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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

How to (Finally!) Find the Courage to Pursue Your Dream

A good friend living in Pakistan had just quit her job. She wasn’t passionate about her work at a PR agency and didn’t want to settle for a job she hated. But she didn’t have another position lined up, and it started to hit her.

Her true passion and talent is photography, so I started to pelt her with options: She could launch her own business, go abroad to pursue an MFA, apply for grants, start an exhibit. From my perspective, her creative work is unsurpassed in her country, and eventually the right people will see her work—it’s only a matter of time.

But she quickly stopped me, reminding me where she was living, that she had a young daughter, and that she didn’t have an art degree. She worried about the future and felt overwhelmed by her current circumstances.

This made me think: These fears are normal for anyone contemplating a major career or life change, and they are certainly valid. It’s not easy to take that leap, especially when fear, worry, and doubt creep in.

But I was also reminded that, sometimes, the risks we don’t take are the ones we will regret. And the first step to any achievement is to find the courage to take a risk, do what you love, and commit to your goal.

In 2014, no matter where in the world you are or what your age, I challenge you to discover the courage to launch your dream and do what makes you happy. Here are a few first steps in getting over the fear hurdle and getting started on what you love.

Acknowledge Your Dream

What is that thing you’ve always wanted to do? Travel the world? Write a book? Launch a business?

No matter what your dream, don’t dismiss it. If there is something in your gut telling you that this is what you want to do, you owe it to yourself to, at the very least, acknowledge it and think about how it might come to fruition.

Sit down, write out your goal, and start outlining a rough road map of how you might get there. Do you need a business plan or seed funding? Will you need more classes, or will your experience provide enough of a foundation? Just having it on paper might help you begin framing the reality. Better yet, identify some people you know who have made it work for them, and seek their guidance and mentorship. The more you think and talk about your goal, the more you can begin to see how it could really work in reality.

Dump the Doubt

Have you ever gone hiking and reached a massive uphill stretch of trail? At the bottom of the hill, you can either decide that this is going to be a hellish climb and turn back—or that you are going to conquer the challenge and make it up, no matter what it takes.

It’s the same idea with launching something that you love: No matter how intimidating that hill seems now, you have to tell yourself you will make it to the top, and that whatever your goal is, you can get there.

The first step is to confront doubt head on. When that nagging doubt comes around, tell yourself to “stop that thought,” and counteract the doubts by acknowledging that the opportunity for success is greater. Another option is to be aware of the doubt, acknowledge it, and move forward knowing that you are committed to making your dream happen anyway. The key is to contrast doubt with the positive, understand that it’s natural, and formulate a strategy for how you will get up that metaphorical hill no matter what.

Silence the Skeptics

“You want to start a food business? Isn’t that just a nice hobby?” “That's nice you that want to write fiction, but the real money is in becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.”

Often times, it’s easier for people to be skeptical rather than supportive. They’re quick to point out the risks or offer you excuses, and if you take it to heart, you might start to feel pretty down.

But you have the power to change that, not only by being a supportive ally to other people sharing their dreams and ideas, but also by having key talking points that reveal why you are the person to complete this goal. Try reinforcing your experience (“I’ve been cooking all my life, and I’m ready to share my work with others on a wide scale”) or your willingness to take a risk and try something new (“At this point in my career, I have the skills to try something new, and even though it's not traditional—I’m ready”).

In some of her interviews and speeches, CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour speaks about her first boss, who told her she would never make it in the news industry. Instead of letting it get to her, she persisted, and she’s now one of the most successful and well-known foreign correspondents in the world. You have to remember that there will always be skeptics, and you should not take what they say to heart.

Banish “If Only...”

When I think about people who never dwelled on the negative, I think about the people represented by the Honey Bee network, a group of inventors and entrepreneurs who come from poor or marginalized communities. They never say “If only I had...” and instead, they innovate with what they have. Many are from rural areas, but they never let a lack of resources stop them from developing everything from a bike-pedaled washing machine to an amphibious bicycle, inventions that are relevant, practical, and much-needed in their communities.

The lesson: It’s easy to think about all of the resources you don’t have, but why not try thinking about the ones you do? Identify the tools around you that can work for your dream, and realize how they can help you take the next step for your goal and career.

Be Fearless

As I travel for my own career, I sometimes find myself dealing with surprising situations, from navigating jungle roads in Laos to finding snake meat on my plate in Vietnam. Sometimes, it can be more intense, like having to work in a conflict zone or protect colleagues whose human rights are at risk.

And while I get concerned about risk, I’ve learned two things that have helped me deal with it. The first is trying to to “be where your feet are,” which means to stay in the present moment, and not worry about the past or future. If you are caught in an infinite loop of worry, you can’t focus on what you need to reach your goal. You won’t be able to plan the next big thing or even complete your daily routines. Don’t let worry hold you back, and instead focus on what you need to do right now to achieve your dream.

Secondly, a lot of times, our expectations and worries are worse than actual outcomes. Yes, following your dream will have challenges, you will make mistakes, and you might even fail the first time. But that’s OK. Some of the most successful leaders in the world have tried and failed several times before they made it. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” When you identify those challenges and begin thinking through the solutions you might develop in the face of them, you’ll find that your fears might not be as scary as you think they are.

Take the First Steps

Often, taking the first step is the hardest part. But truly, it doesn’t have to be. Think about what the smallest step you could take to launch your dream might be. Is it as simple as research? Starting a crowdfunding campaign? Getting a grant or fellowship application together? Maybe it’s just drafting your business plan or updating your resume. Whatever that first step is, decide what your timeline is, start to gather your momentum, and do it with determination.

When I travel for work, I can find myself in some pretty tense and sometimes dangerous places. But in taking the chance, I usually discover something amazing about myself—and the world. I often remember what Nelson Mandela said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

On that note, I challenge you to consider the courageous steps you’ll take this year to finally launch your dream. Here’s to a very successful 2014.

Photo of impossible courtesy of Shutterstock.