I want to live in London for a year. I want to build a mobile dog-grooming van. I want to be a songwriter for Kelly Clarkson. I want to turn my garage into a neighborhood library. I want to run for office. I want to learn guitar and start a garage band of moms. I want to build an org against human trafficking. I want to retire five years early. I want to RV across America for a year. I want to teach English in Japan.
I love your dreams! I love your wild, amazing ideas. I love how you are wired and the stuff that fires your engine. I love how your eyes light up and you start talking too fast. But guess what? You gotta work for this. Everything you want is on the other side of hard. Shonda Rhimes put it like this: “I understand a dream job is not about dreaming—it’s all job, all work, all reality, all blood, all sweat, no tears.” Well, maybe a few tears, Shonda, but all that work isn’t just a means to the end; it is a precious asset in and of itself. Those hours, all the conversations, the learning, the setbacks, the stuff before results—this builds something strong in you you’ll need for the long haul. You find out what you’re made of when no one is watching, much less applauding.
I won’t belabor the point I’ve already made, but I became an overnight success in just under a decade. I regret nothing. Those years taught me how to write and gave me time to find my voice. They showed me how to receive one-half of one golf clap for my work. I learned to take criticism and editorial direction without breaking out my voodoo dolls. Those years gave me the runway to examine my own worldview, my real theology. I would like to thank Baby Jesus in the Manger that none of y’all read my early work. Purge the shelves of that drivel, Messiah! I was but a wee babe! I got to laser focus on the craft of writing, because I didn’t have to give any energy to things like “selling any books” or “managing success” or “crushing social media.” There was no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram when I started! We published books the old-fashioned way: by activating our mind power to control book buyers. It didn’t work. Thank you for attending my Ted Talk.
Do not disparage the clunky beginnings. Treat your early steps as seriously as if the whole world was watching, a crucial part of the process to be proud of later. Remember why you care, why you want this, because discouragement lurks abundantly here. Even your early adopters can flounder if it takes longer than expected or goes sideways for a while. Failure will be there to potentially derail your dream—that is, only if you think failure can’t be your best teacher, which it can and it is. You might look at someone a few miles ahead of you in a similar lane and decide you are too far behind. Or you might see someone who started after you bypass you, and despair and jealousy seeps in. This is a pile of garbage. Don’t fall for it. There is enough, enough, enough. There is enough business for all, creativity for all, big ideas for all, innovation for all. No one is stealing from anybody. Just put your head down and do your work.
For some, this is a total reboot. You are an accountant who wants to open a panini shop. You have never lived anywhere but Missouri and want to buy a little cottage on the coast of Oregon. You want to try a half-marathon but haven’t run since seventh grade P.E. You are neck deep in mothering but want to develop a mentoring program for high school girls from scratch. You want to speak French, but your only experience is eating croissants. Some dreams will clear the deck and escort you straight to the drawing board.
This gets me excited for you. Time to learn! Learning is underrated. We are surrounded by success stories and finished products. It seems like everyone is already at the party. But the humble process of starting at the very beginning of a skill, a space, a craft, an industry—this is the stuff that wakes your mind up and makes you feel alive. My girlfriend Jenny literally Googled, “Is 51 too old to learn a language? Can my brain still do it?” GOOGLE SAID IT COULD. So she downloaded an entire Spanish course and is working her way through the lessons. As of this writing, she is utterly terrible because she is from country-fried chicken Alabama (all she does is repeatedly ask us our names and where we are from in Español), but you know what? She laced up her shoes, she took the first few steps, she is running the race. Muy bien!
One of my favorite shows is Chef’s Table on Netflix. Each episode has the same story arc. You can almost set a clock to it. Fifteen minutes of backstory, five minutes on what attracted the chef to cooking, 10 minutes of Hard KnocksTM, then inspiration plus talent followed by success plus accolades. But regardless of their cuisine or location, no matter how natural their ability or refined their palate, whether they were a recipient of some luck or investors or rich family members, all of them have to know how to bone a chicken, fillet a fish, make a roux, strain a stock. They started at culinary school, not at Chef ’s Table. Their hands and arms are a map of scars, evidence of the work, the cost, the irreplaceable edge from paying their dues.
If you are staring down a dream that requires fresh, brand-new knowledge you are not yet in possession of, take heart. The very best among us had to learn too.
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