Her face lit up when she mentioned it. Her smile widened and her eyes sparkled. Her whole demeanor changed. “If they ever open up an office there,” she said, “sign me up.”
That seemed unlikely to me, and I wondered why she would stake her happiness on such a low-probability event. So I asked her, “Why wait for that?”
She stopped, paralyzed for a moment.
“I don’t know why,” she said.
Why most dreams are deferred
The friend I was talking with is smart, creative, and extremely capable. What’s holding her back? It’s the same set of things that prevent any of us from making a concerted effort towards something we truly want.
The magnitude of the change.
The prospect of potential failure.
Not knowing where to start.
I could see how her beaming expression had turned to one of fear and uncertainty.
“You could take a small step,” I suggested.
3 questions to ask yourself
My friend’s goal is ideally suited for a Working Out Loud circle. It’s what we refer to as “purposeful discovery.” Of course she won’t be sure of what job she wants exactly or how to get it, but she’ll take small steps towards exploring and learning. That discovery starts with 3 questions.
What am I trying to accomplish?
When you work out loud, you don’t need to start with your One Special Purpose. Indeed, as Cal Newport observes, that might be terrible advice. My friend has only the vaguest idea of the possibilities in her dream location. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. So her goal will simply be “Exploring the possibilities in a new location.”
Who can help me?
She may not know many names, but she’ll know certain kinds of people who might help her. She’ll make a list, including
- People she knows who live there.
- People who hold senior positions in companies there.
- People who have similar jobs to her in similar companies.
- People she knows who have connections there.
- People who write about that location.
- Organizations whose purpose is related to that location, from chambers of commerce to tourism to conference organizers.
What can I contribute to deepen our relationship?
She’ll start with the universal gifts of recognition and appreciation. For each person on her list, she’ll look for their online presence and, when she sees something she likes, she’ll let them know by following or commenting. Gradually, as she learns who and what she finds interesting, she’ll make more significant contributions that will be of more value both to her and the people in her growing network. That will lead to more connections, more learning, and more possibilities.
Touching the treadmill
Dreams can be scary for all of us. Even the simple dream of being in good physical shape eludes many people. The prospect of exercising regularly is too daunting so we do nothing.
Instead, touch the treadmill. Break down your dream into something so small it won’t trigger your defenses - and thus allows you to make progress toward it.
Start with a simple learning goal and with a few people who might be able to help. Practice making small contributions to them and ultimately framing your work as a contribution. Let the power of social networks amplify who you are and what you do. Leverage the tools and existing networks to extend your reach, multiply the kinds of contributions you can make, and allow you to deliver them conveniently.
Start. Improve your odds of experiencing a better career and life.