Over my 23 years here at Changing Course, I’ve heard from a lot of people at various junctures along the road to right livelihood.
Some are at the very beginning… still trying to figure out which path is right for them.
Others have happily reached their destination.
Others are midway on their journey.
Regardless of where you are in the process, there are still some very specific steps you need to take to change course.
Here are five keys to get you started:
1. Set Big… and Small Goals
I know it sounds cliché, but if you’re really serious about taking control of your life, you need to set some goals.
Knowing that you want to change your life or work for yourself is a great start.
But expressing a desire is different from stating a goal.
In her Broadway show Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Lily Tomlin’s bag lady character remarks, “I always wanted to be somebody. I realize now I should have been more specific.”
Deciding you want to earn money by making and selling gift baskets is much more specific than saying you want to make money doing something creative. But even here you need to get more precise.
One of the best ways to move a goal along is to quantify it. Using our gift basket example, the key questions are:
- how much money do you want to make?
- by when?
You can always shoot higher, but for now let’s think in terms of generating $10,000 in gift basket sales.
From here you’d want to make your goal both real and reachable by breaking it down into smaller more manageable goals, like, for example, making and selling six gift baskets in 60 days.
Actually writing the date on your calendar will make it even more real.
2. Figure Out What It Will Take to Reach Your Goal – Then Start Doing It
Some years back I heard from a long-time subscriber named Joe.
Joe understood the importance of looking to others for inspiration.
But he also understood the value of not only hearing about people that have followed their dream and made it happen, but those whose dreams are in process.
The people, Joe described as, “currently traveling the pathway to a new career, setting goals for themselves, managing to keep their dream alive and staying focused on the goal of a new career.”
All the things this then 33-year-old software engineer from Maryland was doing.
But I’ll let Joe tell you about his plans – and progress – in his own words:
“A year and a half ago I started reading a lot of real estate investing books. I wanted to get into the medical field as a Physical Therapist and needed a way to supplement my income. I took classes and soaked up all of the real estate knowledge I could get.”
“I worked with advisors until I landed my first deal. It was a rehab house, and after I repaired it I made $28,000 profit for an endeavor I spent five months on part-time. I was thrilled. I took this money and used it to help purchase a rental property and another rehab which I am now selling.
I set goals for myself. My big goal is a career change at five years. Presently I have four years left. I plan on generating enough income to cover all of my expenses. I also have smaller goals.
At the two-year mark I plan to make $1,000 net cash flow per month. At three years I plan to make $2,000 net cash flow per month. This will allow me to pursue Physical Therapy without worrying about money! I have volunteered in two hospitals and determined that this is where I belong.”
“This is my journey. It’s hard to wake up every morning and go to my current job. However, I now see an end in sight. I know that in a few years I will be enjoying helping people every day. And when that day comes, it will be a dream come true.”
Some of you are probably saying, “Five years! I can’t wait that long.”
You don’t have to.
Joe’s goal is very specific – to generate enough money from real estate to be able to fully support him during his schooling.
Depending on your goals, your financial situation, your level of commitment, and the amount of time you’re willing to invest, you can certainly change course in far less time.
Whether you want to be living your new life in five years or in five months, the point is to set a goal, quantify it, and then, one day at a time.
Then take the small action steps required to make your goal happen.
3. Live Life Now
Shooting for a future goal is great.
But I also received a deeply moving email that reminded me of the importance of also remembering to live life fully in the moment.
Pam wrote to thank me for inspiring her partner Bruce, a man I never met but who I apparently encouraged to live his dream.
Pam has generously allowed me to share her and Bruce’s story with you.
She told me that before he was killed instantly in a traffic accident, Bruce was living his dream.
He’d been a computer consultant who, explained Pam, was tired of the cubicle life.
“Although he made a boatload of money doing it, he realized that there was more out there to do. He always wanted to do something purposeful with his life, and didn’t see that the programs he wrote made much of an impact.”
Pam went on to say that she and Bruce lived together for two very wonderful years…
“…living our dream. We both left the corporate grind, had opened our own business as massage therapists. Bruce was a wonderful man. He had healed so much in his life and many times said, ‘If I’m to be the kind of spiritual man I wish to be, then I need to work on this.’ He was making a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. I’m so very grateful for every moment that we shared. We were blessed to have many friends. And I plan to continue our dream.”
Although I never had the privilege of meeting Bruce, he sounds like a truly remarkable human being and one who will be missed by many.
And how wonderful that while Bruce was among us, he was living his dream.
Pam’s strength, her gratitude in the face of unspeakable grief and her resolve to continue to live their dream is inspiring indeed.
When we think about goals, we tend to think about achieving some future result.
And yet as John Lennon once observed, “Life is what’s happening when you’re making other plans.”
Bruce’s story serves as an important reminder that even while you strive to reach your future goals, you must live life now and with as few regrets as possible.
4. Break a Rule
Sometimes changing course can begin with the simple act of shaking up your normal routine.
Take Barbara, a former coworker of mine from my corporate days.
Most people spend their Saturday mornings in a frenzy of house cleaning and errands.
Barbara does this stuff too but not until after she’s indulged herself by crawling back into bed with a cup of coffee and watching a suspense movie.
Spending your Saturday morning watching a movie may not be your cup of tea, but surely there is some small fun thing you can do to shake things up.
- If you tend to read self-help books, try a romance or a suspense novel
- Walk your dog in a totally new place or drive a different way to work
- Visit your local historic society or museum
- On the first day of each month have ice cream for breakfast
- Go to the movies on a weeknight
Experiencing small changes can make the bigger ones seem more doable.
5. Use the One Step a Day Approach
When I was desperately trying to get myself out of corporate America, I promised myself that I would not go to bed at night until I had taken at least one small step toward my goal. It doesn’t have to be a big step.
For example, I knew that at least in the short term, leaving my job-job would mean I’d be earning less money.
So one day I brainstormed a list of ways to supplement my income.
At the time I had a finished basement with a bath.
Mind you this was decades before Airbnb or VRBO or other short-term stay options were even a thing.
My idea was to rent out the space to a commuting grad student who needed a place to stay during the week.
Ideas only work with action.
So, the next day I stopped by the hardware store to see what I could find out about sound proof ceiling tiles.
The following day I looked up the Web site for the housing office at the local college, and so on.
Not only do small steps add up, but just as important is the sense of momentum you’ll gain. And once you get started on a dream, it’s hard to stop!
“The big break for me,” said Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, “was deciding that this is my life.”
Since this is indeed YOUR life, let this be the year you start making your dreams happen.
Speaking of making dreams happen…
That’s also the name of an amazing workshop I did with career and self-employment guru’s Barbara Sher and Barbara Winter.
Never before, or since, have the three of us been in one place offering our very best strategies to help you discover and then create the life you really want.
For a limited time, you can get a recording of the entire 4-day Making Dreams Happen workshop for $25 off the regular price.
Click here and then enter code MDHyes at check out to receive your discount.
Valerie is the founder and Dreamer in Residence at ChangingCourse.com where she’s been showing people how to make a living without a job since 1995. The Changing Course newsletter is read by over 20,000 change seekers around the world. She has trained and licensed over 350 people from 19 countries to show aspiring self-bossers how to turn their interests into income.
Her career-related advice has been cited around the world including BBC radio, Yahoo Financial News, CNN Money, Wall Street Journal, USA Weekend, Inc., Kiplinger’s, O magazine, Entrepreneur, Science, Elle, Redbook, Woman’s Day, The Chicago Tribune, and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Valerie is also an internationally recognized expert on impostor syndrome. She’s spoken to such diverse organizations as Boeing, Facebook, BP, Intel, Chrysler, Apple, IBM, Merck, Ernst & Young, Procter & Gamble, the Space Telescope Science Institute, American Women in Radio and Television, Society of Women Engineers, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and many others.
Valerie’s books include It’s Never Too Late to Find Your Calling and Being Realistic is Killing Your Dream (Changing Course Publications) and her award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It (Crown/Random House) is now available in five languages.