I think it’s safe to say that not many people follow their dreams. It’s safe to say that most do what’s practical and comfortable, which is usually not what dreams are made of.
I think it’s safe to say that the reason why most people don’t pursue their dreams is because doing so is hard. It’s scary. And it takes a long time, which doesn’t fly in the age of instant gratification. I mean it really takes a long time and a lot of hard work. It’s emotionally easier to not try. It’s easier to wallow or rationalize where you are than to step outside of it and get a door slammed in your face. Rejection is painful. Things not working out is painful, especially when you put your heart and soul into it. Pursuing a dream is not for the faint of heart.
I read an article last week: “Don’t Quit your Corporate Job and Move to Paris,” which is exactly what I did in December of last year. The writer of the article, Lindsey Reynolds, couldn’t handle five months of being an au pair, pffffff. (Mind you I stumbled upon that article by googling “maid and babysitting jobs in Paris”). Reynolds moved to Paris with too many stars in her eyes, something I’ve been adamant about guarding myself against. I came here with no grass-is-greener notion, no romanticized view of the City of Light. Paris is a city that its inhabitants eventually get bored of or over familiar with, just like any other city. So I didn’t come here for an Eat, Pray, Love experience. I came to Paris to learn French. I came to Paris because, in addition to learning French, I had also decided to quit my job and launch un’ruly and un’ruly media network. And since both are web-based, I decided to run them from France.
Although I’ve been a life long dream chaser, since I’ve moved here I’ve gained a heightened awareness of the principles behind really “going for it” and the emotional requirements of taking yourself to another level. So I thought it would be nice to share some of the realities of this experience with those who are considering or have already committed themselves to the pursuit of the things they want the most.
a note about knowing what you want
Clearly, the first step in pursuing your dream is having one. This is probably the biggest step. Determining what you want out of life isn’t an easy thing to do and is too big of a topic to address here. (I’ve touched on it a little here, skip to the last three paragraphs if you must). But I will say a couple things:
- If you have no idea at all, try anything. Anything is better than nothing and will at least help you identify the things you don’t want, which is of equal importance.
- Focus on one or two things. It’s best not to try to boil the ocean, a lesson I repeatedly have to teach myself. For two years I only had one goal: move to Paris. Now that I’m here, I have two goals: learn French and run a sustainable business.
do your research
Take the time to plan. There’s no way you can embark on a journey without having some sense of what steps to take first. But thank God for Google! If you have no idea where to start, Google it. Before I moved to Paris I did a ton of research on visas and looking for apartments and getting a bank account in Paris, all that jazz. Articles like this one were extremely helpful. They helped lay out all the things I needed to consider. If Googling doesn’t work, which is unlikely, ask around. Working Girl, Monique Farrow did. Of becoming a Doctor she says:
I’m the first doctor in my family so it was something I had to navigate becoming from scratch. I think the most important thing that I did each step of the way was to identify someone that was doing what I wanted to do, contact that person and say “hey I want to do this.”
find a way around barriers
No matter what you may be pursuing, you’ll always find roadblocks; they’re innate to any pursuit. I’m starting to suspect that people the world considers exceptional or successful aren’t necessarily special in any kind of way. They’re most likely just persistent and unwilling to accept no for an answer in whatever shape or form no might present itself. For me the first no was ‘you need a job in Paris to live in Paris.’ That’s not true. I just needed a year’s income and I realized that, at bare minimum, I could save a year’s income, even if it would take me five years. But the funny thing is, when you commit to achieving something, you start to see opportunities where you might not have seen them before.
align your actions with what you want
Having a specific goal allows you to focus all your energy on it and make decisions through the lens of that goal. When the building I lived in was inspected in the fall of 2011 and most of the tenants, myself included, had to move out (gotta love housing in New York), my first instinct was to look for another apartment. I loath looking for apartments in New York, so naturally I waited until the last minute—like two days before I had to leave. Luckily, however, I realized that finding a new apartment was not in the best interest of my bigger move. So I decided to essentially “couch-surf” for a year. I first stayed with a friend’s mom for a few months and then my sister took me in on the condition that we wouldn’t rip each other’s heads off. She was even nice enough to let me live rent free for the rest of the year. So I saved all that New York rent money and put it toward my Paris savings, which made the move something that I could do sooner than later. A friend of mine followed suit. He sublet his Lower East Side apartment and moved into a share in Brooklyn to save money while he worked full time on his tech start-up.
In addition to using my living arrangements to get me closer to my goal, I even made sure that my “day job” at the time put me closer to what I wanted. My day job was not only a source of capital for my new venture but also a training ground where I acquired the skills that I would need to run said venture, like managing a team, negotiating contracts and understanding one’s audience. I took on a lot of responsibility during the last year I was there, which not only expanded my professional skill set, but also landed me a promotion and a raise.
tell people what you’re going to do
A wise man once said, public opinion will make you accountable. That wise man was actually Kanye West in his book Thank You and You’re Welcome; and those weren’t his exact words. I paraphrased. But what he was getting at was that when you tell people that you’re going to do something, you’re likely to follow through in order to save face. It’s one of the basic principles of Kickstarter, and one of the reasons why they keep failed Kickstarter campaigns on the site. Fear of embarrassment can be a powerful motivator. When I decided to move to Paris, I told a handful of people and then my big-mouth sister told a bunch of people. For me, telling people made it something more real vs. something distant.
speaking of distance, give yourself a deadline
Another way to take something out of the world in your head and into the world you live in everyday is to give yourself a deadline. Obama has said it often in his attempt to pass budgetary policies. And although the men on Capitol Hill have an utter disregard for deadlines, when adhered to, deadlines can help bring a dream, a thought or a PowerPoint presentation into fruition. 2010 was when I decided to move to Paris. December 2012 was when I left. I gave myself two years. It was a very practical timeline. It was enough time to save the money I would need to get here. And although it might have seemed far off at the time, it went by very quickly.
have a plan b, c, d, e
Since I’ve been in Paris and undertaken the risk of launching and running a company, I’ve had to do a lot more researching and planning and finding ways around hurdles. I constantly plan for the worst case scenario, partly because I’m neurotic and don’t like to sit around for things to just magically happen, but also because I know that things rarely go according to plan. My Plan A was and is to live off my savings until un’ruly begins generating revenue. But what if my savings runs out before the revenue comes? Well, I have a plan for that. I actually have five plans for that scenario, one of which includes suiting up and cleaning someone’s home if I have to (hence I Googled the subject matter). Finding a window to crawl through when a door closes becomes an everyday occurrence when chasing a goal. “On to the next” becomes your mantra and an important one because if you let any one pitfall stop you in your tracks, you run the risk of not being able to start up again.
nothing is menial; everything is a means
It might be the African in me – who had to wait about seven years to legally work in the United States – that sees work as a luxury. I see the luxury in having a means of providing for yourself. It is not a luxury everyone has, but in America and most of the Western world opportunities to work run relatively rampart. When I was in high school, in addition to working at a bank during the day, I worked the overnight shift in an assisted living facility for about two years. Changing an adult diaper was part of my working routine. I did not mind. Those diapers, that shift, the opportunity afforded me the ability to buy a Camero during my junior year of high school. That car got me to small commercial modeling jobs that were an hour away from my home town. Those little jobs got me a modeling contract in Chicago and connected me then with a person who now, coincidently, also lives in Paris. So I have no qualms about rolling up my sleeves and getting a little bit dirty, because I know that even small steps get you closer to what you ultimately want.
getting discouraged or fed up is inevitable
As much as you’ll be fueled by the fact that you’re living life on your own terms, doing things your way can get exhausting and sometimes discouraging. I was in a funk for a little over a week recently. It was a funk that was beyond my control. I think it was a result of being tired of troubleshooting the various hurdles that come my way; a result of being tired of thinking up Plan A’s, B’s, C’s; tired of being optimistic and full of faith. I kind of want to just get to the finish line already because this hasn’t just been four months in Paris, or the two years of planning and working to get to Paris. This has been five years in advertising working up to 70 hours a week; this has been having two to three jobs in college and in high school and still graduating with honors; this has been selling candy in middle school so I can have school supplies like everyone else. I’ve worked hard and have never expected anything to be given to me. So in my funk, I felt that I had paid my dues and that the finish line should come to me. But the reality is, it won’t. That’s not the way this works.
I suspect that funks are the part of the pursuit that separate those who succeed from those who fail—they require you to prove your ability to keep going when you’re tired, when you’ve exhausted all your plans and need a miracle but don’t get one and end up having to just think of another damn plan.
but that’s where support teams come in handy
Having a support team is absolutely critical. They carry you toward that finish line when you’re tired. They give you wine to take your mind off things. They text you and have Skype convos with you and they believe in you when you don’t have enough energy to believe in yourself anymore. They nudge you through the steps that you think you can’t take and build an emotional safety net for you to fall on. Pursuing your dreams is impossible to do without having at least one person to cheer you on.
Anyone that might be afraid to take a big leap and move to another country or change careers or just do something they’ve never done before has every right to be afraid. It’s not an easy process. But it is a rewarding one. Like so many have said before, the pursuit of happiness alone will make you happy and the way the journey evolves you as a person will fulfill you. Valuable qualities like patience and resilience will be thrust upon you, making you a more capable person. And no matter how it all pans out or where you find yourself at the end, you’ll be in a place that you haven’t been before.
I guess there is something romantic about following your dreams. There’s romance in the trials and tribulations of it all. And honestly, the trials never feel as bad as doing something you absolutely don’t want to do.