I often wonder what drives some people to relentlessly pursue their dreams while others struggle to even get started. Over the last five years I’ve had both periods of relentless pursuit and periods of languishing productivity. Thankfully, I’ve recently entered the former after a longer than normal stretch of the latter and in that transition, I’ve noticed something about what drives me.
When I feel motivated and passionate about achieving my dreams there is always one little, nagging question at the back of my mind.
What is the alternative?
I ask myself regularly and especially when fear arises, if I don’t achieve my dreams, what will my life look like? What is the alternative to achieving my dreams?
When I first announced my plan to quit my job, sell my belongings and head off to the other side of the world, many people said to me “aren’t you scared?” to which I always replied, “a little, but I’m far more scared of not going.” To me, not quitting my job, selling my stuff and going travelling meant staying in a job I didn’t enjoy, burdened by stuff that I didn’t much care for and spending the rest of my life wondering what it would be like to see the world and make a living doing something that I love.
You see when I considered the alternative, it didn’t hold much appeal and so leaving wasn’t difficult for me at all. To this day this simple question still has the same impact.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes when I dream (big) of being a successful coach, a published writer and an accomplished speaker helping millions of people around the world to live happier and more fulfilled lives, I feel dizzy with fear and totally overwhelmed by what it would require from me to make those dreams come true, but all fear pales into insignificance when I ask myself, what is the alternative?
For me it would look like not being a coach or being a bad one, not ever finishing or publishing the many books I have half-written and half still in my head, not facing my fear of public speaking and spending the rest of my life wondering if I had it in me to inspire an audience to action and not helping anyone or very few people to live happier and more fulfilled lives. Not so inspiring eh?
Because when I look at it like that, I feel more scared of the alternative than I do of the hard work it will take me to get me where I want to go. The beauty of this approach is that even if I don’t achieve my wildest dreams, I will have lived a more fulfilling life trying than if I hadn’t and I will die free of regret, happy in the knowledge that I went after what mattered to me most.
Why this question doesn’t work for everybody
Simply put, for many people, it’s better the devil you know, so much so that the fear of the unknown trumps the fear of staying exactly where they are and when you don’t know or are unable to imagine the gifts that the unknown might hold then there is no motivation to change.
I often talk to people about how you don’t know what is on the other side of fear until you face your fears and overcome them. If you’ve never done that then how will you know that much of the good stuff in life is on the other side of fear or, to put it another way, outside of your comfort zone.
Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear, which prevents so many people from living out their dreams.” ~ Mark Fisher
I’m fortunate to know the truth of this every single morning when I don’t wake up to a screeching alarm clock and don’t feel a knot of dread in my stomach as I contemplate spending the next 12 hours traveling to and working at a job that erodes my soul. I don’t say this to brag, I simply hope to serve as an example of what is possible when you refuse to settle for the alternative.
What’s the alternative to your dream?
Maybe it’s one that you are comfortable with, maybe you don’t worry about deathbed regret like I do. But if there is any doubt at all, I suggest that you really face up to which of the two options is in fact the most scary and bear in mind that the feeling of fear is often worse than the actual action itself.
How much better to know that we have dared to live our dreams than to live our lives in a lethargy of regret.” ~ Gilbert Caplin
I know that when I used to attend Toastmasters and would stand up to deliver a speech, the suffering I felt was in the fear I experienced beforehand. During the speech I was too busy focusing on the task at hand and after the speech I was elated at having achieved my goal. If you can get past those early feelings of fear then you’ll find yourself on the superhighway to living the life you’ve always dreamed of.
If you have a dream (which whether we admit it or not we all do) don’t tell yourself that it doesn’t matter or it’s not achievable, consider today what small steps you might take to get you closer to it. If you’ve always dreamt of writing a book, simply pick up a notepad and pen and begin. It really is that easy.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
If you enjoyed this post or think that others you know may find it useful, please do share using one of the buttons below and as always I’d really love to hear how you stay motivated to follow your dreams or if you are currently struggling with fear, please share with us your experiences.