This past weekend was a big one for me, and not just because Seattle won the Superbowl. No, this weekend was big because it was the weekend I turned in my completed manuscript for my first real book.
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It will still be quite a while before that pile of pages is transformed into a real life book on the bookstore shelf, and there is still a long road ahead of editing and formatting and picking the perfect book cover before my baby is ready for the world. But it is done. 12 chapters. 55,000 words. Done.
It is a lifelong dream come true.
And now, as I cross this Big Thing off my list, I can’t even tell you how incredible it feels to have accomplished this goal. Honestly, I think I’m still pinching myself. There were so many times through this process that I didn’t know if I would make it, so many days I was crippled with self-doubt, and so many moments I wanted to throw in the towel.
But I didn’t quit.
Instead I’m here at the finish line, doing a dorky little happy dance. Friends, if I could give you all one gift, it would be this feeling! Instead, I’m going to do the only thing I can—share the things I’ve learned through this process about how to make a dream come true.
Be clear about your direction.
Take the time to write down your goals and your dreams and the things you would like to accomplish. Ultimately, a dream not written down is just a wish. When you can see what you are aiming for you are much more likely to hit it. Set big, scary goals and then, once you’ve written them down, don’t just stuff them in a drawer and forget about them. Tape them to your bathroom mirror or stick them to your fridge or write them on a giant poster for your living room. Put them someplace you will see them often.
I have dreamed about writing a book my entire life, but it wasn’t until I wrote it down as a goal last year that I was finally able to make it happen. And quite frankly, seeing it written down scared the bejeebies out of me! It was such a BIG goal! What if I failed? But I re-read that goal almost every single day, and every day I made choices with my time that helped get me a little closer to the finish line. Remembering my long-term goal helped me focus my shorter term goals, which helped me plan out my days and which ultimately made it happen.
Work hard at everything you do.
Last year at the Teen Choice awards (of all places) Ashton Kutcher (of all people) gave a pretty profound speech about accomplishments. He said:
“I believe opportunity looks a whole lot like hard work. When I was 13 I had my first job with my Dad carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job in a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground. And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job, and every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”
Every job we do is a stepping stone to the next one. When I look back at the past few years I can see how all the little jobs and successes I’ve had have helped lead to the next one. Since I started my blog four years ago, I have poured my heart and soul into every article that I write. I have gotten up early and worked weekends and stayed up late just to write, even when no one was reading. I submitted guest posts and wrote freelance articles and an eBook and experienced plenty of rejection and frustration along the way. But I learned what worked and what didn’t work, and along the way I also found my own unique voice. And then, when the opportunity finally arose to write a book, I was ready.
Be willing to make sacrifices.
Every measure of success comes with a price. There are only so many hours in any given day, which means that none of us can do it all. Pursuing a dream means that you will be forced to make choices, and often those choices are hard.
For me, it has meant being willing to get up ridiculously early almost every single day—even on the weekends—because that is my best time to write. It has meant sometimes no to things that seem like a lot more fun or more interesting, and watching my family go off on fun adventures without me so that I can stay home and work. It has meant reinvesting my income into things like blog & writing conferences and photography classes. It has meant tightening our belts even more in order to afford having my husband stay at home. It has even sometimes meant sacrificing my health. I have been sick more times in the past year than the rest of my life combined. (And in case you are wondering, now that this book is done, getting healthy is at the top of my priority list!)
Believe in yourself.
The bigger your dream, the less likely it is that other people will understand it, and the more likely that they will criticize or mock you or tell you it is impossible. If you want to make a dream come true, you have to believe in yourself. You have to be able to tune out all the voices around you that say “you can’t do that,” and find that inner core of strength that says “yes I can.”
This is hard.
When I started Living Well Spending Less in 2010 and suddenly began writing about how to use coupons and save money, there were a lot of people who laughed at me. For a long time even my husband couldn’t understand why I was spending so much time on a blog. He couldn’t see my vision, and no one else really could either. And that’s okay. It was my dream to believe in, not theirs.
Build a support team.
While you have to believe in yourself and your own dream, it is also extremely important to build a support network of people who will mentor, encourage, and motivate you. These are the people will help you pick yourself up when you fall, or convince you to keep trying when you want to quit. These aren’t the people who will laugh at your dream, but who will say a kind word when you need it most, and sometimes you have to look for them.
I have been so blessed by an amazing group of friends & family cheering me on, both here in “real life,” but also online. In that first few months of blogging, when I had a grand total of maybe fifteen readers, my childhood friend Alisha was the most loyal one of all. She would read every post, even the terrible ones that didn’t make any sense, and always leave an encouraging comment. My friend Edie, who for the past year has been my accountability partner, was a fellow blogger that I looked up to. We met at a conference and immediately connected, and have since become the best of friends. We talk almost every single day, and she is the one who talks me off the ledge, cheers me up, and makes me want to be better.
My husband too is an amazing support, the one who proofreads everything I write, who tells me to keep going when I want to quit, who tells me to slow down when I push too hard, and who works tirelessly behind the scenes so that I can pursue this dream. I would be nothing without him.
It is important to note that encouragement goes both ways! The most important rule of friendship is this: If you want to have a friend, you must be a friend. If you are feeling frustrated that your friends aren’t supporting you, take a look at how you can support and encourage them to follow their dreams. You may just be amazed at how that support comes back to you.
Be prepared to be broken again and again.
Following a dream is hard and sometimes humiliating and frequently very humbling. It is scary to pour your heart and soul into something that you’ve dreamed about your whole life. Because what if you fail? What then?
I can’t count the number of times in the past year where I have literally been brought to my knees because I felt so inadequate and so, so unworthy of this task. There were so many moments I was practically paralyzed with self-doubt. My prayers were little more than a collection of desperate pleas: I’m not good enough for this, Lord! I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said better already! I’m not smart enough! I’m not talented enough. I’m just a wannabe hack who can’t write! I can’t do this!
But it was exactly in those lowest moments, during those times I felt the most inadequate and completely broken that I realized how desperately I needed God. Over and over I would come back to those words of my favorite verse: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) I even made it the screen saver on my phone so that every time I looked down, I would be reminded that I might be weak, but he is strong.
Have faith in your calling.
I don’t think God gives us dreams or talents or passions at random; on the contrary, I think he calls us to follow the path he has envisioned for us, the one that allows us to live life to the fullest. I honestly believe that writing is not just my lifelong dream, it is my calling.
Listening to that little voice in the back of your head that tells you to GO FOR IT can be downright terrifying sometimes, but it is also exhilarating. If there is something you’ve been wanting to do or a dream you’ve wanted to pursue or a voice that has been nudging you to take action, DO IT! Don’t wait. Take the leap of faith and start today. In the end, you’ll only ever regret the chances you didn’t take