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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

          I'm a psychology professor-turned rock star who has helped thousands of people create happy meaningful lives by using their superpowers.

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          Last Updated on April 11, 2019

          How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

          How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

          Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

          I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

          I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

          Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

          How Communication Skills Help Your Success

          Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

          Create a Positive Experience

          Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

          When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

          What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

          Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

          As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

          Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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          Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

          Help Leadership Skills

          It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

          Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

          As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

          Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

          If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

          Build Better Teams

          Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

          In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

          If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

          When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

          Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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          How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

          There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

          Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

          1. Listen

          Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

          Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

          People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

          Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

          Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

          2. Know Your Audience

          Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

          Here is a good way to think about it:

          Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

          You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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          3. Minimize

          I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

          He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

          Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

          State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

          The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

          4. Over Communicate

          So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

          What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

          Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

          Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

          Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

          There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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          5. Body Language

          The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

          When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

          In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

          When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

          Conclusion

          Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

          Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

          There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

          Now go communicate your way to success.

          More Resources About Effective Communication

          Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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