Did you know that for J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, the path to success was not a breezy walk but a disciplined writing journey filled with endless revisions (15 rewrites of Chapter 1, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) and learning moments?
Tom Brady, lauded as one of the world’s greatest athletes, still wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every single day to practice his game?
What do these two successful people have in common? They had a dream. But more importantly, they had the right tools to sculpt their path to success.
Today, we live in a world of information overload, constantly exposed to heady success stories of our idols and champions. And often, we are so focused on their achievements that we forget or minimize the long, winding journey involved in getting there.
As a result, when we try to pursue our dreams, the harsh realities of life often frustrate, disappoint, and eventually force us to give up on our goals and aspirations.
It is important to dream big. But it is equally important to have the right tools to realize your dreams.
I’m going to use all my tools, my God-given ability, and make the best life I can with it.
So, let’s get our toolbox ready to chase and secure our dreams!
Divide and Conquer
Big dreams are beautiful, but they are also overwhelming. Make your big goals more realistic and less intimidating by breaking them into small, manageable tasks.
According to Dr. Melissa Gratias, workplace productivity coach and speaker, “breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks because we simply don’t know where to begin.”1
For example, if your dream is to write a book like J. K. Rowling, start by writing a mini-essay incrementally for 10 minutes or one paragraph a day.
The word may sound daunting, but being self-disciplined will give your plan a stable structure and a clear direction in a world of chaos and distraction. It will help you stay focused by fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability. Create routines and show up no matter what.
According to Harris Kern, the author of Going from Undisciplined to Self-Mastery, one sure way of achieving your goals is by training your brain to be self-disciplined through planning, prioritizing, and most importantly, by being consistent.2
For example, if you had a busy day or just don’t feel like writing, then don’t. But show up at the scheduled time and doodle or read, but always show up. Train your brain to commit to the task and make it a habit.
It is hard to be consistent in the face of daily life challenges. So celebrate everyday achievements by rewarding yourself with TV/device time, socializing time (hang out with friends), or leisure time with books, etc.
No one is born being the best. Everyone begins their journey at the starting line. Having unrealistic or high expectations can lead to stress and anxiety that are counterproductive to the learning process. So aim not to excel (yet) but to learn and improve. Try to allow plenty of wiggle room to make mistakes and to learn by trial and error.
For example, join a beginner’s writing club or read about common struggles faced by writers and how they tweaked their expectations as they moved forward.
The learning process takes time and commitment. So try not to overthink or make sweeping assumptions. Instead, predict and adapt as you discover your skills.
Just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a strong support system and team approach to realize your true potential and achieve your dream. The path to your dream is not a one-person show but a collaborative effort of your team of well-wishers like your parents, teachers, and friends.
For every one of us that succeeds, it is because there is somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn’t always necessarily have to be in your family; for me, it was teachers and school.
Ask for help. Find a mentor.
For example, get guidance from your English teacher or a writer from your book club who can appreciate your dream, guide you to the right resources, give constructive feedback, and make sure you are going on the right track.
One of the secrets of successful people is that they are life-long learners. Bill Gates still tries to read at least 50 books a year. To be a constant learner, you need to nurture a willingness-to-learn mindset. Have an open mind, listen to other people’s ideas and criticisms, welcome new approaches, and keep a positive attitude.
For Carol Dweck, the author of the best-seller, Mindset, a growth mindset is an ability to approach learning as babies do. According to her, you have a growth mindset when you learn without worrying about mistakes, the outcomes, or the fear of challenges and failures, and learn for the pure joy of learning itself.3
For example, step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself with new writing prompts, techniques, or genres, and improve by applying valuable and constructive inputs from the critics in your field.
The above tools will work effectively only if your big goal or dream matters to you. Sometimes, our dreams change and new interests take over old ones, and that’s okay. Do reality checks and assess if the big goal still matters to you. It is important to work toward something relevant and meaningful to you.
For example, make sure your goal to write a book like J. K. Rowling is because you are passionate about writing, not because you want to impress someone or you are impressed with things like fame and money that come with it.
If you don’t care, your brain doesn’t either. When you don’t involve your emotional part of the brain in the process, the motivation to do it, come what may, will be absent.
According to Elon Musk, “when something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”4
That is, if you care about your goals, the strong connection will ultimately help you get up every time you fall and make you show up every time you fail.
It is beautiful to dream and aspire to do or be something in life. While you are at it, relish the exciting journey, learn the tools, meet new people, learn meaningful lessons, and make life-long friends. Make it more about the journey than the destination so that you don’t just achieve your dreams but inspire others to follow theirs too.
- Melissa Gratias, quoted in Kat Boogaard, “What’s Microproductivity? The Small Habit That Will Lead You to Big Wins” Trello (blog), January 3, 2019, https://blog.trello.com/microproductivity-break-tasks-into-smaller-steps.
- Harris Kern and Roger Bengtsson, Going from Undisciplined to Self-Mastery: Five Simple Steps to Get You There, (Virginia Beach: Koehler Books, 2014).
- Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2016).
- Elon Musk, quoted in “Elon Musk Success Story,” The Strive, Accessed April 6, 2021, https://thestrive.co/elon-musk-success-story/.
- “Rowling’s Life as an Author: What It Was Really Like to Write Harry Potter.” The Friendly Editor. June 06, 2015. https://thefriendlyeditor.com/2015/06/16/rowling-writing-harry-potter/.
- Breech, John. “Tom Brady Explains What a day in the Life of Tom Brady is Like.” CBS Sports. May 11, 2016. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/tom-brady-explains-what-a-day-in-the-life-of-tom-brady-is-like/.
- “Inspirational Quotes.” Idlehearts. Accessed April 5, 2021. https://www.idlehearts.com/inspirational-quotes.