Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination. – Joseph B. Wirthlin
I watched a TEDx talk the other day by Patti Dobrowolski called Creative Genius: You about how you can achieve your dreams.
The drawing above is adapted from the one she did in her talk – it’s the image I took away.
The message I heard, however, is slightly different from what she was talking about.
So let’s look at that in some more detail.
The model itself is really simple.
The ground represents where you are now – the reality of your existence.
You are where you are because of the hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions you’ve taken – even before you knew the importance of decision making or why you were making decisions.
Those decisions about whether to engage in team sports or not, whether to do an activity or not, whether to read or not, and then later, the choice of subjects, of major, of degree – all these led to now, step by inexorable step.
Looking back, there probably isn’t any one thing you would do differently – but there are lots of things you might have done to nudge yourself down a different path.
Up there in the sky is where you want to be – a dream floating high above.
For some people these are dreams – dreams of more money, a bigger house, fancy holidays.
For some it’s the hope of a promotion, of the next step on a career ladder, of being selected for a competition, hitting the jackpot, being lucky at the lottery.
And for many of us they remain dreams – because there are things holding us back – fears – lots of them.
We’re afraid of what others will think, what they will do, how our managers will respond, how we will change.
And fear in its many forms stops us – it’s simply too scary to do anything different from what we’re doing now.
Patti’s solution to this is direct and simple – use this model to draw your future, change your mind and draw on your inner creative genius to make it happen.
And she also talks about love.
This is where we part company – perhaps differing on method rather than methodology.
In principle, she is right.
You need to know what you want if you are to know when you’ve got it.
You’ve got to get over those fears – and that does mean changing your mind.
And you have to do the work – it’s kind of difficult to do it any other way.
But I think underselling how long and dull and boring the journey might be is not the best thing you can do.
Well – actually, it’s probably not going to be dull or boring – but it will be long – longer than you expect, longer than you hope, longer than you are prepared for.
We’ve all probably got examples of journeys that we’ve already taken.
It must have taken you some time to get to the point you are now – to the career you have.
In my experience it seems to take around ten years.
Ten years to first find a niche for yourself – something you can do to earn more money than you’re spending.
Another ten years to get to a point where you’re good at it – where you are trusted to take responsibility and deliver.
Along the way, around year 15, you start to wonder whether you’re on the right track – whether you’re doing what you wanted in the first place or whether you’re doing what other people advised you to do all along.
In my case that thing is probably writing – something that I’d have liked to do earlier but only started twenty years into my journey.
Almost exactly twenty years, thinking back.
That’s a long time to put off doing the thing you like doing.
I decided that I would have to be ready to throw away a million words to practice and get better at writing – and that would take ten years.
I’m seven hundred and seventy thousand, six hundred and two words into doing that, half a million of which are in this blog.
And the thing I’ve taken from my experience is that it doesn’t really matter whether you have a big dream or decide to do three big things or change your mind or whatever.
What matters is what you do every day.
Because a small amount of work on the thing that matters to you every day adds up, it compounds, and in a decade you have a body of work that you can call your own.
And you can do that while you have a job, a career, while you do the thing you spent the first couple of decades getting in position to do.
If you’re lucky you can do both – you don’t have to give anything up unless you want to.
Because if you’ve grown your dream from a seed, tended it as a sapling and watched it grow into a tree, pushing past the weeds of fear – then you know that what you have is no longer a dream – it’s a new reality.
And it emerged from your work – from your every day work – and not from a shortcut or a hack or a decision or a mind change.
It’s rooted in work, in toil, in graft.
And that’s what you’ve got to do – stop whining and hoping and dreaming.
Start working instead.