While having dinner with a friend, Bob Olson, a professional ghostwriter, I heard a story that shifted the way I think about education and the pursuit of a dream. Bob had been hired to write a book for a man with a compelling life story. As they started to work together, the client mentioned that he also wanted to produce a documentary about his life. "If you ever want to create this documentary," the client told Bob, "just give me a proposal and we can discuss it."
What this man didn't know was that Bob had been a camera fanatic since childhood. He loved taking videos and interviewing people, and he secretly dreamed of making his own film one day. The offer was exciting, but Bob dismissed it due to his lack of professional training and experience. Then the client suggested it again a few weeks later. That's when Bob decided he wouldn't let opportunity knock twice without answering the call.
As I listened to the details of how Bob came to make his first documentary, I was struck by how he allowed passion to override his fear. He didn't let conventional ideas of "the right way" to succeed hold him back. In the end, his journey took him through several key stages -- and they're ones we can all learn from when considering the pursuit of a dream.
Secrets to Success
Look for an open door. Every day, we're given opportunities that just might lead to the fulfillment of an important goal. The trick is to see them -- and respond. For Bob, it was when his client mentioned the documentary idea. In my case, long before I became a life coach, the door opened when a colleague told me about a man doing "this thing called coaching." A few days later, she offered to introduce me to him. I agreed, stepping through that door into a new life.
If you look back on your past, you can probably identify opportunities that appeared before you. You probably took advantage of some of these chances, and that positive step undoubtedly helped you reach your goals. Now think about your life as it is today. Can you identify any open doors? And, equally important, are you willing to walk through?
Avoid the naysayers. Once you've accepted an invitation to reach for a new goal, be mindful of who you share your intentions with. Bob warns, "As I began to tell family and friends about my new adventure, most shared in my excitement. But some rolled their eyes or questioned my decision. Because it was a new area for me, their concerns made me second-guess myself."
The early stage of the process is a vulnerable period. Share your plans with a "buzz stomper," and that person will uncover every little reason why the idea won't work. Instead, surround yourself with people who believe in you, who inspire you to soldier on, and who can help restore your confidence when you feel doubtful or afraid (and trust me, you will).
Step on the fast track. The moment Bob agreed to take on the documentary project, he knew he needed to do everything he could to make a great movie. So he fully immersed himself, eagerly plunging into the world of filmmaking. He spent days researching the appropriate equipment and purchased the best gear he could afford. He read more than a dozen books and studied several DVDs on how to shoot a film. He also watched one documentary each and every day for 90 days. "I absorbed the ins and outs of the craft in record time," he says.
The lesson here: Opportunities to learn exist all around us. There's no reason you have to think of yourself as restricted to a big university with expensive tuition. Anyone with Internet access can find study materials, success stories, pitfalls to avoid, and networking opportunities online.
Test the theory yourself. Pick any subject you feel excited about (starting your own jewelry business, for instance) and Google it. Don't be surprised to find a complete "how to sell jewelry" manual online, along with virtual communities of like-minded people sharing their tips and secrets about the business. Rather than focus on your lack of an MBA (or the fact that you've never sold anything in your life), resolve to teach yourself everything you need to succeed.
See "mistakes" as lessons. Whenever you try something new, you're likely to make some mistakes at first. And why not? You've never done it before, and anything worth doing takes some practice. It's what you do with those mistakes that matters. Consider Bob's story. "When I was ready to begin filming, I hired an experienced cameraman with a film-school degree. Believing that he knew more than I did, I gave him complete control over the footage for the initial week of shooting. As it turned out, I ended up with very little film I could use." But Bob's mistaken thinking (a degree ensures quality) had an upside. "This film-school graduate's failure actually lifted my confidence. I saw that my own instincts and crash-course education held a lot more value than I'd thought."
Whether your mistakes cost you time, money, or both, learn to see them as an investment in your future. After all, if you're not making mistakes, you're not growing and learning.
Take your time. An elderly friend in the final stages of life once gave me a valuable piece of wisdom. After hearing me complain about how long it was taking to fulfill my dream of public speaking, she said, "You kids nowadays expect success to happen overnight. In my day, we took our time and found joy in the mastery of a craft. Let it take as long as it takes, Cheryl." Because of that valuable insight, I came to understand that anything worthwhile in life requires time, patience, and persistence.
Bob learned this, too. It took him three years to finish his film, but it was worth the wait. "My client was thrilled with the result. Had I allowed my fear to stop me, I would probably still be thinking about making a documentary someday. I might have died with that dream still inside me."
Are you ready to take charge of your future? Let Bob's story be a challenge to you. Step through that open door, keep the company of believers, take your time, and find joy in the mastery of your craft. It's a great way to start the new year, don't you think?
Cheryl Richardson is a life coach, speaker, and best-selling author of books including the just-published The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time. Visit her at cherylrichardson.com.