, “do you know the only thing that makes me different than you? I bought a plane ticket.”
That’s it. There is nothing that sets me apart or makes me any more capable of achieving my dreams than anyone else. I just decided to stop dreaming and start doing.
Whenever we get close to taking a really big scary, step the nasty little negative voice in our head jumps in with a full repertoire of excuses for why we shouldn’t do it.
“Quit your job to start your own business? Are you nuts? You have a family to support.”
“If you go back to school at your age, you’ll never pay off the loans.”
“Do you really think you’re talented enough to make it on your own?”
“Now you want to go travel the world? Can’t you just pick a career like everyone else? Don’t you think it’s time you grew up?”
And so we don’t. We stay in our corporate-ladder climbing office job and feign interest in our co-worker’s weekend golf score, all while dreaming about hiking Machu Picchu.
But here’s a secret: the more often you tell the nasty voice in your head to shove it, the quieter he gets. He realizes that he no longer has the power to scare you out of doing the things you want. He stops arguing so much because he resigns himself to the fact that you’re going to do it anyway. The more you do, the easier it gets. Until one day, you just buy the plane ticket. Or quit your job. Or tell someone you’ve loved for years how you feel about them.
And then you’ll wonder, what the hell took you so long?
So, start with the little things. Reclaim your right to be a little bit selfish in your day to day life. Stop feeling guilty for making your own happiness a priority. Buy the damn straw hat.
What are you waiting for?
This post is part of the #SundayTraveler series. See the rest of the lineup and link your travel post at Chasing the Donkey or any of the awesome hosts listed below.