I've had the wonderful opportunity to speak with a number of people who have stopped "working for the man" to chart a life and career path true to their authentic self. The more people I speak with, the more I see commonalities and themes in the process of making a leap to chase your passion. Here are five things I've learned about what it means to chart your own course in life.
Don't be afraid to ask. You are going to get further in exploring your dream if you ask questions. Ask for what you want. Ask for opportunities. Ask for collaboration. Bob McClure left an acting career to start McClure's Pickles with his brother. "Don't be afraid to ask questions of people -- the worst thing they are going to say is 'no'," said McClure. The sooner you are OK with hearing the word "no," and not letting it rattle you to the core, the better you will get at asking.
You grow from the experience of putting yourself out there; when charting your own course in life, instead of letting someone dictate it, you must be OK with putting yourself out there. See it as empowering, rather than scary.
2. Embrace Change.
Change is a subjective word that can mean many different things, depending on who you are and how comfortable you are with the idea. You won't fully commit to your dreams if you aren't open to change. This could be as big as moving and changing your geographical location, or as small as changing a habit from your past 9-5 life. Sometimes this very change is the catalyst to spark creativity and give you the time and space to move toward your dream.
Pamela Foeckler of Totem Color Blocks moved to Santa Monica, CA, after many years living and working in art conservation in San Francisco. Moving from a small San Francisco apartment to a house in Santa Monica provided the physical space to create, in turn sparking her creative spirit and inspiring Pamela to turn her jewelry into a business.
Take the time to recognize when things are not working for you and work to change them - even if the change happens in baby steps.
3. Perfect timing does not exist.
If you wait for the perfect time to make the leap toward following your dreams, you will be waiting forever. I know few things for certain, but this is one of them. Susan Hill, who left both a modeling and fundraising career to co-found the Richmond Food Co-op with Michele Lord, explained, "I think one of the biggest things [in following your own path] is you can't wait for someone to give you permission." At some point, you make the decision to go for it.
The process is going to be messy and uncertain at times, but know you are not alone in this. Everyone who takes the risk, who digs out and creates a new path, is going to experience this uncertainty. If you want the road that is perfectly smooth, void of bumps or roadblocks, then stay in that safe cubicle. The learning and growing is in the process, as well as the experiences and relationships created along the way. Start before you're ready.
4. Build and cultivate relationships.
If real estate is about location, location, location, then being an entrepreneur is about relationships, relationships, relationships. It is both naïve and a little crazy to think you can go it alone. The good news is that while you are doing the hard work carving your own path, you can ask people to help you build it. You need not walk alone. Seek both accountability partners and power partners -- people who will be your cheerleaders and people who will give you honest feedback. All of my interviewees mentioned they could not have made the leap without support and community.
Melanie Horkan left a lucrative career in advertising to follow her dreams of making documentaries. She stated, "I think, if you have a dream and are authentic about it, people really want to help you make it happen. Half the battle is just being clear and knowing what you want."
5. Don't stand in your own way. Trust the universe.
Be prepared -- there are going to be people who don't understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. People might even criticize you to your face. It is good to be open to constructive criticism, but not pure negativity. Think of what wouldn't exist if the great creators had listened to the naysayers. Henry Ford once remarked, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Don't be afraid to have big dreams and don't let other people get in your head - this includes your own negative thoughts.
Rebecca Krucoff left teaching in the classroom to create the nonprofit, The Urban Memory Project. She explained the power of trusting in the universe. "If I can be clear about what it is that I want to do and put it out there in the universe - it's about clarifying and believing that things can happen. And not necessarily that they will happen, but that I'm not afraid to put it out there with the full understanding that it might possibly never happen. But if I don't put it out there then it will never happen. I think it is mostly that you can't be afraid to say what you want."
Sacrifices, compromises, risks and mistakes are all part of the process when you follow your dreams. You won't achieve automatic perfection. Learn how to enjoy the process. There is no destination when you are listening to your heart; it's a never-ending, meandering road. Following your dream means you are taking a chance, and everyone knows when you take a chance you can win or lose. But what happens if you never try?