Sometimes signs arrive when you least expect them. On a recent dog walk along the Connecticut River, I spotted a large white sign tacked to a tree on the opposite shore. The sign contained a single word: Start.
This simple but powerful word got me thinking of all the different places someone who wanted to change course could start. Here are 6 tips to get you started on getting started:
1. Start where you are.
The great tennis player Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Let’s say the main thing holding you back is money. You might start by downsizing your life now so when you do take the leap, you’ll be better prepared to earn less in the short term. Or, you could start by setting up a special savings account to fund your dream. The psychological impact of saving for a dream can be as powerful as the actual monetary earnings.
2. Start hanging out with the right crowd.
A client named Eve had been a teacher for 20 years. Whenever she talked about the things she’d love to do – travel, work with dogs, start a summer camp, her voice would fill with excitement. This initial excitement, though, would though always turn to resignation, “I know this is just a pipe dream,” she’d sigh.
The fact that I never see dreams as unrealistic made me think that Eve was probably hanging out with the wrong people. People who have always worked for someone else tend to have a status quo, play it safe, the only way out is to hit the lottery type mentality. Entrepreneurs on the other hand are possibility people. They think “what if…” and “why not?” and then they go out and make it happen.
Where do you find entrepreneurs? You don’t have to be a business owner to join your local chamber of commerce or another organization like Business and Professional Women (BPW). Even though I’m not an inventor, I joined a local inventor’s group just to be in the company of “yes you can” type people.
3. Start tuning into your gifts
A great place to begin to explore your true calling is by looking back at the kinds of things you loved to do as a child. That’s what Barbara Ewing of Springfield, Massachusetts did. Barbara has known since she was young that she loved to cook. When other kids were outside playing, Barbara would be in the kitchen.
Pay attention, too, to the things you love to do right now. Like Barbara, Cindy Friedman of California shared a passion for food and cooking. When I first met Cindy she was considering becoming a personal chef. Living in wine country also made her want to work somehow with wine.
For Gail Greenwald, a 41-year-old from New York City, that love is yoga. So much so, that after a long day working at her job in a media research company, Gail still had the energy to teach a yoga class. If something makes you happy, it probably contains important clues to your calling.
If you still don’t know what you want to be “when you grow up” then start by trying to find out. You might want to do as Barbara did and start by recalling the kinds of things you loved doing as a kid, start reading Wishcraft, or anything by Barbara Sher, or checking out numerous articles in the Changing Course articles archive at ChangingCourse.com/articles
4. Start listening more to yourself and less to others.
Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Unfortunately, even in childhood, our dreams too often get dismissed. Barbara says that growing up, her interest in cooking was always either viewed as a hobby or as “cute.” She says, “I was never encouraged to pursue this as a career choice,” adding “sadly, I am not alone. If more people would just stop listening to others and instead develop [their] God given talent or skill,” she writes, “we as a society would have happier, less stressed, successful workers (versus the grumpy, stressed, unhappy, successful workers).”
Once you do find your gift, Gail says you should never dive in without doing your homework. Once you do, though, she adds, you should “listen to your heart because your head will tell you differently.”
5. Start letting go of the idea that everything has to be perfect
In his online newsletter, Quick Tips for Creative People, creativity coach Bob Baker writes, “Far too many creative people drag out the artistic process, adjusting a detail here, fine-tuning a nuance there… waiting for a time when the thing is as perfect as they can get it. Others wait years just to start a new project. They require every factor (including their mood) to be in alignment before they’ll even take the first step.”
Perfectionism is the bane of dreams. So is striving to be the “expert” who has to know everything there is to know about a subject before you can take action. And like perfectionism, striving to be the expert can slow you down or, in some cases, bring your goals to a screeching halt.
Why? Because if your definition of competence is “needing to know everything there is to know” then there will always be one more book to read, one more class to take, one more presentation to make, one more book to write, one more degree to earn before you dare pronounce yourself “qualified.”
6. Start taking action
Since attending the Dreams Can’t Wait workshop, Barbara has made tremendous strides in turning her dream of launching her own food line into reality.
She writes, “I have decided on a name for my food brand, contacted the Franklin County Community Development Center and met with director of the Food Center. I have chosen the first six or so recipes I want to use to get the food line started. I have also started formulating the next level (growth) processes. In addition to the contact with the Food Center and development of my ideas, I have enrolled in the AWAI Copywriting and Resume Writing courses. My plan is to use some of the writing income to fund the Food project.” (For more information on these courses go to ChangingCourse.com/awai.htm)
Cindy, too, took action. After 16 years in the software industry in Marin County, California, the 39-year-old decided it was time to get off the fast track. She quit her high-pressured sales job and moved to a less expensive area of the state to work in the fields she really loved, wine and food.
But first she reconsidered her initial idea of becoming a personal chef. “After giving this careful consideration I decided to hold off pursuing it in the fear that I would burn out and not enjoy cooking for my own family and friends anymore… which is something I enjoy immensely.”
The important thing is that Cindy put herself in a position to be open to possibility. So when a part time position opened up in Chico at a very successful wine bar and cheese shop, she went for it. “The customers are demanding and walk in with their dinner menus and ask for specific wine pairing recommendations. This job has turned into much more than just retail sales. I have helped the owner with special events, including wine tasting classes, etc.”
Sometimes changing course happens in phases. Cindy says, “I am exactly where I need to be. Even though I am not running my own business I have flexibility and am able to enjoy being involved with something I am passionate about. Perhaps someday I’ll become such an expert in my field that I can teach community classes about wine tasting basics and pairing wine and food!”
Gail has also taken bold steps to transform her love of yoga into her career. These are the kind of follow up emails every career advisor loves to get. She writes:
“About 3 weeks [after our session] I found a listing on a yoga website for a yoga teacher at a B&B in Cozumel, Mexico. I corresponded with the owner, went down in June to visit and this Thursday I’m leaving for a stay of four months to teach yoga classes in English. I quit my job to follow a more rewarding path.”
Three weeks later another update arrives. Reading Gail’s update should inspire anyone with a dream to start. She writes:
“My decision to go to Cozumel, Mexico involved a surrendering of some sort. I left a steady job, the sites and sounds of New York City, said goodbye to clients, co-workers, friends and family to make room for a new experience. My schedule and transportation options allow me to bike to Playa Azul during the day. I swim in the clear turquoise colored waters at this beach and admire palm trees sprouting out of white powdery sand.
I am able to travel to Isla Mujeres, another island that is a laid back Caribbean paradise of shallow clear waters. It is twenty minutes by ferry from the city of Cancun on the Mexican mainland. An overnight stay at the island enabled me to see the moon lighting a lunar path over the sea and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean’s ebb and flow.
I find myself giving in to afternoon naps. The temperature has been in the 80’s with high humidity. It is perfect for falling asleep below a whirling ceiling fan. There are areas of Cozumel I would still like to explore, but when I feel my body dragging and my eyes closing, doing nothing is more satisfying.”
Not quite ready for such a big change? Then start small. Read a book, take a course, talk to someone who is doing work you’re drawn to, research how other people are making a living from their love of animals, cooking, writing, travel, art, or wherever your own gifts lie.
If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike first, don’t. As Frank Tibolt put it, “We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.” When it comes to changing the course of your life, the key is always simply to start.