Two years ago, I left my 12-year career at Google as a single mom with young kids and no financial support to become a solopreneur in a completely different industry. It was a huge risk and came with a lot of fear, but I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been. I speak to working women all the time who yearn for more fulfillment, freedom and impact, but they feel lost about how to create it in their lives. I get it. For a long time before making the leap, I knew I wanted something more. But I had no idea what it was or how to find it. I know now what keeps us from making the changes we long for is that we’ve forgotten how to plan and imagine our dream life.
Here are a few pitfalls I see regularly, and practical ways to shift.
Rather than dream, we have nightmares
You know how this goes, right? As soon as some inspired idea comes into our heads, we shut it down immediately. We think, “who am I to…?” We come up with a laundry list of everything that could go wrong.
For years, I had this vision of myself teaching from a stage, but my next thought was, “I could never do that. What if I fail and lose my house and end up living under a bridge?” Whenever high performers tell me about what holds them back, it nearly always involves the conclusion that they will fail and lose everything.
Try this instead:
Objectively evaluate the (un)likelihood of your nightmare scenario.
Our brains are hard-wired to keep us safe. One of the ways it does that is by focusing on the worst-case scenario. But just because you’re thinking it, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. When you notice it, name it. I also suggest writing down the entire thought. Often, we don’t even realize how unlikely these scenarios are until we look at them on paper. That way, we can see that there are many steps between taking a risk and losing everything.
We plan and then dream
Once we know we’re ready for a change, we typically look around at the opportunities we can see in front of us and ask ourselves which feels like the least compromise for what we want. I call this planning and then dreaming. It means our lives can only change incrementally instead of exponentially.
This is very tempting because it feels safe. Even though I knew what I wanted, I was terrified to leave my comfort zone behind. I spent over a year trying to fit myself and my dreams inside of job opportunities within corporate, hoping one was at least a little closer to what I truly desired.
Try this instead:
Dream, then plan.
If we want lives that look and feel dramatically different, we need the courage to dream first and then plan. The first step is to create a clearing – white space in your day and mind – to get in touch with what you truly want. This can be uncomfortable when the answers don’t arrive immediately. We wonder if we’re doing it wrong, or why it’s so hard to know what we want. Trust that answers will come.
The more you allow your dreams to grow and bloom, the bigger they get. Because of how our brains work, this process trains your brain to look for different evidence: the more you dream, the more ways you will discover to bring that dream to life.
Aim high and pursue your dream life
Following these steps helped me see that new opportunities were possible if I was willing to dream big and trust myself to go after them. As actor, director and activist Christopher Reeve reminds us, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” After a while, my dreams became bigger than my fear. I knew it was time to leave Google and go out on my own. Don’t rush the process but start now. Your dreams – and your dream life – are waiting.
About Erika Gerdes
Erika Gerdes is a leadership advisor, speaker and author. She empowers high achievers to undo their limiting beliefs and embrace the philosophy of “full range living” to create lives with more significance, impact and joy. She is a former Google global business executive currently working as a certified leadership coach and international speaker. Gerdes holds a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Learn more at erikagerdes.com.