Find Your True North, Dream Big and Plan Carefully
Inmy coaching practice, where I was coaching middle management and creative people there was a warm-up question to get to know each other:
If nothing was holding you back, what would you do?
I heard only too many times from too many people that they wanted to live on a beach doing nothing, or working from a beach, with a laptop, watching the waves, feeling the breeze.
It does sound lovely, doesn’t it?
When we went forward from this and I asked why is it a beach, why not a mountain cottage or a luxury loft apartment in the city, and then what would they be doing on the beach that would make them happier than they are now in their current setups, what would their work be, how would they make a living — the answers began to dry out.
Well, I’m not sure, I would be doing something.
Well, it could be a mountain cottage too.
Well, I guess I wouldn’t need to worry about the money, it’s a dream, right?
The problem here that many people don’t have goals or dreams to do something. They have only the wish to get away from a certain situation they don’t like, without the idea of what could replace this current situation. Sitting on a beach is not even a dream, it’s a snapshot from a travel guide. It’s a wish to get away from reality, an escape from the day job, from life, from conflicts and people. It’s not a dreamlife, it’s a dream of a holiday.
If you want to create a life that is really worth living — on your terms, — you need more than a snapshot of a dream or a travel catalog, you need to have an elaborate and detailed dream in which you need to find your True North, and you need to have a plan that you can carry out step by step.
Dreaming big is crucial
I would encourage you to dream big! This is critical, and this is one of the best things that human beings can do. We have the mental ability to create worlds just with our imagination, using partly our experiences, other’s experiences, our wishes and dreams.
You need to dream big, and then dream even bigger.
And you need to have a really detailed dream. You can spend hours and weeks crafting the perfect dream of your perfect life — and still, you cannot overdo it. They say that everything you can dream, you can do. I believe in this.
Because imagining a snapshot on the beach — anyone can do that. But building the whole story and life around that snapshot, that already requires persistence and grit. If you don’t have the grit to make up a dream, how would you be able to make it into existence?
Let’s visualize. Come with me, let me take you to the beach!
Why the beach? Why would a beach be better than any other place? Just because it’s fancy and cool? Or does it have a special attraction for you that, say, would make you more prolific, more inspired, more focused? Would you spend 2 hours on the beach or 8? Would you go there also if it was raining or during the wintertime? Would you move to a city where there is the sea or the ocean just to be by the sea 2 hours a day only in the summertime? Would it be worth it for you?
What does work mean to you? Is your work something that could be done remotely? Can you imagine that your current job would allow you to do it? If not, could you imagine working towards a job that would allow you? How much you value financial stability to freedom? How many hours of work do you think you would need to be working remotely from a beach in your specific area to provide yourself with a living that you wish for.
Do you believe that you will make enough money from that work? Or do you believe that you have every chance to win the lottery? Or are you about to inherit some money that will make you free from worries for a long time?
And most importantly: how would your life become better if you worked and lived on a beach? Would it contribute to your well-being? Would you be happier? Would you feel more motivated? More relaxed? More valuable?
Dream a dream that answers the nasty questions, get to the answers, and dream it big. It doesn’t need to be realistic, but it needs to be believable for you. If you don’t think you could ever move overseas, then choose a different setup. If you think cannot even dream to leave behind your 9–5 job, then dream something within the realms of your own realistic imagination.
Make it colourful in your head, fill it with details, dream up your daily routine, imagine the people you would be interacting. Imagine even the conflicts and problems to make it more believable. Imagine it as detailed as possible, and when you are already there pay attention to how it makes you feel. Notice how this dream helps you grow, how it makes you become the person you want to become, how it brings you closer to your True North.
Finding your True North to guide you
When you dream big, you are creating a mental image in your mind, that allows you to imagine a life that you can create for yourself. It is a possibility, it is a pathway. When we start to dream big, lots of people get discouraged, thinking that if they start to work for a dream and they make sacrifices and huge changes then it has to be for life. A dream is a possibility, it’s not a life sentence. You are allowed to change your mind and even make a U-turn — if the dream that you made up doesn’t fit your expectations. It can happen that only when you start something will you see that this is not bringing you closer to your True North.
True North is the ultimate direction of your life, the guiding star that lights your way at times when you feel that you are lost, something that you can always hold onto. Think about it really as a star, something that is bright enough for you to see it whenever you look up, something more abstract than some tangible reality, something bigger than a mundane wish. It is about how you want to live your life, how you want to spend your time, how much you would like to work, how do you envisage your days, how active you are, what attitudes you have. It’s about your general attitude towards life, love, work, connections.
Your True North is your guiding star — you might not always have it visibly in front of you, but you know it is there. It is guiding all of your decisions, it is helping you to decide whenever the going gets tough. There is only one question to answer: is this getting me closer to where I want to be? If the answer is yes, then go that way. If you find your True North in your dream, then it’s almost time to plan! But first…
Starting to believe in yourself
This is the most commonplace advice you can ever hear. Believe in yourself. I heard it a thousand times. You did too, right? Google it, and it will bring you a number of results so overwhelmingly high that you’ll have no idea where to start.
Confidence is really critical — both as a mindset and as a starting point. You need to believe in your dream to a certain extent. You need to believe that even if it looks very far, it is possible.
Our biggest mistake usually lies in the fact that we cannot even dream, because our inner critique, our rational mind and our inhibitions stop us from pursuing a dream in the first place.
Confidence starts when you realise that every road begins with one single step and you decide to take that step, no matter how long it takes and how hard it looks. Believing that you are capable of doing it, that your dream is within reach is necessary for the planning.
Planning with the devil in the details
While having your True North is the best thing that can happen to you, that defines you and helps you decide, dreaming is showing how creative you can be, how much you let your mind wander, planning is a tough job.
This is where usually people give up. Do you know how many people want to work on the beach? Well, I don’t know the exact number, but if you ask around, how many would say they don’t want? And how many do you know who actually does it? Lots are lost already in the dream phase — they have this image, but it’s nothing more than a snapshot.
And when it comes to the hard work of planning, people retract and they go back to their day jobs. Change is difficult, and it requires a lot of persistence and hard work.
Change is tedious and uncertain and uncomfortable. It is worth it, only if you really want it. The planning phase is the longest of it all because it actually never ends and it’s very hard to start and keep up with.
This is where you need to ask yourself all the questions, the why, the what, the when, the how. This is where you need to figure out the steps, list your resources, overcome your fears and celebrate your victories.
And while the planning phase is worth a thousand pages and quite a few coaching sessions, let me give you a taste of points to consider to plan effectively.
- Why are you doing it? What is your main reason? And what is the reason that is behind that reason? See, understanding your core motivation is crucial. Wanting to work on a beach could be rooted from different core motivations: it can be freedom, it can be wanting to change the scenery to get away from trauma, it can be an expression of your freedom, it can be challenging yourself and meeting your ambitious self, it can be to pursue some passion that is ignited near the water — tons of things.
- What is your deadline? For every goal that is not a dream anymore, you need a deadline. You need to set the desired deadline and some key milestones. Both to have a reference system and to keep yourself accountable and also to motivate yourself. A goal without a deadline is but a dream. You need to have a timeline. You can adjust it, but to move forward with it, you need to start with an initial expectation.
- What is holding you back? List your fears, frustrations and worries. All your dysfunctional beliefs that you carry with you. List everything that hinders you — and let’s get rid of every one of them.
- What and who is helping you? What are the skills you have, the resources you have, the connections you have that can help you in achieving your goal?
- How can you turn your frustrations and fears into something positive? How can they become a helping factor instead of something that holds you back?
- What is it that needs to be done? List everything, every aspect, every difficulty that you will likely come across. Categorise them, simplify them, break them down into chunks of tasks. Try to put them in order, put them on a timeline. Colour code them from easy to difficult or from ‘can be done alone’ to ‘needs help’.
- How will you do it? What is the first thing that would move you towards your goal? The first step should be a small one. And then what’s the next? And the next? The point is to break down a huge plan to such small fragments that don’t scare you anymore and that feel doable.
- How will you celebrate reaching the milestones? This is more important than it seems! Us, human beings are in some way like puppies. We need rewards to keep going, we need the motivation to move one step further, we need a pat on the back, even if it’s a tiny accomplishment. We need acknowledgement from others. How will you get your fix of gratification? What measure will you take to keep going?
Leap of faith
The scariest part is yet to come. You have dreamt it, aligned it, you mustered up the confidence, you set out a carefully orchestrated plan. Now the only thing to do is to jump into it.
Whatever it might be that you wish to do, if it starts with a dream it will be big enough to scare you. And if so, it requires change. Us, human beings are evolutionarily afraid of change. We don’t like it, we don’t want it, we want to stay safe and that usually means boring and without change.
To grow and accomplish something new you need courage, you need change. It doesn’t matter if for you it means to hand in your resignation, pop the question or move to another country — it is terrifying, as it holds the option of rejection and failure. It really does. But it also holds the opportunity for growth and success and unexpected surprises.
It’s not easy, but good things are almost always risky — it just depends on your attitude towards risk, whether you take it as a challenge to propel yourself forward, or a hurdle that will stop you dead in your tracks.
Define your True North, and make sure it is bright enough for you to guide you. Remind yourself often about it, so that you could have a stable reference point to look for every time.
Dream big — dream colourful. And if you want to turn a dream into a plan, then colour it, detail it, elaborate it. When it’s colourful and elaborate, check it, whether it really is that appealing, whether you want it enough to make it into a goal.
Have confidence that you can do it, that you are worthy of your own dreams and that you — of all people — are capable of it.
When you have your goal, make it tangible with carefully planned steps. Small steps make the best stepping stones. Reward yourself as many times as you can.
In case you are scared you won’t be able to make it on your own, find an accountability partner, or a life coach to keep you on track.
But keep that in mind, when the time comes, despite all the planning and elaborate step-by-step scheme you laid out, you might need to do a leap of faith, jumping off the cliff, hoping to grow wings on the way down.