“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” – Steven Pressfield
Many of us live lives that don’t feel authentic. We have ambitions but instead of pursuing them we instead take safe but unfulfilling jobs to pay the bills. The problem is, the longer we stay in these jobs the harder it seems to follow our dreams and ambitions.
This is especially the case if you come home at the end of each working day frustrated and demoralized, and often too tired to think about your dream life let alone do something about it.
You wind up feeling trapped, feeling your life is passing you by, which can make you feel even more hopeless and even depressed. It can become a vicious cycle.
We all deserve to live a life that is meaningful and rewarding to us, but all too often we try to kid ourselves that our dreams and ambitions are unrealistic, too big, too difficult.
The fact is we allow certain things to stop us from pursuing our ideal life.
We sabotage ourselves by letting these six situations in particular block our path to fulfillment:
Working towards and fulfilling a dream can bring many changes, and who is to say that they’ll all be good experiences? Change can be scary. Change can be challenging.
It can seem that the easier option is to stay in our unfulfilling job and within our comfort zone, to play it safe and not risk facing scary situations, failure or mistakes. The fear of failure is certainly a huge obstacle for many of us.
Yet there is another type of fear: the fear of regrets, including the regret that we never even tried.
A life half-lived, where ambitions are given up because of an emotion – fear – is surely what we should be most scared of. None of us deserves to live a life weighed down with regrets and disappointment, to have lived a life that did not reach its full potential.
A fear of success can be just as big as a fear of failure, causing us to wonder whether we could cope with the responsibilities that often accompany successful outcomes. These fears can stop us from even trying.
When we fear something, we are really reacting to our fear of the unknown and our perceived sense of inadequacy and lack of control. We’re fearful because there are no guarantees; there is no crystal ball predicting the outcome for us.
It’s completely natural to feel fear when we move out of our comfort zone and dare to initiate change and move forward. It’s a normal response. What matters is how we handle our fear.
Many people feel they have to get rid of their fear in order to pursue their goals. They tell themselves, “I’ll take that course when I feel less scared” or “I’ll contact that company when I feel more confident.”
They keep pushing their plans far into the distant future because they feel frightened.
Yet it’s often the case that the fear never really goes away, because further changes and challenges arise, which cause more feelings of fear. We simply have to carry on regardless of feeling scared.
Decide instead to treat your fear as a normal part of your journey rather than an obstacle that stops you in my tracks. Keep moving forwards despite feeling fearful.
2. Unsupportive people
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child.
Having supportive people, role models and mentors around us is such a blessing, but the reality is that very few of us have been nurtured and guided when growing up to follow our dreams.
Families and friends play a huge role in our lives and can be very influential with regards to our ambitions. They may love us and want us to be happy, but they do not always understand or believe in our dreams. Some may even actively oppose our ambitions and their reaction is often based on their lack of understanding and their own fears.
It is important to accept that those closest to us are not always best placed to support us in our ambitions. We must accept that they might not like our choices or decisions, and that’s OK; their opinions are their business.
Instead, we need to seek out other connections and forms of support and encouragement. And it may also be best to not share our ambitions with certain people close to us if they are unsupportive or deliberately stand in our way.
We need to recognize that their opposition is very likely due to their own issues and not our abilities. They might be afraid, for example, that our ambitions will bring unwanted changes, that there will be losses rather than benefits. They might feel regret about not pursuing their own dreams, and for that reason they mistakenly think that anyone who pursues their ambitions is selfish.
If we are sensitive and reassuring, we can very likely gain their understanding, and ultimately their support. And you might even inspire them to do the same as you and follow their dreams.
But if your loved ones remain unsupportive, you have to accept that they cannot be a part of your journey to fulfilling our ambitions.
3. Lack of confidence
Very few of us are brought up to be self-confident. It’s often the case that we doubt our capabilities and ourselves. We simply don’t feel we are good enough or deserve to fulfill our dreams.
A lack of confidence can cast a shadow over our whole life. It can play a huge role in directing our decisions and actions, or the lack of them.
Low confidence can also make us vulnerable to other people’s opinions. We can be led to believe that our ambitions are ridiculous, too big or unreachable. A lack of confidence can make us think others’ opinions are more important than our own.
When we doubt our ability to fulfill our dreams we either don’t even attempt to pursue our goal, or we delay our progress due to preparation paralysis, believing everything must be perfect before we start. We feel compelled to do our best at all times, not realizing that simply doing something, no matter how small, which moves us towards fulfilling our ambitions, is better than excessive preparation and no real action.
The fact is your confidence and self-esteem will grow whenever you do things that help you to progress your ambitions. The more action you take, the more in control you’ll feel.
There is power in action. As is the case with fear, if we don’t allow our feelings of low confidence to deter us, we will find that we can achieve far more than we thought possible – and increase our confidence in the process.
4. Faulty self-perception
This is closely linked to a lack of self-confidence but it’s also related to the labels and definitions that are placed upon us from a young age.
Perhaps you were told as a child that you were troublesome, stupid, difficult, and would never amount to anything.
Perhaps you didn’t do well at school and your lack of academic qualifications has made you see yourself as failure.
Your social position can also play a big role. If you come from a humble background, you might view yourself as being “too big for your boots” if you dare to work towards a certain ambition, especially if those close to you reaffirm this false belief.
The language we use and the thoughts we have about ourselves are very powerful. If we continually criticize, judge and put ourselves down because of previous labels and see ourselves as inferior in any way, we’ll act accordingly.
Other people’s views of our personality can also greatly influence how we see ourselves. You may have been labeled as too quiet, too shy, too loud, too talkative, or too opinionated.
Introverts are often told to talk more, come out of their shells, and are made to feel their quietness and reserve are defects that need to be fixed. In a world where loud self-promotion is often viewed as a prerequisite to success, introversion can be seen as an obstacle.
Yet we should all embrace our personalities and who we are. When we don’t honor our innate self, such as our introversion, we do ourselves a great disservice. We should instead celebrate our uniqueness rather than think we can only achieve success by pretending to be something we are not.
When we follow our ambitions and dreams we must remain true to ourselves and understand that we are all unique individuals; labels simply do not do us justice.
Our time and attention are precious, yet we often waste them shamelessly, believing we can always “save” time when we need to.
We mistakenly believe that we can always find the time in the future to start pursuing our dreams. Next week, next month, we tell ourselves, next year.
Yet all the while we delay our plans, we feel a deepening sense of regret, fear and unease. This is because we know that our time is finite – we just don’t like to think about it too much.
Sometimes our dreams feel so big that they can overwhelm us. When we try to achieve too much too soon, instead of taking baby steps, we often set ourselves up for failure, and risk giving up our ambitions for good.
Cracking the problem of procrastination is always about small, consistent actions that move you closer to what you want to achieve. It’s about small steps, not giant leaps.
6. Lack of a plan
As mentioned before, there is power in action. Your dreams are too important to leave to chance, which is why you need a plan that gives structure to the actions you need to take in order to fulfill your ambitions. A plan sharpens your focus.
It is crucial to write down your plan as it fixes your intention in your mind and seeing it in black and white makes it real.
Without a proper plan to guide you, your dreams can feel like an unattainable goal reserved for only your imagination rather than something you can tangibly grasp.
An ambition that is broken down into small parts is much easier to achieve. Your plan should also include any training or research you might need to do. Get professional advice if necessary or find a mentor who can guide and support you. They were no doubt once in your position and understand how it feels.
It is important, however, not to prepare too much before you start putting your plans into action – preparation paralysis is a form of procrastination.
Slowly but surely you’ll reach your smaller goals and continue to progress towards your big dream. Don’t worry too much about how long it takes you and don’t try to rush things.
It’s often the case that we get more done when we slow down and really think about and focus on our tasks. Confucius once said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
You deserve to fulfill your dreams and ambitions
By far the biggest fear we should have with regard to our ambitions is regret: regret that we did not even try to follow our dreams, that we allowed surmountable obstacles to stop us.
You deserve to live a fulfilling life, no matter where you come from, your background, and your personality, past labels or other people’s opinions.
There is undoubtedly uncertainty when we embark on the journey of fulfilling our dreams and ambitions. We face many changes and challenges along the way, as well as a mixture of success and failure, but that’s life.
Not taking action is far more risky. At the end of your life, you don’t want to look back on your time on earth and know it was full of regrets and discarded dreams.
Don’t deprive yourself or other people of your valuable gifts – go out and pursue your ambitions and help to create a better life for yourself, and for others too.
KJ Hutchings is a fiction and self-help writer and artist. Much of her work focuses on self-empowerment, self-esteem and creativity, as well as relationship issues. Visit her site kjhutchings.com for free e-books and chances to win original paintings. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Joe Valve.