Two of my least favourite words in the English language.
I wish I had more money.
I wish I could lose weight.
I wish I had a better job … or house … or car … or partner … or life.
I wish I could travel the world.
Guess what? Fairy godmothers and magic wands don’t exist. Wishing only works in children’s books. Back here on planet Earth, it’s not going to get you one step closer to achieving your goals. Sorry to burst your bubble. If you want something to change – if you really, truly, honestly want it – stop wishing. Start making it happen.
The reason why those two words are so common is that they suggest that somehow we can have whatever we want in life without making any sacrifices to get it. If we wish hard enough, we’ll lose twenty pounds while sitting on the sofa eating Doritos. If we squeeze our eyes shut really, really tightly, when we open them there’ll be a brand new Mercedes in the driveway. If we cross all of our fingers and toes when we walk to the mailbox tomorrow, there’ll be a round-the-world ticket just sitting there with our name on it. Wishing means we can avoid taking responsibility for changing the things we don’t like in our lives – as if somehow, by magic, they’ll just improve by themselves.
Life isn’t always easy or fair. Just ask a starving child in Dafur or the homeless guy on the street outside your office. If you are reading this article, though, I suspect that you don’t fall into either of those categories. There’s a pretty good chance that you have the capability, capacity and opportunity to do whatever the hell you want to if you set your mind to it, make sacrifices and work your butt off for a while to get there. Yes, I know it’s nowhere near as attractive a proposition as waiting for a fairy godmother to show up, but guess what? Unlike the fairy godmother, it actually works.
“Nothing worth having comes for free”
Personally, travel is my thing. It has been for nearly fifteen years, and it could well be for the next fifteen too. It inspires me, motivates me, educates and excites me like nothing else I know. I realised a while ago that extended travel was something that I loved and wanted to keep doing. I also realised that if I was going to make this happen, it wasn’t going to come without sacrifices. Sacrifices in terms of relationships, sacrifices in terms of ‘fitting in’ with the rest of my friends and family, sacrifices in terms of money, jobs, career and material possessions.
To be able to afford to keep doing this, I can’t buy many things that I might want to. I don’t own a house. My car is nearly ten years old and everything else I own is currently in either a shed or my backpack. Sure, I might like that shiny new gadget or cool pair of jeans, but when it’s a choice between them or a couple of weeks in a guesthouse in Laos, there’s a decision to be made. I can’t have both. It’s about priorities, and the jeans and gadgets just end up staying on the shelf.
Relationships have suffered, failed or never got off the ground because of this dream. My career has undoubtedly taken a backwards step as my life priorities have changed. I don’t have a retirement plan, my savings are rapidly plummeting towards non-existent and my ability to lead any kind of supposedly normal life is following closely behind. I wouldn’t change a minute of it, but the point is that nothing worth having comes for free. There’s always a sacrifice.
If you want your dreams to come true, you’re going to need to make some sacrifices too. You won’t enjoy it. I don’t enjoy it. Nobody likes being denied something they want. The secret is to want something else in the future so damn badly that you can deal with not having some other things now. Delayed gratification. You know what? It’s ok.
You just need to figure out what it is that you actually want. Yes, we can all wish for a million different things, but what is it that really ignites your passions? Take some time, think about it, maybe change your mind a few times. Don’t rush it. This matters. If you could just do one thing for the next ten years and be ridiculously happy doing it, what would it be? If there is a single material object that would truly bring you unbridled joy every time you looked at it for the rest of your life, what is it?
Ok, got it figured it out yet? Great. Now how are you going to get it? What is standing between you and achieving this goal, this vision, this incredible aspiration? What do you need to change in order to follow your dreams?
“So what the hell are you waiting for?”
If the problem is money, then the answer is simple. Spend less than you earn. Downsize your life. Sell your crap and don’t buy more crap to replace it with. Ask for a raise. Work some overtime. Get a better job. Get a second job. Get a third one. You did say you were working towards your dream of a lifetime, right?
If the issue is other people, then only you know what the answer is. Can you convince them to join you on this journey? Is there a way to share your dreams with them? If so, fantastic. If not, then you have a decision to make. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Most things truly worth doing never will be.
Fear is a big one. Fear of quitting the job that brings in a steady paycheck even though it hasn’t satisfied you in years. Fear of what the people in your life that don’t understand (yes, that’s most of them) will have to say. Fear of trading in a life of mundane simplicity for something a lot less predictable. Fear, in other words, of the unknown.
We’ve been conditioned since childhood that fear is a bad thing. That being afraid is something to avoid at all costs. It isn’t. If you’re at least a little scared of what life has in store for you around the corner, you’re doing something right. That’s when you know you’re alive, when you’re truly exploring the boundless potential of your time on this planet. When the fear disappears, that’s when it’s time to start getting worried.
For a lot of us, though, the problem is simply inertia. We’ve spent so long doing what other people tell us to that we’ve forgotten that we ever had any dreams of our own. Go to school. Go to university. Get a good job. Get married. Have kids. Buy a house. Work for forty years to pay it off. Retire and wait for the inevitable. Wherever you are along that continuum, the solution starts right here, right now.
You only get one shot at this life. That bears repeating. You only get one shot at this life. Every numb day that passes you by is another day that you will never, ever get back. Get off the treadmill. Stop wishing that things would magically get better. Nobody cares about your dreams more than you. If you aren’t motivated enough to make the necessary changes in your life to achieve those dreams, I can guarantee that nobody else will do it for you.
So what the hell are you waiting for?
See you on the other side.
Photo via Daniel Andres Forero