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10 Pivotal Realisations That Helped Me Get My Dreams Off The Back Burner And Into Play
10 Pivotal Realisations That Helped Me Get My Dreams Off The Back Burner And Into Play
It wasn’t that long ago, that I, like many, had put my dreams on the back burner and could not see a way I could get them happening.
I had a full-time gig, responsibilities, bills to pay and well…daily life just kept showing up and inexplicably soaking up my time. It was like I was scrambling on all fours up a hill, out of flow and relying on pure grit.
I knew I’d get there eventually, but seriously how many roads did I need to take, was it supposed to be this hard?
Was it me? Why was it taking so long? “Who’s in charge here, I need to see the manager!”
I knew that one day I would get around to it, the conditions would be right. I’d have the spare time, the finances and the extra bandwidth. How far away was that ‘one day’ because it felt like my time was ticking past pretty quick.
“The better question to ask myself was – why was I taking so long? What was I pretending not to know?”
I uncovered these ten realisations I uncovered in my learning to be comforting and to this day, remain a guide for me, when I hit those inevitable moments of craziness and wonder what on earth I am doing.
See the contrast for what it is and start anyway
Embrace the ‘pre-success’ state
Self compassion and acceptance are our best first responders
Perceptions don’t matter
“Don’t just do something…sit there” – Thich Naht Hahn
Avoid Purpose Envy and the Comparison Game
Decision Made. Now Enjoy It.
Don’t ignore the whispers, they don’t go away. They will just get louder
Find the solution in what you already know
1. See the contrast for what it is and start anyway
Many people write about… it’s the contrasts in life that teach us the most.
I too belong to that collective idea. We need the lows, to recognise the highs.
Thich Naht Hahn, the father of mindfulness and a Buddhist monk in the Art Of Living, one of the books that has influenced me the most, talks about the ‘lotus can’t grow without mud’.
“The beautiful lotus is reliant on the presence of mud. We need mud in our lives for our beauty to grow.”
Our lives can be rich in purpose and rich in experience. They can also be rich in failure and rich in hurt. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise that both is occurring and that we must stay in gratitude for all that we have, not what we don’t have, This is the embracing of the contrasts.
But when you want to pursue a dream or a goal, it brings up the contrast in high definition colour. What I want to do or have, where I am right now. Two different places, two different feelings.
So that very realization of how big the contrasts is – the contrast gap if you like, can stop us in our tracks from pursuing anything different from what we already have.
Our ability to handle the contrast from where we are starting from to where we want to get to, and being grateful for all that we have right now, is the secret to our success.
Theodore Roosevelt says “do what you can, with what you have, where you are”
In my own life, there have been many instances where the ‘contrasts’ in my life stopped me from pursuing my dreams, and all I could take was tiny itty bitty steps forward one at a time and learn to love the mud.
2. Embrace the ‘pre-success’ state
I’m a freedom seeker, author and project queen…which loosely translates into I have one of those multi-life purpose things going on or I can’t make up my mind. One or the other!
I am a woman on a mission to make my corner of the world good, because if I make my corner good, and you make your corner good, then all the corners of the world will be good.
But I wasn’t always this focused and energized about my life. In fact, for a long long time, I floundered around, chose to be invisible and let my dreams stay right on the back burner, just in case I got hurt or challenged ‘who was I to do this’
The contrasts in my life showed up big time. The things I wanted to do, I had never done before
I had never written a book
I had never run my own business
I had never built a platform or invited people to follow my work
I had never thought I could really help another life
There’s a moment that anyone who is stepping out and doing something different will recognise the feeling and that is the feeling of ‘pre-success’.
That feeling of ‘pre-success’ means before the evidence shows up. Before the results appear, before you can point to that story or moment in time, where your internal feelings match your external environment.
You know what I mean now;
You’ve built that business
You’ve published that book
You’ve changed your job
You’ve learnt a new language and can now speak it.
The ‘pre-success’ state is a tricky one to navigate – so redefine it. My success happened because I started.
3. Self compassion and acceptance are our best first responders
We want the first people on a scene in a disaster, to be the most helpful. The ones that can apply life-saving treatments, make profound and wise choices about how to deal with the situation at hand and have the focus on saving lives. Our lives.
Imagine if the first responders who showed up to your disaster were preoccupied about how everything looked to others, focused on assigning blame, telling people off for getting into trouble and standing around arguing over what to do next. Lives would be lost.
In bad moments of deep reflection, as the doubt creeps in and we wonder what on earth is the problem, why our dreams and goals are so elusive, it is of zero help to beat up on oneself.
Self-compassion and acceptance are the first responders we need to call. Not the other usual suspects of disappointment, anger, frustration – they are not welcome here. We need to take them off speed dial, so Siri can’t even call them if we ever ask her to.
In good moments of self-compassion and awareness, I saw things a little differently.
I could see myself simply as someone who ‘was not done yet’. That’s all. There was more to come and I was figuring it out. Some things might just take a while to happen, but where I was, is exactly where I needed to be in this moment.
It didn’t matter what I had done already or not done, none of that defined me. It was what I was doing right now, the choices I was making right now, the way I was showing up right now that was the only thing I could control.
My job was to always find more compassion, more acceptance as to where I was, and make that more than okay. Because it is.
4. Disentangle Ourselves
In The Art Of Living1, Thich Nhat Hanh says we need to ‘disentangle ourselves and that it takes courage and determination’. We can get so caught up in ‘dream chasing’ whatever that is – more money, profile, success, and the projects we take on, that we lose sight of the very things that can bring us happiness, peace and freedom – all the things that help us feel better in the moment.
It doesn’t matter if for a time, we chased a life that was not aligned to who we really are.
What matters, is that we pull over to the side of the road for a second, and rethink we are heading. Sometimes we need to keep going until we find a place to rest and recharge and then decide and other times, we can do a U turn on the spot and head off in another direction.
The main thing is we constantly disentangle ourselves from ideas, projects, pursuits, beliefs that are not serving us anymore. They might have been right at some point, but we change and we need to reload our thinking with new information all the time.
Let’s get caught up in the stuff that is helpful and disentangle from the rest.
1 The Art of Living, Thich Nhat Hanh, Page 165
5. Perceptions don’t matter
I read recently some of the early work of psychologist David Elkind² with teen mental health on the enigma of the ‘imaginary audience”. This phrase was coined in the late 1960’s and remains a talking point amongst those working in the mental health fields today.
The crux of this concept is that adolescents may develop an anticipation that they are under the scrutiny of others all the time due to a belief that they are the focus of attention and that people are as admiring or as critical of them as they are of themselves.
Basically, they create an imaginary audience of themselves and think people are watching all the time when in reality, the focus on public attention is not always on them. As a result, however, teens can be reluctant to reveal themselves and prefer to remain private.
When we have a perception of being judged by others, it can halt us in our tracks
One of the thoughts that stops me in my tracks is when I care, or worse still, l worry about people’s perceptions of me. I have done this all my life. It is a deal breaker to pursuing your dreams.
I have heard ‘perceptions about me in the workplace, in my private life and that couldn’t be further from the truth. When I hear them, I am often astounded that that is the way other people see me. I don’t see myself that way, but they do. So who is right? I am sure I have perceptions about others that they will dispute and say are not true for them as well
The thing is perceptions are not real. They are just judgements. Ignore them.
2 David Elkind, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolescent_ egocentrism#Imaginary_Audience The imaginary audience refers to an egocentric state where an individual imagines and believes that multitudes of people are enthusiastically listening to or watching him or her. Though this state is often exhibited in young adolescence, people of any age may harbor a fantasy of an imaginary audience” – Wikipedia
6. “Don’t just do something…sit there” – Thich Naht Hahn
I have always been a day dreamer. Often letting my mind wander into imagining things in a different way than they were showing up in reality. I would find comfort in that from a young age, when things were maybe not working out Always thinking about other things than my current reality.
I guess I had been a natural meditator from a young age, finding calmness in being the observer in my life, rather than wanting to be in it.
I have had a consistent daily meditation practice for the past 6 years and regularly sought out neuroscientists work and the study of epigenetics to understand what actually happens in our brains during meditation and how we create new neural pathways as we let go of beliefs and perceptions that are proven to be untrue.
I just need to do nothing more often.
7. Avoid Purpose Envy and the Comparison Game
I’m not sure if this is a real psychological phenomenon, but I have seen it enough in my lifetime to know that it is real for some people and it was real for me– purpose envy that is. My purpose is not as good as your purpose!
This is where people think their purpose in life isn’t good enough, big enough, sexy enough, bold enough compared to what others are doing. We think our purpose is insignificant and in a way, that’s why we don’t bother pursuing it.
There’s no comparison to be had about purpose. It’s incomparable.
We are bombarded with stories of people achieving great things and knowing that their gifts and value to the world is to do epic stuff like ‘find a cure for something’ or ‘rebuild war torn countries’ or ‘lead a movement’. It’s hard not to be caught up in a little ‘purpose envy or comparison”.
But if we find ourselves there, we have completely missed the point. Purpose isn’t about what we achieve, its about who we are. Our unique DNA is our unique gift and our job is to amplify what we have and share that with the world for the highest good.
I know my purpose. It is to help people make their projects simple and do-able so that saves them time, so they can go on and play their bigger game. I inspire the solutions and then get out of the way.
It doesn’t sound very sexy! To be honest, I wanted it to sound sexier. Projects are not very sexy…although I’m trying my best to “bring the sexy back” to the world of projects
Some people might think projects are still kind of nerdy, but I’m down with that!
So when your purpose shows up, get excited about the road ahead.
One of my favourite authors and inspirational coaches, Tara Mohr, an expert on women’s leadership and well-being, wrote in her best selling book, Playing Big, about her eight ways to recognise whether what you are experiencing is your calling and I wanted to share three of the ways with you:
You feel huge resistance. A part of you wants to run in the other direction
You feel a sense of ‘this work is mine to do.’ Or of having received an assignment to do a particular piece of work in the world
There are challenges, fears and doubts, but when you are actually doing the calling, you feel a rare sense of meaning and rightness. When you do it, you tap into an immense well of energy.
When you purpose shows up first, its going to challenging, but roll with it. It’s yours and we all know, that nobody can do it, the way you can do it.
When it comes to ‘finding your purpose’ some of us get there quicker and easier than others. You know who I am talking about. Those people that have found their secret and everything they do, shows up as in alignment with who they are. Their life’s path is not negotiable. They are doing it and just couldn’t see it any other way.
I didn’t really find my purpose until I turned 50. Bit of a late bloomer I know!
I spent time wondering what I was here for and questioning whether the dreams I had came from a deep sense of purpose or I thought maybe they would just be fun to do. My answer is it’s a bit of both.
3 Tara Mohr, Playing Big, Random House, 2016, Page 208
8. Decision Made. Now Enjoy It.
About a decade ago I was at a cross roads in my career. You know how I knew that? I had two equally appealing paths in front of me. Both were great, exciting and challenging. I could see myself doing either.
PATH 1 was to immerse myself in business and learn as much as I could about leadership, teams, culture, communication, strategy and execution
PATH 2 was to immerse myself in community and international development, go back to study, work for a major non profit that was doing good in the world.
I took awhile to work it out. Which was more aligned to where I was at? Which one took me closer to my goals, my dreams?
Should I go ahead and ‘do well’ (take the lucrative option) or ‘do good’ (take the purposeful option)?
I knew ‘income poor, purpose rich’ was not the ideal approach for me at the time in my life, so I chose Path 1 and embarked on my business journey.
Did this help my dream chasing? It sure did. It was the right decision at the time for sure. But at times I felt a pang of doubt, maybe guilt even?
That happens when you need to make a decision you are not sure of, but whilst we are in that place of ‘creating doubt and second guessing’ we can’t be truly present, can we?
So I decided to own my decision and enjoy it. And felt better immediately.
There is always more than one path that is right for us at any time.
9. Don’t ignore the whispers, they don’t go away. They will just get louder
There was one thing I was kind of good at and that was helping people and businesses get their projects off the ground. As I climbed the corporate ladder doing this, I realised that was all great, but that something was missing.
Achievement was one thing, but when I found myself “backsolving the purpose” of what I was doing to justify it, I realised how off track I had become. By this I mean, I liked what I was doing, but it missed any sense of deep purpose for me. I was a senior manager, heading up a company department for a multi-billion dollar Australian company and was responsible for a small team, looking at ways we could improve the business.
At one point, I loved this role. It was challenging, exciting and had a degree of freedom around it, that I needed and I really enjoyed the learning and the contribution I could make. I learnt my leadership style from that role and had the opportunity to work and learn alongside some of the smartest business minds going around in Australia and globally.
But as businesses grow, needs change and the role I had was restructured out.
At least that was why, I thought it happened.
Haha! The universe had to give me a big push forward to get me out of my comfort zone and into following my dreams, because I was not listening to the whispers in my head. “it’s time to chase your dreams, Ali…go on, you can do it… everything will work out for you.” Isn’t that funny how things work out for us!!
10. Find the solution in what you already know
I have some great friends who give me that look every now and then, when I say triumphantly ‘ hey I’ve worked that thing out. I just did this blah blah blah’. And they look at me knowingly, “Sure, Ali, we could have told you that. You do that all the time”.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that often times we already have the answers, we just don’t know or recognise them yet.
There’s a saying that goes along the lines of ‘nothing is really new. It’s just the same stuff, rehashed”
Then as I was trying to figure why my dreams had stayed on the back burner, maybe I could apply what I already knew.
Hang on a sec! I might be a bit slow on the uptake, but what if I could take what I knew in ‘project land’ and apply it to the projects in my own life. It could work! This could be fun!
So I did and whooska! Things started to move. It was like all the birds (my dreams) started to fly in formation.
Job changes happen, house moves out of nowhere happened, financial windfalls were created, book projects were started, a new international business was born, overseas travel happened to exotic locations, new global friends made and wait for it… I got a bit excited about all of this.
I started to coach a few people around the world on their dream projects, their legacy projects, their projects that had been with them for a long time and hadn’t yet made it the surface. I watched in awe as these brave and courageous true selves were revealed as they finally gave themselves permission to pursue their dreams. Their ‘one day’ had come.
Or at least that’s what we both thought…but apparently it wasn’t going to be that easy!
Then the questions and doubts started. People were asking me everything from ‘I have an idea what I want to do but no idea where to start’ to ‘’I’m not a planner, plans never work for me’, ‘I’ve tried to do this before but it just took too long so I gave up’ to public enemy # 1 – “I’m not the right person to do this, someone else will be better than me at it’.
I watched in horror as people gradually started to talk themselves out of doing what they were born to do.
What I could see from my vantage view was that these amazing people were more than capable of doing what they had to do, but just like me previously, they couldn’t get their heart and head in the same place at the same time to make it happen.
Brendon Burchards in his new bestseller ‘High Performance Habits’ says it is “never about achievement, it will always be about alignment”.
I realised if I could take what I knew worked in ‘project land’, break it down into a simple process that was going to help, I could help people (and me☺) and apply it to their personal dreams.
What a privilege it became to start to help other people get unstuck from their current reality and see a way forward to start chasing their dreams , before the conditions were right. We were all learning together to ‘start before things were ready’
I thought about my own journey and realised that at some point, I did manage to organise my thoughts into a roughly coherently plan or approach using my project experience. I had an end goal in mind and then simply starting taking one step at a time, until I started to build some momentum. Then it got a bit easier, took some more steps, hits some rocks, stubbed my toes, rested for a bit, got back up again, changed direction and took the next few steps.
Even when the steps seemed so random and not going anywhere, as I look back, they were all part of a collection of threads that lead me to today. Like birds flying in formation.
What will it take for you to get your dreams off the backburner and into play?
As seen on Medium @alifowler
About Ali Fowler
100’s of projects lead, managed and deliver
7 countries worked in
20+ years of hands-on project experience
15K+ business improvement ideas reviewed
1 life impacted (at least that’s Ali’s goal on every project)
Stacks of mistakes (just to keep things super real)
Plenty of unfinished projects over the years – AWKWARD!
Zero Gantt charts used – World Projects is a Gantt chart free zone
On the greatest of days, Ali Fowler is celebrating the finish line on another amazing project working with amazing people with amazing visions for a better world and seeing the impact changing lives.