For most of my life I’ve been a bit of a dreamer with an entrepreneurial streak here and there. Those two attributes seemingly go together quite well, but unfortunately in my case they turned me into a great “starter,” and a lousy “finisher.” I was great at starting up business ideas, weight loss goals, educational goals, etc., but I rarely had the perseverance to see it all the way through.
That changed in the winter of 2000 when my daughter was born. Becoming a father made me reflect on the things I wanted for her life, and made me realize the things I would need to change about my own life to get her, and the rest of my family, to our goals. For instance, a couple years earlier I had given up on my personal dream to obtain a college degree. I attended college right of high school and selected pre-medicine as my intended major. I always wanted to be a doctor, but never really reflected on whether or not that was my true passion. After completing nearly two years of school I got burned out. A death in my family, and a love interest took me home and I began to work with the dream of finishing school quickly fading.
My daughter’s birth inspired me to return to the classroom in the summer of 2000, changing majors to computer information systems in the business school. For the next five years I toiled away attending night classes after working full time during the day. I only saw my wife and daughter on weekends and during a quick lunch and dinner at home. It was a grueling schedule, one that tested my relationship with my wife. Without her support I never could have done it. Along the way I learned a lot about myself. I learned what it took to see a dream through to the finish line. Since finishing up that degree I’ve applied these steps to other areas of my life with success.
- Write down your goal. Dreaming up goals in your head is great, but putting them down in writing creates sort of a contract with yourself. I wrote down my New Year’s Resolution around Y2K as “I will return to the classroom this year and successfully complete two semesters of school towards a business degree.”
- Plan out the steps required to reach your goal. I remember about half way through my degree I felt like giving up. I visited a counselor and asked for an updated list of all the courses I would need to finish my course of study. I hung that list up over my desk and struck them off one by one each semester. This served as sort of a visual road map for where I was headed, and what stood in the way from me accomplishing my goal.
- Reflect on what you have already accomplished. It’s easy to get discouraged when chasing a dream. I’ve found that the longer it takes to accomplish something the easier it is to become demoralized. That’s because the goal line seems so far away and we forget how far we have come. Take time to recognize your efforts. If you have $30,000 worth of debt to pay off and are barely half way there it can seem overwhelming. Instead of looking ahead to the remaining $16,000 left to pay, recognize that you have eliminated $14,000 of debt from your life. You have most likely improved your debt-income ratio, your FICO score, and your personal net worth.
- Never completely lose sight of your dream. Imagine you are a private investigator tailing someone for a client. At times it might be necessary to drop back a little and put some distance between you and a target, but you never completely lose sight of them. This is the approach I take towards following my dreams. Sometimes you have to slow down when life gets in the way. Take a semester off from school. Take a couple “mental health” days away from your job. If you feel yourself burning out it’s usually a good time to take a small break, but never a permanent one. Great finishers never completely lose sight of their dreams.