For the past five years, I have been obsessed with the question: “What does it take to achieve your dreams?”
I’ve read autobiographies of numerous successful people. I’ve studied the Wikipedia pages of famous artists I admire to see if I could track their path and find things I could try to emulate on my own journey. I’ve read dozens of self-help books and followed too many successful people online to even count to figure out what the secret sauce to their success is.
While the obvious things came up time and time again like clarity of vision, persistence, hard work (duh!), consistency and patience…the most important thing I’ve learned through my past half decade of observation, introspection, learning, studying, taking chances, experimenting, failing and living my own journey of someone who is trying to manifest their dreams into the world is summarized into one simple word: self-belief.
Above anything else; you have to believe in yourself before other people believe in you. You must believe you have what it takes. You must believe in your own ability and your talents. You must be able to see a vision for your life and march confidently towards it even when everyone around you is telling you to turn around or go down a different path.
This journey to self-belief begins by having a very honest conversation with yourself: “Do I love this?” “Do I think I’m talented?” When I made the decision to completely pursue being a writer, that was what I asked myself. I knew I loved it and I knew that it came naturally to me. I knew I had the raw talent to make a go of it. To make a life out of it.
You must have complete and utter conviction that this is where you’re meant to do with your life. To the degree that you legitimately rule out every other path because your conviction towards this one area is so strong.
When we put all of our focus and have tunnel vision for something that we both love and are naturally gifted at, that’s where we find the potential for greatness. You can not achieve greatness at something without both loving it and being naturally gifted at it. Sure, luck is involved but you only give yourself a chance at living your best life by taking that shot.
People will tell you otherwise but pursuing your passion — if it’s also your talent — is the smartest decision you could ever make. By walking that path, you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to be great in life and create the kind of life that is uniquely and authentically yours. Never forget that people opposing your dream or trying to hammer reality into your dream parade are oftentimes also envious of you for having a dream or a talent in the first place.
One of the hardest things to accept is that, no matter how much belief you might have in your own ability and the future you’re trying to create for yourself, you will most likely face the most resistance and biggest push back from those in your closest circle, such as family and old friends.
That’s okay. It’s not their fault. They’re just trying to look out for you. But you need to understand that anytime someone weighs in on what you’re doing they’re doing so from their own biased filter. So when people try to give you advice on what you “should be doing” they’re doing so from a biased perspective of what their values and boundaries are, which are were instilled into them from their parents, which were instilled in them from their parents…so on and so forth.
It’s important that you can stand strong in your self-belief and vision for your future when you feel this resistance. Whenever this resistance from our peers, friends and family hits us it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by self-doubt and depressed because our self-belief conviction sometimes gets reared off course.
There are 4 ways I’ve learned to protect my dream and maintain my conviction and self-belief toward the direction of my dream:
1. Actually remove influences from your life who don’t support your dreams. This is a pretty cutthroat method but if your dream is that important to you, and by you pursuing this dream, you’re being your most authentic self, then why should you surround yourself with people who don’t support you trying to be your greatest self? Truth is they either don’t get it, don’t see it or just don’t believe the things you believe to be possible.
2. Heavily regulate your relationships with those you keep in your life who you feel give you resistance in the direction of your dreams. Early on when I started on my dream path I would make my business, everybody’s business. I was excited and became a victim of oversharing. But I quickly learned that talking about “my stuff” to lots of people resulted in getting a lot of reactions that I didn’t like. Now, I have a select few people that I confide in about what I’m actually working on. I only confide in people that have similar mindsets to mine and will inspire me further in the direction I’m moving. I have certain relationships that I regulate and legitimately never bring up my work because I know that hearing their thoughts on what I’m doing is going to make me feel insecure, feed me with self-doubt and drain my inspiration.
3. Build a bigger community of those who are on a similar path to you and help propel you toward your dream. The ideal way to do this is to find a group of friends who work in your same industry and you consider to be more successful than you. That will help you to “level up” and demand more of yourself. Ideally, you want to find a primary circle of people that you can share with, give one another feedback and all help each other succeed and achieve your goals.
4. This is the most important one. It’s all about momentum. You maintain your self-belief when you maintain your momentum. For me, self-doubt always seeps in and poisons my vision when I lose my momentum. How do you maintain and build momentum? With work. When you stop working, the anxiety mounts, self-doubt pours in and you paralyze yourself in an uninspired rut. But when you’re working hard and doing the necessary deep work to harness your craft, inspiration kicks in and you start to feel really good about yourself and confident about your path. When you work you silence the demon (doubt) and summon the angels (inspiration). The trick to building momentum after you’ve lost it is by starting small and temporarily shrinking your goals. When I’m in a writing rut — my daily goal is to write one bad page. That’s it. One piece of shit page that will never see the light of day. From there, slowly you build more and more each day until eventually you’re rolling and your bigger goals become fathomable again.
Now, self-belief is key. But what kills self-doubt is when people have unrealistic timelines for their vision. Most people want it right now. They lack patience. They want it right now because they want to prove naysayers wrong right away and they can’t stay strong and play the long game. Particularly with artistic dreams, the hardest part is fending off resistance because it’s such a long slog. It’s not like business where you can start making money immediately. It takes years, even fucking decades, to develop your craft and get good enough that success presents itself in a way that outsiders can actually begin to see or identify with.
For example: I have goals to write on some of the top TV shows in Hollywood and win an Emmy for writing. Sure, that’s a crazy ambitious goal but when you combine that with patience and a realistic timeline…it becomes much more feasible. It’s about trusting that those exterior “benchmarks of success” will begin to come to you when you’re ready. When you’ve marinated your craft for long enough and fallen in love with the process of what you’re doing, not the achievement of so-called “making it”.
Now, on top of having extreme self-belief and patience to play the long game toward that vision, you must also allow yourself to be bad. The reason why so many people never pursue that thing they always dreamed of pursuing or why they give up so quickly is because they get scared and insecure when they see how great the divide is between their current level of skill and talent and where their ambitions and dreams lie. In other words: most people can’t endure the early years of sucking. They want to be good right away and they want it to pay off right away.
So they walk away from it with their tail between their legs and pursue a path with less resistance, a path that will allow them to benefit more quickly. A path where they won’t be so rudely confronted with that kind of work and resilience necessary to succeed.
This is where you really separate people who really love it and really want it, from people who glamorize the idea of the achievement. Like the actors who want to act because they want to be famous. The musicians who want to be adored rock stars but aren’t willing to endure years of playing their music for free to drunks in a bar. Or those who want to be entrepreneurs because they want to be “rich” and “ballin” rather than because of a genuine desire to solve problems in the world.
The only way you bridge the gap between your talent and skill and your grandiose dreams and ambitions is with a whole hell of a lot of work. A love of the work. An innate, relentless dedication to the process. Talent is given to us. But our skill is what we develop through a commitment to the process as if it were our religion. And once our talent and skill marinate for long enough, the shores of our ambitions slowly begin to peak through the fog.
Whatever dreams you hold dear to your heart, I’m telling you that they’re possible. But first…before anything else. You must believe that the vision you hold in your mind is possible. You must see it, smell it and taste it with every fibre in your fucking body, even when others roll their eyes and scoff at it.
It’s up to you to protect your dream, and you do so by safeguarding your self-belief and nourishing it by surrounding yourself with those who inspire you. You do so by building momentum through constantly doing the work. You do so by committing yourself to the long game. You do so by trusting the process, understanding that you will find success when you forget about being successful and focus on getting good and enjoying the process. You do so by being courageous enough to fail and be judged and criticized by others. You do so by loving what it is you’re doing so much that you’re willing to do it for free, for years of your life. You do so by being kind to yourself and talking to yourself as if you’re someone whom you admire and respect, whilst committing yourself everyday to becoming the person you must become to achieve what you desire.
When you do all those things, trust me; achieving your dreams just becomes a matter of time.
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