I’ve been obsessed with the idea of having a life plan for a couple of months now. If you’ve been reading my posts you’ll know all about my grand plans to play my sax and speak fluent German but they’re not very big goals really are they? Not the most courageous extravagant goals you’ve heard, I’ve hardly announced I’m going to sail around the South Pacific or that I’m going to relocate to Timbuktu. I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with setting really ground breaking goals either. So what holds us back?
I think partly it’s that we have an expectation of what life should look like. My mum brought my sister and me up on her own, a single mum unable to work through ill health. I grew up in a community surrounded by people who didn’t really work so I had no real hope of choosing a career I loved because I didn’t know what a career was. My grandparents ran their own small business and I was brought up knowing I needed to work hard but not knowing why and not believing I was or would ever be more than average. The most important thing to me, my one dream was a roof over my head, my own roof over my own head, so I chose a job that would give me that. And now, years later I’m in a slightly different version of the same job. I got the roof I wanted, admittedly I have quite a bit more roof by now, but I haven’t moved on. I’m very content with a lot of things in my life but surely I have more dreams than the one I achieved when I was 19. When I see people having great adventures, the ones I haven’t dared to really dream yet, I think that those things aren’t meant for me. But why not?
There are many beliefs in life which can hold us back. Some of us tell ourselves we’re not special, we’re too old, we’re not clever enough or we don’t have what it takes. Some of us believe we need to earn £100,000 before we’ll be able to afford to do or have what we really want. Some of us worry our friends and family won’t support us if we make a change. We might shy away from our dreams of adventure because we don’t want to be branded crazy by our friends and family, or we might not pursue or even really think about our dreams because of fear of failure or of feeling demoralised by the thought that we’ll never get to achieve them.
A lot of us feel trapped by the barriers society appears to impose on us. You don’t actually have to buy a house, settle down and work hard until you retire, but we think we have to because that’s what society tells us has to happen. Isn’t it sad to think that you could do something you hate or something that disagrees with your real values just because you think you should? This is compounded even more to think that you might waste the best years of your life doing that. Settling down doesn’t have to mean never doing anything interesting again. Surely having worked hard is actually a very good excuse to have a bit of excitement, to make it all worthwhile. Whatever you do there will be eyebrow-raisers and the thing is, with the economy as it is, with such low interest rates and considering some people have little or no pension savings at all, we might have to work for ever, and then when will we enjoy this life we’ve worked so hard for?
So lets think about these barriers in a bit more detail. Let’s rewrite the rules.
I can’t afford to…
This is definitely my favourite excuse. It stops every spark of imagination in it’s tracks every time. For me it goes hand in hand with “what about my house?”
Maybe you don’t have any savings, or maybe you need to pay for a new bathroom this year. Maybe your dog needs an expensive operation or you haven’t paid off your student loan yet and you think it would be stupid to start dreaming about running a surf shack in the Bahamas, taking that job in New Zealand for a year or investing in your mushroom growing business start up.
Before you rule anything out it can help to ask is how much will this goal cost to achieve?
Until you work it out you have no idea how much it will cost, and once you know how much it will cost, you can start to make a plan which is completely independent of other life commitments.
Let’s say one of your lifelong dreams is to drive around Australia for two months. You need to break this down into different categories – the cost of flights, the cost of hiring a camper van, fuel, food, spending money. If you have commitments at home, you should also consider the cost of keeping things running at home.
Once you have this cost, you can scrutinise every cost in detail. Is there anything you can do to save cost? Can you book cheap flights? Do you need to travel around in a camper van? Could you buy a cheap van and sell it on after the trip instead of hiring? Is there anybody you know in Australia that you could stay with while you’re there to save some money? Can you rent out your home for a few months or list it on Airbnb? Maybe you’re a journalist or a photographer, or you have links to Australian vinyards through your job in the wine industry, who knows, but is there a way you can tie the trip in with work? If there is maybe you can find a way to earn some money while you’re in Australia or as a result of your trip. I wrote a post about budgeting which could be helpful, but above all, ask yourself “How much do you think this dream costs, and how much does this dream actually need to cost?”
I’ll get it wrong…
Fear of failure is a huge reason people don’t pursue their dreams. I’m guilty of this and it’s linked to having low self esteem. The truth is, you have no idea whether it’ll work or not unless you try. Fear is a protection mechanism. We are preprogrammed to fear things with the aim of keeping us safe and out of danger, but as a primitive response the real purpose of fear was to keep us from danger of wild animals rather than to fear making positive change in our lives.
I’ll admit that I have a tendency to identify the most potentially catastrophic result of any scenario and convince myself that it’s going to happen. Not helpful.
If you catastrophise too, put this trait so good use by thinking about what the worst possible thing is that can happen, and then working out what safeguards you would need in place to protect yourself should those things happen. Knowing you have this safety net in place can really help with your view of the “danger” of the activity, helping you to make choices and dream big.
Imagine you have a dream to leave your job at an advertising firm and move to Tahiti and set up a windsurfing school. Your excuse for not doing it is that you might fail. In the dream planning stage you can break down what you are afraid of. This might be that your business fails and you lose your money, that you have to move back home and live with your parents. Now that you’ve considered each item you’re afraid of, you can rationalise these. If your business failed and you lost all of your money, could you get other work in Tahiti? Could you work for somebody else? In the worst case scenario could you come back to the UK and actually live with your parents? Could you find work back in the advertising industry?
Now think about the likely outcome. What’s the chance of this outcome? Doesn’t that feel better?
My husband won’t want to…
Won’t he? Have you really spoken about it in detail? What are his dreams and ambitions? Ask him, he might surprise you.
I’ve been reading books and articles and listening to audio books for a long time now about getting the most out of life. I’m always telling my husband about what I read today. I’m frequently joking about “when we move to Australia…” or how “I’ve found an apartment to rent in Buenos Aires, it’s only £600 per month”. When I told him that I’d started this blog I thought he’d think it was a little bit crazy, but he was actually incredibly supportive. He has dreams too, not necessarily exactly the same ones as me, but he understands my desire for excitement and I think it’s fair to say that this barrier can definitely be overcome though some good communication.
It will be too difficult to…
This barrier is linked to fear of failure but I really believe that no matter what you want to do, there will be someone who has done it before and who will have written an article or a blog post or a book about it. Someone will know how to do it and will be able to talk you through it, maybe for a price, but there will be someone who has given all the things you’re thinking about a lot of thought and who has done it and has succeeded.
What about my… job?
A barrier might be that you can’t take time off work or that you’re worried about your CV if you take a career break.
A lot of large companies in the UK offer sabbaticals to people who’ve worked in the organisation for a certain amount of time, or you might be able to negotiate to take a large chunk of leave at one time. Some companies will let you “buy” additional leave if you want to. I know people who’ve done all of these things. I worked with somebody who took a six month sabbatical to go travelling, I know somebody who’s currently taking extended leave and visiting India, it does happen.
It’s true that for some people the only option is to take a career break and making the decision to leave your job to pursue a dream can feel like a difficult decision because they think it will leave an unexplainable gap on their CV. The truth is though that there’s no need to lie on your CV about that gap. When you get home, if you want to come home that is, write about your adventure on your CV. Your adventures and attitude of embracing life will make you stand out in interviews, it will give you and the interviewer something to talk about and more likely than not they will be jealous and want to ask you questions about how you did it and how they can do it too.
So, there’s never a good time for anything. There’s never a good time to make big financial decisions or big life decisions, but not taking action and letting life happen to you is laziness. Think about your life now. If you keep doing what you’re doing for the next ten years, how will you feel when you look back? I want you to go back to your life plan and I want you to challenge it. I’m afraid that we shy away from our real goals, I don’t want us to set the goals we think we should be setting, I want us to set the undreamable goals which we keep hidden away. I’m worried that when we day “one day I’ll…” we’re putting things off, and by putting things off, we’ll never know how happy we could be.