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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 May 28, 2020

          10 Success Principles for Living Your Dream Life

          10 Success Principles for Living Your Dream Life

          Are you stressed out and overwhelmed, wishing you had more time to do the things that really matter? Are you ready to do something better, something special in your life or your career?

          You were born with a gift that no one else in the world can express like you. When you dance to your own music, you naturally develop your innate abilities and excel in work and life. You are a total rock star. But when you live someone else’s idea of who you should be, it throws off your groove.

          Many people—maybe you—stopped following their dreams way too early in life because their talents were ignored, minimized, or shamed. They didn’t have the chops to win an American Idol competition or nab an Olympic gold medal, so they stopped expressing their inborn gifts altogether.

          You don’t need to be an award winner to rock your life. Living your dream life is about discovering your superpowers and feeling vibrant and joyful when you use them. It’s about owning what makes you unique and finding like-minded people to support you.

          Here are 10 success principles to help you live a rich and rewarding life on your terms that have worked with thousands of people in my workshops and will work for you, too.

          1. Get a Hobby to Move Closer to Your Dreams

          If you never became a professional dancer or a world-renowned author, it does NOT mean you should stop dancing or writing! These activities make you come alive, even if you “only” do them as favorite pastimes.

          Engaging in a hobby is one of the most important success principles you can follow to move closer to your dreams.

          When you try something creative for the first time or in a long while, you begin to see opportunities at work and in life that you were unaware of before. You also feel happier and more energized, according to a recent study from New Zealand.[1]

          Some of my most burned-out executive clients reinvigorated their careers by discovering a creative outlet that refueled them after the workday ended. Research at San Francisco State University shows that having a hobby lowers stress and helps you succeed at work.[2]

          So, give yourself permission to try new things and revisit old passions you gave up long ago. Setting aside just one hour a week for personal exploration can significantly change your life.

          Who knows? Your creative outlet could transform into a thriving business or lead to a new profession down the road.

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          2. Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

          Did you know that you are more likely to succeed when you develop your natural strengths rather than work on your weaknesses? The problem is that you probably don’t know where your true talents lie.

          Here are a few options to help you discover your unique strengths. You can:

          • Take the VIA Character Strengths Survey[3]
          • Try Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment[4]
          • Answer a few Superpower Questions

          Once you understand what makes you tick, you can use these skills at work and your personal life to get more done in less time. If you boost your unique abilities through practice and study, you can accelerate your career and become a leader in a field that matters to you. It’s worth investing in yourself this way.

          3. Jumping off a Cliff is NOT Required

          Here’s the deal: most people are too afraid to change. When participants first come to my workshops, they tell me they have mouths to feed, bills to pay, and fear that if they follow their dreams, someone will get hurt.

          The old saying “leap and the net shall appear” does not comfort them. Because they are hesitant to plunge into the unknown, they believe their only option is to stay put where they are in life. Can you relate?

          You do not have to sacrifice the life you have now to start a new one. I was a psychology professor by day and singer by night for years before I transitioned into a full-time music career.

          Just take a little time out each week to do what enlivens you through a hobby, volunteer work, etc. Get a feel for it.

          Is it what you really want? If so, increase the time you spend doing it and make the transition when the time feels right.

          4. Give Your Inner Critic Some Love

          The main culprit that keeps you from stepping outside your comfort zone and getting the life of your dreams is KCRP or K-CRAP – the radio station that plays 24/7 in your head. The moment you try to do something interesting with your life it slaps you down with such chart-topping killer hooks as “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ll never be good enough!”.

          Have you ever noticed that KCRP’s mean-spirited DJ sounds like your parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures who shut you down creatively? These folks don’t need to stifle you any longer (although they often still do) because your inner critic does it for them. That keeps you stuck in a rut.

          To break free, try thinking of this DJ as a gruff old grandfather who gives you crap to keep you safe. Remember, this grumpy grandpa is woefully out of touch with the times. So, his stern opinions don’t really matter much, do they? Give him a pat on the back for his good intentions, and put your focus back on what makes you come alive.

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          This success principle will give you the courage to venture into the unknown where you can dance to the beat of your own drummer.

          5. Embrace Your Inner Weirdo

          Many of us don’t go after our dreams because we’re afraid folks will find out how odd or strange we are. But our little eccentricities often turn out to be our greatest strengths. Yes, it’s good to be quirky.

          Odds are, you lost track of your true passions and talents before you were even old enough to know you were getting off-track. You became slowly “adulterated” by learning to:

          • Take on family roles that don’t match who you really are.
          • Spit back what teachers taught you in school rather than risk getting bad grades for being original.
          • Hide parts of yourself that don’t seem acceptable to certain social groups.

          The price for fitting in is that you may wind up leading a life that doesn’t fit you all that well. Your true calling becomes clear when you embrace what makes you different from others and allow yourself to stand out from the crowd, even if it feels awkward.

          Often, the very qualities you view as your flaws are your greatest gifts.

          6. See the Bigger Picture to Find Your True Calling

          I cannot stress the importance of this success principle enough. Your true calling is right in front of you. But you may miss it because you’re looking for it in the wrong place.

          To “see” it clearly, try widening your point of view.

          Case in point: Maria felt she needed to retire early from being a police detective, so she could travel abroad. I encouraged Maria to think of ways that she could continue to serve as a law enforcer (a career she loved) and travel overseas at the same time.

          A few months later, Maria landed a job with the United Nations in Bosnia training the local police force to understand and embrace human rights procedures.

          Like Maria, you are an everyday rock star capable of accomplishing greater things than you can imagine. Is what you’re looking for right in front of you, too? Do you have an inkling of what it may be?

          Look beyond your day-to-day activities, your current job, and even the town you live in. View your life from an eagle’s perspective and be open to new possibilities.

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          7. Try a Little Wish-List Magic

          Pretend I’m your fairy godmother and I give you permission right now to be your most magnificent self. What kind of life would be music to your ears? It doesn’t matter whether it seems unattainable or even downright crazy. Write it down on a wish list.

          Get quiet. Be honest. Think big.

          What would you like your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, and your spiritual life to be like? Jot down enough details so that your wishes seem tangible to you. Then, look at this list every morning before you start your day and every night before you go to sleep.

          Sounds silly? It’s not. It works! Permitting yourself to daydream about a rich and fulfilling life is the first step to manifesting it.

          8. Take Breaks to Get Clues About Your Ideal Future

          Did you know that working straight through to a deadline leads to diminishing returns? Research shows that taking a break for 15 minutes every 75 to 90 minutes can help you recharge, refresh your focus, and get more done in less time.[5]

          Wait, it gets better! A Stanford study shows that walking increases your creative output increases by 60 percent. Doing repetitive activities such as walking, running, riding your bike, swimming, and sweeping allow solutions to problems to pop into your mind out of nowhere.[6]

          What does this success principle have to do with creating your dream life?

          These mini-breaks allow you to get vital clues for what to do next to attain your ideal future. Plus, you won’t waste precious time and energy getting lost in other people’s agendas.

          9. Take Action on Your Inspired Ideas

          Once an inspired thought pops into your mind, take action.

          This is one of the most powerful success principles for turning your dreams into reality; the sooner the better. Whatever it is—from calling an old friend to taking a new route home—be sure to do it!

          Pay attention to your oddball hunches. You need to go after what you want, not just dream about it. As comedian Jim Carrey warns,

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          “You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”

          10. Count Your Rockstar Moments

          Still not sure you have what it takes to get your dream life? This final success principle is guaranteed to help.

          Make a list of everything you’ve ever accomplished. As you read back through it, put a star next to each item, and let it sink in.

          You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good you’ll feel about yourself afterward. You’ll also see how effective you’ve been in the past at getting what you want. You’ve succeeded before, you can succeed again.

          You already rock. You just need to own it. Trust me, you’ve got this!

          Final Thoughts

          Eleanor Roosevelt said,

          “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

          Following these success principles will help you find the time and energy to do the things that really matter and live with clear intention.

          By spending just one hour a week doing something you love, focusing on your strengths and achievements, embracing what makes you different, and acting on inspired ideas, you can create a life that is a perfect fit for you, step-by-step.

          If you don’t have a clue about what your dream life could look like yet, don’t worry. Your heart knows. It has been “talking” to you for a long time. It’s just being muffled by KCRP, buried under a lot of “shoulds” and fear.

          This article can also help you figure out the life you truly want to live: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up.

          Stand still, get quiet, and listen. It’s constantly telling you what you need to do to realize your own rockstar potential. It may be just a whisper now, but the more you pay attention to it, the louder it will get, and the easier it will be to follow.

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          Featured photo credit: Rahul Dey via unsplash.com

          Reference

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