When I was a 21-year-old college student, my dream was to intern for a theatre company in New York City. I had never been to this “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” but I wanted nothing more than to experience it for myself.
A few obstacles, however, stood in my path. For starters, New York is among the most expensive cities on earth, and my bank account was practically nonexistent. Combine this with another inconvenient truth that I had zero contacts in the New York theatre scene, and my chances of securing an internship were—ahem—less than favorable. To anyone on the outside, this might have just seemed like an aspirational longshot, but I was resolute in my crusade. In fact, I had tunnel-vision. There was no Plan B.
While much of this dream hinged on factors out of my control, there was nothing to hold me back from the pursuit of what I could control. Determination, passion, motivation and unrelenting obsession were on my side. The likelihood of this fantasy materializing into a reality was slim, I knew. But three months later, as I gazed at the plush interior of an actual Broadway theater, awestruck tears of disbelief spewing unabated, I realized there is a phrase for moments such as these: “dream come true.”
The fact is, a dream can feel impossible, unrealistic or categorically absurd at times. To some voices in your life, this dream will make no sense, and one of those voices might even be your own. However, if there is one lesson I have taken from chasing dreams across the map—from playwriting in New York, to performing at Disney World, to most recently, moving 2,500 miles west to Arizona—it’s that nobody has the power to tell you, “no.” The ultimate choice to leap is yours alone.
Obstacles will threaten to derail your progress. Skeptics will remind you that success is the “exception,” not the norm. But your dreams matter—they are worth all the tears and sweat and perseverance. So how can you hold onto this motivation when so often it just feels easier to quit? Well, since you asked…
Focus on the Long-Term Perspective, Not the Momentary Setbacks.
When you are decisive and clear on what the future endgame is, this will mobilize you to take action in the present. It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by current roadblocks or circumstances which threaten to steal your focus and discourage your initiative. But if you can visualize the final outcome—and refuse to settle for anything less—you can handle the barriers, rejections or disappointments along the way.
Break Your Overall Goal Down into Manageable, Incremental Steps.
You might be familiar with that Lao Tzu proverb, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step”—and while he lived in the fourth century BCE, his ancient wisdom is still relevant today. It can be anxiety-inducing to hurtle out of your comfort zone and sprint off into the unknown, but it’s much less daunting to just take a step in this new direction. So identify micro-goals to push you towards the larger objective.
Pay Attention to the Milestones and Reward Yourself for Progress.
The human brain is wired to seek recognition for an achievement—this is why even the smallest of wins can feel so euphoric. There is no better motivation to press on than the anticipation of a reward on the other side. Capitalize on this incentive and treat yourself to a special, celebratory perk when you reach certain milestones. When you reward successful behavior, it sends a clear message to repeat the action.
Create a Vision Board for Tangible Inspiration in the Low Moments.
It’s normal to lose your resolve and want to abandon this whole endeavor at times, so when inertia strikes, you will need a visible and tactile reminder to stay the course. Enter: the vision board—this is a collage of pictures, words, quotes or mantras to represent your goals and intentions. Once you create the vision board, hang it in a prominent area, so you can see it anytime a jolt of inspiration or affirmation is in order.
Your dream might not be to join a New York theatre company—it could be anything at all. To write a memoir. To start a YouTube channel. To launch a business. To lobby at the Capitol. To earn a Ph.D. To trek across the country in a retro Volkswagen (I cannot be the only one who dreams about this!). But no matter what causes your pulse to quicken and soul to come alive, I implore you: never stop dreaming. It’s within your reach.