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Last Updated on February 18, 2019

Feeling Like It Might Be Too Late To Pursue Your Dreams? Think Again

Feeling Like It Might Be Too Late To Pursue Your Dreams? Think Again

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” —Robert Schuller

This is a terrific question to ask yourself to find out what you really want in life. But it doesn’t help much when you go after your dreams and fall flat on your face. It’s painful to be told that you’re not good enough. It’s embarrassing to fail in front of others. How do you bounce back after suffering a setback? You can make your dreams come true as long as you possess the right mindset to overcome obstacles. Let me show you how I created my heart’s desire so that you can overcome failure and reach your dreams, too.

Years ago when I was a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, students used to line up outside my office to ask me what they should major in or where they should go to graduate school. It turns out I was offering radically different advice from their parents and other professors. One of our brightest seniors came to my office in tears. My colleague across the hall had told her to go to the best graduate school she could, even though it meant moving to the east coast and leaving her fiancé behind. A miserable electrical engineering major told me his father wouldn’t let him major in psychology because there was no money in it.

My advice was simple. I always told my students to follow their hearts.

That was my favorite part of the job. Even though I got terrific teaching evaluations and published articles in the best journals in my field, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know it yet, but academics wasn’t the right path for me.

    I started playing the guitar to unwind from work, a hobby I hadn’t engaged in since my teens. Late in the evenings after grading papers, I wrote “little songs.” I sang at a couple of open mic events on the weekends. I was so nervous I forgot my own lyrics but I received decent applause anyway. Eventually, I joined a band and performed at a few cool nightclubs. Several of my students attended my shows and the line to my office grew longer.

    One afternoon as I watched yet another relieved face disappear out my office door, I felt deeply empty. I realized I wasn’t following my own heart. What did I really want to be when I grew up? A rock ’n’ roll star!

    “Ridiculous,” a voice that sounded a lot like my mother’s screamed inside my head. For one, it would mean I had wasted four years at Princeton getting my Ph.D. in psychology. For another, I was too old. How could I change now? Wasn’t it too late?

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    I kept thinking about how happy my students appeared whenever I gave them permission to be their true selves. Despite being called “crazy” by my mom and many of my colleagues, I left my solid teaching position to follow my childhood dream. I’d only written a handful of songs at the time, but I knew if I didn’t do it then, I never would.

      One week after I packed up my office to start my new career as a rock star, my band broke up and I had to cancel a summer’s worth of gigs. I curled up into a fetal position on the couch and ate nothing but peanut butter and crackers for two days. I repeatedly listened to the song we’d recorded that was getting the most traction in LA. Why did we have to stop NOW?

      Then I had an “a ha” moment. That tune featured my voice and guitar playing, not my bandmates. Perhaps my sound was stronger as a singer-songwriter than it had been as the lead singer of a pop act. This setback was a clue for what I needed to do to succeed.

      I started a duo with a new guitarist. We soon developed a following and Rick drove down to LA to pitch my songs to a record label with which he had ties. The A&R representative listened to the first tune all the way to the end (a rare event). Excited to hear more, he asked Rick a million questions about me, including my age. Rick casually mentioned that I was 30 years old and the rep ended the meeting on the spot.

      Luckily, I was too naive to understand that my blossoming career had already been crushed. I didn’t buy into the theory that I was past my prime. I looked young for my age and I didn’t know any better, so I kept playing music. I supported myself by lecturing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I was voted “Most Inspirational Professor” by the students.

      I attended local songwriting events to take my game up a level. I can’t tell you how many times I cried in my car after receiving harsh critiques. Still, I listened and learned. For a couple of years, dozens of my songs got picked up by publishers and record labels in LA and Nashville.

      But nothing came of it.

      I looked for fresh ways to get my music out. My manager was South African. Why not put all my best songs in an album and take it to his country? Within a handful of months my debut CD got distributed through Polygram Records and produced a top 10 hit. Eleven songs received radio airplay. I was 35 years old.

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        Since then my tunes have topped South Africa, Europe, and U.S. college radio charts, and appeared on ABC, HBO, Encore, and Showtime. As a teacher of creativity workshops for the past 20 years, I’ve helped thousands of people break through their self-limiting beliefs and live crazy beautiful lives, too.

        Here are eight ways to overcome failure and reach your dreams.

        1. What People Think of You is None of Your Business

        Not everyone will applaud you for going after your dream. Listen to the tiny voice within you instead. It’s constantly telling you what you need to do to realize your potential.

        It may be just a whisper now, but the more you pay attention to it, the louder it will get. Give yourself permission to follow it and find like-minded people to support you.

        2. Think of Obstacles as a Test

        When my band broke up I didn’t know at the time that this was par for the course. I had run into a “threshold guardian.” This mythological fringe dweller appears as you cross over into the land of your dreams. It holds up its hand and says, “come no further,” but its true purpose is to determine whether you’re really committed to doing what it takes to get what you want.

        Threshold guardians are often easy to pass by if you just keep going.

        3. Persist Through Setbacks

        When you set out to follow your heart, you’ll take a step, you’ll fail, and you’ll feel like quitting. Please don’t give up! Typical learning curves show that it’s normal to be below par at first.[1]

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          If you persist, you will inevitably improve. So hang in there!

          4. View Failure as Feedback

          Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was demoted early in her career as a news anchor because she did not have the “it factor” for TV? She went on to reinvent and rule daytime talk shows for 25 years.

          “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” —Oprah Winfrey

          It’s common to hit dead ends and setbacks on your journey to reclaim your heartfelt dreams. Use failure as feedback and refine your approach.

          5. Find Alternative Pathways to your Goals

          If you fail to achieve your goal, come up with a more viable route. Be willing to learn a new skill or ask for help. Make it a regular practice to think of alternative strategies to accomplish your aims.

          Do you have a plan B to help you reach your dreams? Read more about How to Back Up Your Life

          6. Bombard Your Inner Critic with Positive Affirmations

          When you leave your comfort zone to follow your heart, your inner critic will tell you that you’re not good enough or you’re an imposter. It doesn’t mean this negative thinking is true. Research shows that you can overcome this hurdle by saying positive affirmations to yourself such as “keep going” and “you can do it.”[2]

          7. Relabel “Fear” as “Excitement”

          When something scares you, your sympathetic nervous system gets you ready for fight or flight. Did you know that you experience the same physiological reactions when you’re excited?

          So, the next time you get sweaty palms, try reinterpreting that response as excitement and use that nervous energy to master whatever you’re trying to do, whether it be giving a talk, going on a job interview, or winning a race.

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          8. Make a Vision Statement to Guide You

          Create a mission statement that summarizes the future you want and read it every day. Let it serve as a beacon in the night when self-doubt clouds your judgment and obstacles impede your progress. Even the faintest glimmer of what you want — a destination point on the horizon — can keep you steady, on aim.

          “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”—Victor Hugo

          You were born with a unique gift that no one else in the world can express like you. When you dance to your own music, you naturally develop these intrinsic talents and excel at work and life. But when you’re forced to conform to someone else’s idea of who you should be, it throws off your groove.

          Getting your authentic groove back is not about being the best at something or proving yourself to others. It’s about tapping into your special strengths and feeling alive as you use them. By doing something you enjoy just one or two hours a week, you can slowly change your life and reach your dreams. It’s a failsafe way to discover and boost your superpowers without jumping off a cliff.

          Research at San Francisco State University shows that having a hobby lowers stress, increases happiness, and makes you more effective at work.[3] So, pick up a paintbrush for the first time or revisit an old passion such as playing hockey. Who knows? Your side project could lead to a new career path or transform into a thriving business down the road.

          As C.S. Lewis said,

          “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

          What small step can you take today to pursue your heartfelt desire? I’d love to know!

          Reference

          [1] Flashcard Learner: The learning curve
          [2] Spirituality Health: 5 Tips for Better Self-Talk
          [3] NPR: Got A Hobby? Might Be A Smart Professional Move

          More by this author

          Dr. Michelle Millis Chappel

          Michelle is a psychology-professor-turned-rock-star who has helped thousands of people create successful meaningful lives by using their superpowers.

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          Last Updated on December 10, 2019

          5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

          5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

          Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

          Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

          But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

          Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

          But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

          Journal writing.

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          Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

          Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

          Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

          1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

          By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

          Consider this:

          Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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          But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

          The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

          2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

          If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

          How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

          Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

          You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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          3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

          As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

          Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

          All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

          4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

          Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

          Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

          The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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          5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

          The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

          It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

          Kickstart Journaling

          How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

          Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

          Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

          Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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