As usual, I was in my office sipping my cup of soy latte when I heard screaming from a group of female colleagues down the hallway. Having been here at this office for 13 years, my first thought was, “Oh, someone just announced she’s engaged or having a baby.” My legal office is full of female attorneys. Actually, a majority of them are females. I hit 40 this year. So, as you can see, I spent majority of my fertile years as a female in this work space. But I don’t have kids. Not even a husband. And I have never been married.
Over the span of 13 years at my job, I have grown accustomed to hearing about my female colleagues’ dreams of marriage and having children. You can say I grew up in my office the same way you grow up with your immediate family — everyone is discreetly critical of everyone’s career advancement and judgmental of your dreams and the direction you take in life. I know that sounds harsh but that’s simply the nature of the work atmosphere in an office full of lawyers who are trained to exercise judgment on a daily basis. Fortunately, it was easy for me to adjust from the beginning as law school typically affords you the training on the norms of the lawyer world.
Moments later, in passing, a co-worker blurted out, “Oh, did you know, so and so got nominated to become a judge.” “Wow, that’s amazing,” I replied. In the entire 13 years of practicing, having someone nominated to become a judge from our office was unheard of, so much so, that most of us stopped bothering to pursue that dream. Hearing this great achievement by my fellow colleague caused me to feel a surge of complex emotions and thoughts like, “Am I jealous or not? Should I be? How did this happen? Her, really? That could have been me. But why didn’t I apply for it? Do I really care? It’s just judgeship. But that’s the natural career path for you. You ought to be a judge by now. And remember marriage? Husband? And the kids? Those are your dreams, right?”
They WERE my dreams but not anymore. And the person who needs to feel comfortable the most about that is ME. As doubts crept in to compel me to question the turns I took in my life, I had to recover rather quickly from the potential of my questioning any previous decisions I made about my life. The one hard truth about this is the older you are, the more challenging it is to overcome the doubts that periodically seep through your mind. The clock was ticking. Now, it stopped ticking because time has given up on nagging you to do the things that you were supposed to have done years ago. You then wonder if the clock stopped only because the time is up.
But let me tell you what my dreams are: I want to trek up mountains and live near one. I wish to dedicate time to focus on my social enterprise and non-profit organization that market adventure travel and treks as a way to help locals in mountain regions to earn an income. This means leaving my legal career in the next couple of years and moving to a suitable location overseas that will allow me to expand my trekking/adventure travel enterprise. I don’t plan on getting married but I intend to share my life experiences with a partner that complements my goals in a committed relationship. But if there’s no partner, then I’m fine with that too. I intend to maintain my child-free status because I am choosing a life that is filled with more freedom than normal, which entails extensive traveling and trekking in remote mountain regions globally to promote lesser known trails.
Here are 7 ways to help you continue on with achieving your dreams, and not those of others:
1. Write down your goals.
Don’t allow yourself to have your dreams float in your mind indefinitely. Make them more concrete in your life. Writing them is a way to solidify your dreams and gives you a sense that they are now official. It’s a contract you create between your present and future self. Written contracts like this are helpful as a means to remind you of your true desires. The contract serves as your compass to direct you where you wish to be. This is especially important in situations where the meaning or value of your dreams is questioned by others, and yourself. Make sure to keep this contract accessible so you can easily get to it when needed. When I first started out, I confess I was lazy about writing my goals down. But as time passed and the more my desires became overwhelming, I couldn’t help but write them down. The process naturally led me to visualize my goals as if they were already happening. Doing so afforded me more clarity on my goals and how best to achieve them.
2. Take steps towards your dreams, even little ones.
Thoughts require action for them to occur before you so take steps towards them. It doesn’t matter if they’re small or large. Eventually, small steps add up so you don’t always need to act on your dreams in an extravagant fashion. In my case, my steps started out small in the way of spending more time in the mountains hiking or backpacking. Soon after, I started organizing hikes and backpacking trips locally which led to my organizing major treks overseas. These steps have now culminated in launching a non-profit and a social enterprise which formalize my passion by making that shift from a mere hobby to a lifetime goal. As an added bonus, the more steps you take towards your dreams, the easier it is to dismiss the idea of comparing your dreams with others. When I found out my colleague got promoted, my sentiment was as follows: “She is going to be a judge? I’m happy for her. I’m on my way towards my dreams too so I’m happy for both of us.”
3. Appreciate your efforts frequently.
It requires focus, time and effort to achieve any kind of goal in life, even more so when it requires a major shift in life. Early on, it is crucial that you learn to be your own cheerleader. Give yourself the praise you deserve along the way and practice positive thinking on days when you come across dead ends. I know that quitting my legal practice is not an easy decision to make but when my passion for mountain trekking became more apparent overtime and the more I invested in it, the notion of leaving the practice started to feel natural. Appreciating the work you’re putting into your dreams creates ownership of your own goals and thus enhances the value that your goals hold in your life, so much so, that even when the major shift happens, you’ll be more ready than you initially anticipated because your mind and spirit are already invested in the fulfillment of your dreams.
4. Enjoy the process.
Dreams are made through the process of creating. The process of getting to your truest desire shouldn’t feel like work. It should feel like a burning passion. Love. Not obligation. Joy rather than stress. If, for some reason, it is becoming more of a burden to work towards your goals, then don’t be afraid to re-assess to see if your dreams still serve your best interests or whether a new path should be taken. Be authentic with your dreams. Otherwise, you will be fooling nobody, but yourself.
5. Surround yourself with inspiration and positive energy.
Read inspirational books, journals, articles, quotes or whatever else that will add some positive energy to your day. Meet others who enjoy creating and making their goals come to life. At the same time, it makes sense to keep distance from those who don’t appreciate your dreams or are critical of them. It’s perfectly fine to cut the ties with those who constantly degrade your goals and discourage you. Negativity is the quickest way to kill your dreams so do not compromise what you desire the most in order to maintain certain relationships that no longer serve you in a positive way. I obviously don’t spend much time with lawyers in my profession outside of work because their dreams are completely different from mine. My circle of friends includes mostly those from the travel and hiking worlds who constantly provide me with inspiration and drive. They are perfect in terms of company as oftentimes our views about life are in alignment. Acceptance of each other’s quirks is the norm, not the exception. Without them, my path would be a much harder trail to walk on.
6. Trust the process.
Life will give you what you desire. Believing is the first step. My two enterprises will only thrive if I believe in my product and the value that it gives to others. I also believe that my enterprises will pave the way for me to achieve more freedom that I hardly have as a practicing attorney. I further believe that this freedom is the key to sustaining my chosen level of happiness in my life. Before you dive into turning your dreams into reality, you must first be invested in them fully. Have a belief system that will hold your goals solidly in place when moments of doubts arise.
7. Embrace your weirdness.
I won’t lie and tell you that I didn’t feel like a weirdo when I received the good news about my co-worker. Doubting one’s dreams can easily lead to self-judgment. Hence, this is why it’s important to embrace your weirdness. Love the fact that you have an unconventional set of dreams. While society tells you to BE THIS, you do THAT. And that’s perfectly fine because that’s who you are. The more you practice appreciating and loving your weird self, the less people’s comparisons matter. In fact, you’ll soon realize you’re too busy loving yourself, your dreams, and others who love you to even bother with the haters and critics. Luckily, in the world of mountain trekking, there is a higher level of open-mindedness in which I can flourish as my true self who aspire to live a nomadic mountain life. Having such a support system is highly significant as they not only provide you with the inspiration you need, but also serves as a major source for networking when it comes to mountain trekking.
There you have it. For better or worse, stay committed to your dreams that society normally views as odd, unusual, out of the norm or unconventional. It’s tough at times, I know. But that’s exactly why unconventional dreams are more special. Next time you don’t go for that career advancement that everyone in the office wants, just smile and say, “It’s not for me” and be the first person to believe it. Then, back in your office, you can tell yourself quietly, “Sure, she can be the judge, and I can be the mountain nomad.”