In one of my favorite movies, Finding Nemo, there is a scene where Marlin, Nemo's father, is starting to give up hope of finding his son and feels like he has failed him. He shares his concern with Dory, his best friend, and it goes something like this:
Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.
Isn’t it true that we often treat ourselves and our dreams like an overprotective parent, like Marlin was treating Nemo?
Think about all of the fantasies we have about our glorious, amazing, successful lives! These are the dreams of doing something unbelievably fulfilling, you’ll be your best self, and are capable of greatness.
When our fantasies are so enticing and incredible, why do we do absolutely nothing to move towards them?
I have fantasies that pop up regularly, like writing a book that becomes a NY Times bestseller. Or the one about giving a Ted talk that will blow people’s minds. I also have a really awesome outfit on while giving that Ted talk (um, of course!). I will also travel the globe sharing my message on how to unleash magic and aliveness in one’s career. I can picture it all so clearly. It’s going to be amazing…some day.
While that fantasy of giving a Ted talk is still a mile away, I did take a step closer by giving my first keynote speech to a room of 100+ mid-career professionals a few weeks ago. I had been asked to give the keynote the previous year but had passed on the opportunity out of sheer terror. Ultimately I sabotaged my own success. Luckily, the event organizer asked me again this year and there was no way I was going to pass a second time. Was I still terrified? Absolutely.
In doing research for my keynote, titled “Claiming Your Dream Job…Courageously”, I stumbled onto a fascinating concept called Fantasy Procrastination* and suddenly it all made sense to me.
The theory is that we are prone to fantasize about something we want to obtain, whether an accomplishment, dream job, lifestyle, or experience. Then, we imagine our own fantasy and get to choose exactly how it will go. We overcome all obstacles. We are impressive, happy, and stress free. We are simply amazing!
Unfortunately, our own expectations are so high and the fantasy so amazing that we don’t know where to start, so we procrastinate and do nothing. In our imagination, we know what to do and the actions to take but in reality, it seems like a lot of effort, so we continue to postpone. That fantasy remains a distant, unobtainable goal.
What if all it took was 4 simple steps?
1. Do something. Take one step.
Find the most pressing thing you need to do and start there. It doesn’t have to be a big thing either. Then, notice what happens, pay attention to the shift that occurs, and take whatever next step feels right after that. Imagine if you need to climb a staircase. You don’t leap from the first floor to the second in one single bound. You just take one step up a time. You might even take two at a time but it would be steady progress upward, not a quantum leap.
2. Embrace the messiness
Needing to have a clear roadmap will keep you stuck exactly where you are right now. It doesn’t allow for the unexpected twists and turns which are so crucial for helping you figure out where to go next. A well-designed step-by-step plan is what we tell ourselves we need and it’s a total lie. It leads to fear and resistance. Think about how chefs create new dishes. They experiment, try something interesting and unexpected, and see what happens. It may result in a few disastrous dishes before stumbling onto something truly delicious.
3. Let go of the outcome
Follow the path that opens up in front of you. Accept that it may turn out differently than you expected. Being married to the outcome and needing it to turn out exactly how you pictured it will get in the way of magic happening. Focus on the intention rather than having to get it right.
4. Strike while the iron is hot
Often times, we pass up opportunities that are right in front of us because we think we’re not ready…like the keynote invitation I received last year. The truth is, you will never feel ready. The key is to start and figure it out as you go. Think of it as playing a game of Hide and Seek - ready or not, here I come! Now, repeat steps 1-3.
When you let go out needing to have a linear path, get it right, and obtain a perfect outcome, you allow yourself to move forward and create something amazing. You will enjoy the ride that moves you towards fulfilling your fantasy. The fantasy may even morph and change as you go but who cares? The end goal is actually not the best part; it’s what happens along the way that is exhilarating, motivating, and full of magic.
You will end up achieving astonishing things and surprise yourself in just how truly awesome you really are (just like Nemo). Wouldn’t that be a hell of a lot better than continuing to dream but do nothing?
I took my first step by saying yes to giving a keynote. It may not be a Ted talk (yet!) but it’s one step closer. When I really think about it, my first step was in giving a talk to a small audience of 10 people a year ago. And then I gave another one and another one, until I built up to a keynote. It’s all about forward progress..and letting something happen.
What will you do tomorrow? In the comments, I’d love to hear about one of your dreams and the one step you can take to inch you forward a little bit closer. Make it an easy first step. What will it be?
* Psychology Today: How to Change Fantasy Procrastination into Productive Action, March 31, 2013