Would a race feel fair if there were no starting gun? Imagine you are crouched at the starting line of a race along with all the other runners, and you are all expected to just begin the race whenever you feel like it. That is the world you are in right at this very moment.
Childhood has a way of framing things that makes adulthood rather confusing. When you are a child, there are always beginnings and endings. Each school year begins in September, and ends in May or June. Math class begins at 11:00 am and ends at 12:00 pm, whereupon you go to lunch. The human mind is designed to learn patterns, and learn to expect them. Thus, it comes as something of a shock when, as an adult, one learns that the world is no longer working according to those patterns; there is no starting gun in the race you now run.
You mustn’t wait for the starting gun, you mustn’t wait for permission, you mustn’t wait for the tide to come in or the weather to be perfect, because if you do, you will be waiting forever.
Stop waiting for your turn
One reason so many jerks get ahead is they don’t wait in line. It’s not that being a jerk is a way to become successful; it’s that not waiting for permission is one of the behaviors jerks happen to share with successful people, and thus, often jerks can wind up becoming successful.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
Move out from your comfort zones
Many of the best students at the top universities don’t go anywhere because they adapted perfectly for an environment full of mentorship, structure, and clearly defined goals where everyone wants them to succeed. In the real world, the goalposts are always moving, the field of battle is always covered in fog, and no one will spit on you even if you are on fire.
Surround yourself with hustlers
Another fetter that could be holding you back is the sort of people with whom you surround yourself. Here’s an easy test: Bring some aspect of your creative work to your friends for a critique. If their first instinct is to offer help for making it the best version of what it is, then you have some good friends.
If their first instinct is to disengage with what you actually created, essentially saying what they would have created were they you, then they aren’t really being helpful to you. They’re using your endeavor for them to be creative by proxy. Telling someone their lemonade stand should be an app startup isn’t helpful.
Some of this sort of negativity goes to the pattern recognition circuitry in our brains, designed to memorize what leopards look like in tall grass, and make us paranoid because the paranoid tends to survive. Not your problem. When friends’ negativity becomes your problem, spend less time with them.
You need friends who will buoy you, not sink you. If old friends of yours are negative people, fine. Know that there is a trade off in time spent with them and your ability to pull it together to chase your dreams.
The best time to start is now
Perhaps, in order to get that dream job, you need a specialized degree that will mean years of additional schooling. Let’s say you’re 25 right now. If you start now, you might finish when you are 28. If that seems like a long time, consider how it will feel if you finally pick up your new degree when you are 28, or 33, or 42. The sooner you embrace your dreams, the sooner they will happen, and you’ll spend less time in regret.
Do not fear
Perhaps you fear failure, or more specifically, you fear a kind of failure. If you dream of being a skater, know that all ice skaters fall, both in practice and in the Olympics. The greatest baseball players in history miss 7 out of 10 times they swing the bat. Failure is fine. Failure is part of learning. They have a saying in Silicon Valley: fail fast. The faster you fail, the sooner you will know how to succeed.
Would it feel better if you had a guide? Of course, it would. Know mentors may not be who you expect, or come when you want them to. Some wrangle a mentor early on, but more often than not, people don’t have mentors in the beginning.
You may wonder how your mentor will find you. This is an answer you have to find for yourself, but one thing is clear, they will not find you if you are sitting at home twiddling your thumbs. Baseball scouts find the talented kids who end up in the draft because those kids join teams and play baseball.
Hollywood agents find actors because the actors find their way onto the stage or the screen, and keep coming back until one night, the agent is in the audience. If you don’t do it, and no one sees it, then no one wants it. Your mentor will find you when you have shown you are worth throwing one’s weight behind.
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.” – Oprah
You should be able to see by now that there’s really nothing between you and setting off in search of your dreams. Remember these steps: Decide what you need to accomplish your dream, and start with the first thing on the list. If the people around you deride your efforts in any way, stop spending time with them.
Get out the door and act on your dream, even on a small scale, even if you aren’t sure it will work. The way you fail will teach you how to succeed. If you succeed enough, a mentor will appear to guide you. From there, you will have much smoother sailing on your way to your life’s dreams. Just don’t ask for permission.