Why Big Dreams Can Be Big Problems

Growing up, our parents and teachers told us we could be anything we wanted to be. Wide-eyed and excited about the endless possibilities, we began dreaming . . . big. My classroom was full of future astronauts, brain surgeons, CEOs, and several professional ballerinas. Slowly but surely, we got a hard dose of reality (or should I say hard work).

Big dreams come with big baggage — a tiny detail that our parents and teachers seem to have left out.

We all look up to successful icons like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, marveling at their triumphs. We study their successes and attempt to replicate their journeys. The cold hard fact is that it takes years and years of hard work to even get a shot at dreams like theirs. And even then, it’s not guaranteed.

That’s the problem with big dreams: there is no “guarantee” on the side of the box.

We’re told that it’s easy, it’s guaranteed, and if (insert famous person) can do it, so can we. While it may feel warm and fuzzy to only think positively about your big dreams, reality always has a way of humbling even the most optimistic among us.

You will get beaten down, you will have disappointments, and your dreams will never be handed to you on a silver platter. Success isn’t a privilege, it’s a rite of passage – littered with potholes, ditches, and seemingly insurmountable mountains.

Success isn’t a privilege, it’s a rite of passage — littered with potholes, ditches, and seemingly insurmountable mountains.

In Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way, he brings this to life by saying:

“Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens — at that exposing moment — the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside of you.”

It’s not the moments of success where we find out what we are made of but rather those moments when we are bloodied and beaten to a pulp. So when we inevitably get cut open or smacked in the face with something totally unexpected, what happens to our big dreams?

For most, they end up fading away. They give up when faced with an obstacle, a challenge, or a disappointment. For others, it gives them a reason to make their dreams bigger than ever.

Despite all of the obstacles in front of your dreams, there are things you can do to mitigate their blows. There are mental shifts you can take that have been applied by some of the most successful and happy people in this world.

Unfortunately, these shifts aren’t easy to apply. They take consistency, persistence, and dedication. If you are hungry enough and driven enough to apply them, your big dreams might actually come true. Here are a few that I’ve applied in my life which have massively helped:

Reframe Your Definition of Failure

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire, has embraced failure ever since she was a little girl. Her parents taught her at a very young age to judge failure based on the effort, not the outcome. In an interview she recently had with Business Insider, she recalled her dad celebrating her failures and even giving her high-fives when she failed. She said:

“…all it did was just reframe my definition of failure.”

Even if you don’t have parents like Sara’s, it’s never too late to redefine your own definition of failure.

When you turn your failures into times when you don’t try, failing no longer defines your success. So rather than beat yourself up for when you fail, celebrate that you tried, re-evaluate what went wrong, and change your strategy moving forward.

One of my favorite language tricks is from Ramit Sehti, who calls his failures “tests.” Just like in high school science, everything is a test. You develop a hypothesis of what will work, you apply specific tactics, and if you don’t get the outcome you hypothesized, you change your approach. A simple shift that can make a huge difference.

Only Work Towards the Next Milestone

When I first started running “for fun,” I absolutely hated it. To me, it was boring and monotonous. That was until someone gave me this tiny bit of advice: focus on just running to the next obstacle — a tree, a light post, a mailbox, etc. Once I started focusing on those short term wins, it not only became fun but it also helped me run further and faster.

If you keep looking up the mountain at your big goals and not down at your feet, you won’t go anywhere. Real progress is made in the short term wins. Simply refocus on the next thing you have to do. What is that next step? By doing this, you too will go further and faster.

Surround Yourself with People Who Challenge You

I still vividly remember an experience I had at a networking event a few years ago. I was standing in a group of people, and someone asked me what I’d been up to lately. With confidence (and a little bit of cockiness), I proudly said:

“I’ve been trying to get more fit.”

The guy standing across from me, who was built like a brick house, interrupted me instantly:

“Trying to? Are you getting fit or not?”

Although this call out in front of a bunch of strangers was a bit embarrassing, it changed my life. He pulled me aside later and explained to me the negative effects that language can have on our mind.

The people whom you spend time with matter.  When you improve the quality of people in your life, you improve your results. Invest your time in people who are willing to challenge you and make you better. The results will follow. Just make sure they are positively challenging you and not dragging you down.

What to do Next . . .

Now that you have some ideas on how to realistically make your big dreams happen, my plea to you is that you decide to take action on at least one of these things. Just one of these mindset shifts can be profound in reaching your big goals.

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