Do your big dreams overwhelm you? Focus on the step directly ahead
This morning I spoke to about 270 senior students at the high school in the town (of Bairnsdale) near where I grew up. I began by sharing with them four important lessons I’ve learnt since I was their age:
# 1. Don’t believe everything you tell yourself. Always challenge your stories about yourself, the world, and what’s possible for you in it.
# 2. Success lies outside your comfort zone. Never let your fears and doubts keep you from pursuing exciting goals.
# 3. Your setbacks don’t define you, but how you respond does. Life’s full of problems, so it’s how you respond to them that determines your ultimate success.
# 4. The harder you work, the luckier you will become. Life rewards those ready to roll up their sleeves in the pursuit of meaningful goals. Even when your efforts don’t produce the results you want, they still enable you to discover new strengths and often open new doors of opportunity.
To my delight, lots of enthusiastic hands went up when I invited their questions. Several revolved around how to achieve a big goal that seems almost unreachable from where they are right now — 16, 17 & 18 years old, living in a rural area, yet to comprehend how much the world has to offer and unable to imagine how they can achieve their dreams. I empathized. Having grown up on a small farm, with minimal exposure to the ‘big wide world’, I once sat in the exact same place. (Less the internet!)
My response to them was the same as I give to people far older who want to pursue a big goal or make a big change yet feel overwhelmed thinking about where to begin.
Break it down.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.” And so when it comes to doing something that leaves a wide cavernous gap between where you are now and where you ultimately want to be, don’t think that you need to know how to bridge it before you take the first step forward.
What matters most is knowing the direction you want to head, even if you aren’t clear on a specific end-point destination (I sure wasn’t at eighteen!) Once you know the direction, then think about what you would like to be doing 12 months from now that would be moving you toward it. Then think about what you’d be doing 6 months from now. Then 2 months from now. Then 2 weeks from now. Then tomorrow. Then today.
Sometimes after we start moving in the direction of our goals and aspirations, new horizons of possibility open up. Sometimes our dreams shift direction. Sometimes new opportunities emerge. Sometimes old opportunities close down.
Such is life.
What matters most is not about whether we ever reach some Xanadu end point. What matters most is that we are working toward goals and aspirations that inspire us – translated from Latin “That breathe life into us” – and give us a sense of purpose and meaning as we get of our beds each morning.
As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, what ‘success’ looks like is different to each of us. Sometimes success is simply putting one foot in front of the other in the midst of a crisis. For some of us it is raising children into happy and giving human beings. For others it’s leading a business that will support thousands of people for generations to come. For others it’s simply leaving the world a bit better off because we walked upon it.
Where there is no one definition of success, we can only experience success in the present moment and to do that takes feeling good about what we are doing with our time, talent and resources today. This hour. This moment.
So on that note, I will leave you to decide what success means to you, and what ‘next steps’you are called to take as you work toward a future that inspires you (even if it scares you).
Remember, you don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just the next step.