Why Most People Never Achieve Their Dreams
Last weekend, I did something I rarely do – watched a reality TV show. It happened to be The Voice, and there was a contestant named Michelle who sang backup vocals for years, never daring to step into the center spot. It reminded me of someone I know…
Listening to her backstory made me think of all those times when I lacked the confidence – or maybe it was the faith – to put myself forward. All those times when I held back, thinking I wasn’t good enough. Asking myself, “who am I to do XYZ?”
How about you? Have there been times when you've held yourself back? When you’ve shrunk away from playing bigger?
If the answer is “yes”, then join the club. It just shows you’re human. But the trick is to not let yourself stay in that zone of “hiding your light under a bushel”.
From personal experience, I can tell you that those acts of omission – those times when I didn’t speak up or ask or step forward – kept me from advancing as quickly as some of my peers. Even worse, it chipped away at my confidence and made me hate myself for letting down the side.
When You Put Yourself Forward
On the other hand, when you dare to put yourself forward, you give yourself a huge boost. It’s the opportunity to make a major leap forward. And to enjoy the feeling of confidence that you've taken an action and done your best.
In Michelle’s case, putting herself forward had a positive outcome that night. She gave an awesome performance and as the Brits say, “she smashed it!” Whatever happens on the rest of the series, the world now knows that she can take center stage and rock it.
Who could blame her for grinning in the post-performance interview when the host said, “and now you’ve got your own backup singers”.
By stepping up, all kinds of doors are opening to her. Music mogul will.i.am is now her coach and sponsor. The nation has seen her perform like a rock star. She has attracted fans around the world and a community of support. Most of all, she has gained tons of confidence.
When you put yourself forward, you open the door to a myriad of opportunities, and ones you never even imagined start presenting themselves. Even if things don’t go quite as planned, you’ll have learned so much and you’ll be even more prepared for the next time.
How Long Will You Wait?
So let’s come back to you. How long will you wait before you get up the courage to step up and step forward into your rightful future?
And what exactly are you waiting for? Is it the right time, a better time, the optimal time rather than the time at hand?
Playing the waiting game is just one of the ways you can be your own worst enemy. For most of us who wait, it’s also that we’re too humble, too modest and frankly too scared to put ourselves out there. But when you hold back from shining your light, it's the equivalent of scoring an “own goal”.
Isn’t it time you stopped waiting and stopped hiding your light?
Things to Stop Waiting For
Having spent a lot of my life being fearful and thinking, “it’s not the right time”, I want to share with you some of the most common things I’ve waited for and regretted… and some questions to help you move beyond the waiting game and start taking action.
Waiting… to be good enough
If you’re an achiever, your natural instinct will be to make sure you’re 120% ready before you embark on anything. Whatever you do needs to be at least “good enough” and it might even have to be perfect. I had this kind of waiting going on too.
This is where it helps to ask yourself these questions:
- What does “good enough” look like? Is it a moving (and therefore unattainable) target?
- Am I already beyond “good enough” but unwilling to admit it?
- What would I learn from getting a prototype or pilot program going to help me make the actual debut or launch more successful?
Sometimes you just need to press “send” and get your germ of an idea, project or initiative out into the world where it can breathe, grow and take hold. So go ahead and start!
Waiting… for when you have more time
When you’re a busy achiever, you’ll never have enough time. Or, as my father said to me when I was 15 and lamenting the full schedule that was keeping me from practicing as much as I needed to become a concert pianist, “May, you'll never have more time than you do right now”. Yep, I was a master “wait for it” type from a young age.
Well, here’s a news flash. My father was right!
There’s no point in waiting for that moment when you have more time. Instead, it’s more about consciously choosing your priorities. That was the moment I started practicing 4 hours a day, every day… until I discovered I wasn’t good enough to be another Arthur Rubenstein and stopped playing for 20 years. But that’s another story.
To help you if you’re waiting for more time, here are a few questions to ask:
- Am I spending time on the things that matter?
- Are the things I’m doing getting me where I want to go?
- What do I want to stop doing, start doing, keep doing?
Waiting… for someone (or something) else to change
It’s easy to pin our waiting on others or an external situation. Like waiting for your boss to become a great manager who knows just how to motivate you, or waiting to be invited to serve on a committee, or waiting for it to stop raining to go for a run?
But you can’t control what other people do or say (believe me, I’ve tried!), and you certainly can’t control the weather. So you could be waiting for a long time – maybe even forever. And I’m pretty sure “forever” is longer than you want things to take.
Once you’ve done your level best to influence the situation, there comes a time when you need to take the actions that are in your control because you just can’t wait anymore. Since it’s not always easy to know when that time has come, here are a few questions to help you decide.
- What assumptions am I making about the situation? Are they true?
- What more can I do to change things?
- What is the true cost or consequence of leaving things as they are?
- What is the smallest step I could take to explore my other options?
Waiting… for permission
For those of us who are particularly well trained from childhood – think of the person who raises their hand before speaking in a meeting, or sits on the sidelines until invited to take a seat at the conference table – it can be a challenge to jump into a conversation, much less take an action to pursue our dreams.
So if you’re one of those people waiting for permission, ask yourself the following:
- Whose permission am I waiting for? Why do I need it?
- How many people need to say “go for it” before I feel I have permission?
- What am I waiting for permission to do?
- Is it permission to start doing something or stop doing something?
Before I embarked on becoming an author, speaker and executive coach, I met with a woman who had written a book similar to the one I wanted to write – only she had done it 30 years prior and was now 85 years old. I wanted to learn from her wisdom and perspective.
Over lunch, we chatted about my 24-year corporate career and how I now wanted to share what I had learned to help others, write a book and maybe even have my own TV show.
Toward the end of our lunch, she suddenly turned to me and said, “Now I know why you’ve come to see me. You want permission to do this, to be a thought leader in this new area.”
And then she looked me right in the eye and said, “May, you have permission to go for it. All of it.”
Since that day, I have taken her advice and not looked back. Now I’m paying it forward to you:
You now have permission to go for it too. All of it.
And to help you in this journey, remember to think about the rest of your life. Focus on the future.
And drop the heavy load of fear and worry. Leave it behind.
And remember, the world keeps changing. That means sometimes, the riskiest thing is to do nothing.
What Will You Do?
Now, it’s over to you.
What’s holding you back from pursuing your dreams? And what will it take for you to stop waiting and step forward?
Leave a comment and let me know.
Thank you for the great information. I do fall into the category of waiting for the right time. I need to change this behavior and work on stepping out. I have appreciated all of your posts!
You’re welcome, Frank. I’m proud of you for recognizing what you need to do. I look forward to hearing about your next action step – it doesn’t need to be major. Just begin. I’m rooting for you!
I always enjoy your articles. It’d be great if there was an option to share them on Facebook or LinkedIn?
Hi Margaret – thanks so much for your kind words! We’ll be adding back the share buttons soon (there were some gremlins in the system) to make it easy for you to spread the word.
Thank you for the Wake up call.
You are welcome, Chadi. Love your “wake up call” reference – lean into it and take action. I’m rooting for you!
You are so right, May (as usual)! Ironic how we Americans can’t wait to buy the latest gadget, but are happy to put our dreams on hold!
Ha! I love it, Kathryn – you are so right too! If only we could buy our “dreams come true” potion with our tech gadgets and lattes…
I have personally always put myself out there and tried to do everything I possibly could about 900 different ways to accomplish my dreams. The truth is about 99 percent of my dreams I failed at. Over and over I fell short, things that work for everyone else did not work for me. I tried it all, putting action to everything and hard work. Sticking my neck out and taking risks. I sacrificed and kept at it for many years and hardly anything came of any of it. And if I failed at one thing I came up with a new dream and something else to try. Failing over and over and if it didn’t work one way I would try it a different way only to get the same results. From the law of attraction to trying every trick in the book nothing works for me. I feel there is more to life than what meets the eye. Some call it luck others call it fate or God’s plan but something else is at work in this world that decides things. It can make or break you but you can hope it spares you. And in the end leaves you with some dignity and self-worth.
I agree with this. I also realised that it’s not upto us.