Two Steps to Living the Life of Your Dreams

Two Steps to Living the Life of Your Dreams

“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” – Wayne Dyer

“How do you do it?” He asked.

I was at a party and this guy had just heard I was a stand-up comedian. Like a lot of people I meet he wanted to know how I’m able to make a living in a notoriously difficult field like stand-up comedy.

A lot of people have a passion – something they’d love to do with their life. They want to be a painter, or a musician, or travel the world. But they put off these dreams because they seem impractical.

When they find out I’m following my passion they want to know my secret. They think I have some magic trick, some incredible piece of wisdom and if they could just find out what it is they’d be able to do whatever they want.

Well, I do.

It’s a simple two-step process that will help you achieve any goal you set your mind to.

Want to become an incredible guitarist? The kind of musician who makes Jimi Hendrix look like a bumbling klutz with your effortless blindfolded solos?

This secret can help you.

What to become a great chef? Whipping up the most technical recipes with ease and creating bold new taste sensations off the top of your head?

This trick can make that possible.

Travel the world, master badminton, learn every programing language, earn a billion dollars – many people in all many fields have used this technique to achieve all kinds of things.

So what is this secret?

I’ll tell you soon, but first I should tell you how I discovered it myself…

I’ve always loved making people laugh.

I started doing stand-up in high school and kept doing it all through university. My grades got worse as my jokes got funnier.

I knew being a comedian was what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately I wasn’t making much money from comedy. What’s worse, I couldn’t see a way to ever make much money from comedy.

A lot of the headliners I was opening for were just scraping by, and even the famous comedians I met weren’t exactly rich.

Reluctantly, I got a “real” job.

Even though it was only an entry level marketing position, it paid way more than what I’d been making from comedy.

I got a new car. Started renting in a nice suburb. I bought everything from a waffle iron to gym membership (which was stupid because the effects of one cancelled the other out).

But despite having all this stuff I wasn’t happy.

Work made me miserable.

I’d sit at my desk counting down the hours until I’d be free. I’d go toilets on the third floor and sleep in one of the cubicles. I’d make coffee after coffee after coffee.

I longed to quit my job and focus on my comedy. But how could I?

Without the job how would I afford petrol for my car? How would I pay rent? How would I buy batter for the waffle iron?

How could I give up a good dependable paycheque for the risky, financially unpredictable life of a comedian?

I put it aside and went back to pushing paper.

Then I went to the show that changed my life.

After work one night I went to a blues bar to see one of my favourite harmonica players (a guy called Chris Wilson). I’m a big fan of his so I was very excited to see his show, and even more excited to get to chat with him afterwards.

Somehow we got onto the topic of making a living from art. I said something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s hard being an artist”.

“No, it’s not.” He said. “What’s hard is slogging away at a job you hate.

Sure, being an artist might never make you rich, you might struggle to survive, you might have to make sacrifices – but if it means you get to go what you love you won’t mind.”

The words hit me like a lightning bolt. He was right.

I was working this job I hated to pay for all these things, but all I really wanted was to be a comedian. If living my dream meant having to give everything else up, I’d gladly do it.

I’d sell my car and catch the bus.

I’d move to a worse house in a cheaper suburb.

I’d give up waffles.

Once I decided there was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make to live my dream the rest became easy. I quit the day job, stopped buying stuff that didn’t really make me happy, and since then I’ve been a stand-up comedian.

So this is the secret that I promised I’d tell you about…

To achieve any goal, to become anything you want to be, there’s a simple two-step process:

  1. Be prepared to do whatever it takes.
  2. Don’t quit.

That’s it.

If you follow these steps you’ll either achieve your goal, or you’ll grow old and die trying (in which case it won’t matter to you anymore).

Now, you might be disappointed to discover that’s my secret. When I tell people that’s how I manage to live my dreams they often are.

What people really want to know is how they can achieve their dreams without any hard work or sacrifice. Unfortunately I don’t know the answer to that question.

All I can do is tell you these two steps…

1. Be prepared to do whatever it takes.

To achieve whatever you want, the first step is to prioritise your goal over everything else.

You want to be a painter but you can’t manage to sell a painting? Stop paying for cable, sell your car and catch the bus, and get used to eating instant ramen at meal time.

You want to be a guitarist but you haven’t practiced enough? Lock yourself in a room and do those scales, wake up earlier every day and practice, and when the blisters on your fingers pop seal them up with super glue and keep playing.

You want to travel the world? Get on the next bus out of town, hitch hike across the country, if airfares are too expensive you can walk or stowaway on a boat.

I’m not saying these things are exactly what you need to do. I’m saying that if you want to achieve your dream you need to be prepared to sacrifice anything else to get it.

People who are great at something (chess, maths, farming pigs, etc.) have usually focused on these things above everything else (friends, money, sleep, sanity, etc.).

People are always saying “I’d love to…but…”

“I’d love to be a dancer, but I need to finish my law degree first.”

“I’d love to go to France, but the flights are too expensive.”

“I’d love to live in a hot air balloon, but my parents wouldn’t approve.”

Realise that anything after the “but” in those sentences are excuses. If there’s something you want, just ignore everything else and go get it.

You probably don’t need everything you think you need.

You’ll be amazed at how much you can live without. You only think you need most of the stuff you own thanks to a combination of advertising and other people’s opinion.

New clothes, a car, television, anything to drink other than water – these things are nice to have but you don’t really need them. If it lets you live the life you want, you won’t mind cutting down to the bare essentials.

No matter how much you give up I doubt you’ll ever be truly poor.

Recently I’ve been working with the charity World Vision and seeing how they help people in developing nations. Once I saw how the poor live in other countries I realised thinking of myself as anything but incredibly lucky is ridiculous.

Once you realise millions of kids die every day from drinking dirty water, living off pot noodles for a few weeks won’t seem so terrible.

I should also point out that the sacrifices might not be as tough as you think.

When I first quit the job I had nightmares about going broke and living off cat food.

But the fact is cat food is delicious. It’s high in Omega-3’s and gives me a nice shiny coat.

Just kidding. I’ve never had to eat cat food.

I have had to make some sacrifices though. I live in a small house. I don’t own a lot of stuff. I got rid of my waffle iron. I don’t miss any of it – that stuff was just obligations holding me back.

Since it means I get to be a comedian, I do not mind giving those things up. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve my dream.

My point is, until you try you have no idea what sort of sacrifices are required, they may not be that bad, and even if they are terrible in this country you’ve got a long way to fall before you’re in any real trouble.

Why not give it a go?

2. Don’t quit

The “don’t quit” part people often misunderstand. They think I mean something like “if you want something hard enough hard enough keep at it and you’ll get it eventually”.

That’s not what I’m saying.

The truth is if you go after your dreams, even if you go after them with everything you’ve got, you might fail.

If you become a writer perhaps no one will read your books.

If you start a band people might not like your music.

If you set out to travel the world you might go broke or get mugged or kidnapped in some strange country.

Before I quit my job I had no idea if I could make a living as a comedian. I wanted someone to give me a guarantee that I’d succeed. Unfortunately, no one could promise me that.

What I realised though was, while there was no guarantee I’d succeed as a comedian, I could guarantee that staying in the job would make me unhappy.

If you want to follow your dreams you’ll probably face a similar choice. You’ll have to decide whether uncertainty with a chance of happiness is better than certainty with guaranteed unhappiness.

I’d suggest you take the chance.

You’ll be happier relentlessly going after what you really want (and perhaps failing), than sticking with security and buying stuff to distract you from your dream.

Go do whatever you want to do. If you’re forced to give up after doing it for a year, then at least you’ll have experienced a year of living your dream. A lot of people don’t even get that.

Also, realise that if you try and fail you can try again. Go back to the drawing board, figure out a new plan and give it another go.

Every failed attempt brings you knowledge that makes you more likely to succeed on the next go. And even if you die before you make it, you’ll be happier trying and failing than sitting round wondering what if.

So that’s all there is to it.

  1. Be prepared to do whatever it takes.
  2. Don’t quit.

In the comments please let me know if you’re leading the life you want to live. If not what you’re doing now, right now, to make it happen?

Photo by Alan Cleaver

Michael Connell

Michael Connell is a stand-up comedian who has never eaten cat food. You can get a free copy of his CD at http://www.michaelconnell.com.au

Latest posts by Michael Connell (see all)

32 Comments

  1. Michael–what a powerful and inspiring post, love it!

    Reply
  2. Love the two steps. If you can’t follow the two steps then what does it say? Probably that you don’t care enough about your dream or that you are too fearful about taking the risk or that you want to stay in your fur-lined rut. Or any other excuse that’ll stop you. The lightening bolt moment of realisation comes only to those who are ready to follow their dream, it’s the final nudge over the edge. For the rest it’s a “wouldn’t it be nice to…” moment.

    Reply
    • Thanks Peter, glad you liked the post.

      I think you’re right – nothing happens unless you get out of your comfort zone!

      Reply
  3. Michael,

    I suppose that in order to be a good comedian, one must first be a good writer (or not), and it shows in your narrative. Thank you for putting in words that an aspiration is a tough road to follow; following social norms seems to be much easier but not fulfilling.

    Thankfully, I am pursuing my dream, but at the expense of my husband. Getting started on this road was also at the expense of my parents who paid for me to finish college the same time I was in high school and with two younger active sisters behind me. While I feel fortunate, I also feel guilty because others have sacrificed or are sacrificing for me so that I can do what I enjoy doing the most.

    You might have a repetoire of jokes for my current endeavor – law school.

    I have done nothing else since I was able to work. I’ve never had the teenage summer job, never had to take what I could get, never really had to deviate from the road I have chosen for myself. Working as a paralegal has put me ahead of the rest of my class in terms of advanced understanding of legal concepts where so many students come into law school not knowing how laws are made. I didn’t grow up a rich kid, and I realize now that my parents had to struggle to pay for my education while managing to pay for the things that my little sisters wanted. With the success I have had, I have been able to pay back my parents, and then some.

    But now I have been thinking that my husband should not also have to sacrifice so that I can get what I want. He works very hard to provide for me so that I want for nothing, but it is apparent that he is not happy with what he is doing.

    I am going to forward this blog post to him and see what he decides to do. He is an amazing guitarist and I found many of his recordings on YouTube from when he played with rock bands in the 70s and 80s. He started at 13 years of age. I don’t know this part of his life since it was before my time with him, but just watching him was amazing and I want so badly for him to find this passion again.

    Thank you for giving me the words to send him.

    And. . . If it comes down to it, thank you for letting us know that cat food might not be that bad.

    Good luck to you.

    Marie

    Reply
    • Hey Marie,

      Ha ha, I’m sure you’ve heard ALL the lawyer jokes by now…

      Hope your husband gets something out of the post and maybe hearing his music someday (if he started playing at 13 he must be pretty good).

      Reply
    • Marie, such insight! There’s a difference between doing what you love 24/7, and doing what you feel you must in order to support the person you love. Related, though. What a great guy your husband sounds.

      I wonder what he said when he read Michael’s post…

      Reply
  4. The best time for this post I could imagine. Thank you for that. I am living ok life but there are few things I miss. The most important are painting and drawing. I gave up this dream of being a professional painter many years ago. I came back to it about a month ago. This time I will not quit :-) Painting and drawing is so much fun and gives me a lot of happiness. No… I won’t quit!

    Reply
    • Keep at it Asia! Sounds like you’re pretty determined!

      Reply
  5. Excellent and inspiring post! I can’t agree with you more. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Cheers,
    Sarah

    Reply
    • Thank YOU for reading! Glad you liked the post.

      Reply
  6. Absolutely Michael – what an inspiring (and funny!) article.

    Everyone is so afraid of everything that they live mediocre lives, and you are so right, that is so much worse than the hardships they may face if they followed their dreams. And you never know, making your dreams come true may be easier than you think!

    Thank you for inspiring us!
    Jess

    Reply
    • Thanks Jess, glad you liked the post. Hope it helps you and other people to fight that fear and do what they love.

      Reply
  7. THANK you for this article! I am an aspiring artist, and I am going thru this exact process right now! But you’r’e right–there will be sacrifices, but it will be worth it. It won’t be easy, but at least you will have the freedom to do what you really want w/ your life.

    Reply
    • Hey Amy,

      Thanks. Hope my post helps you on your journey.

      Reply
  8. Great article! I love stand up comedy…but don’t have any jokes…so I turned to rock singing, then got into raw food, and then decided to combine the two(!) So any combo is possible for creating your own ‘job’ or path, right? That’s what I tell my kids. Sometimes the ideal ‘job’ for us just isn’t in that long list of professions that you’ll find at the career guidance office. It just took me many years to figure that out!

    One thing I do know though…no matter how motivated I am to forge my own path, I couldn’t go the cat food route (insert chuckle here).

    Thanks for the great article!

    Reply
  9. I like the two-step solution, however there is maybe one more step that is missing here:
    0. Find a goal!!!

    Reply
  10. Hey Barbara,

    Raw food rock ‘n’ roll?! I wanna hear your band so bad!

    I think you’re right, so often people say you have to be this or that and try and put you in a box when really we can do anything.

    Hope you keep rocking the raw food!

    Reply
  11. Yes, a large part of success is about setting priorities and not quitting. But I believe it’s also important to find room on the checklist for being kind. There are many people who achieve a goal through intense focus and perseverance, only to realize later that they left a trail of hurt feelings in their wake because they didn’t notice how their actions affected others. Of course, that doesn’t mean one should give up and do nothing because friends or family members might feel neglected; but some amount of balance and reflection is needed.

    Reply
  12. One word – Kids. Your approach works great until someone apart from you has to eat cat food!

    Reply
    • I agree Mia it is hard, and much harder without supprt around you. I do think though that children instinctively understand the two rules and would rather have a happy parent over anything else. I suppose it depends on the age of the child but my 13 year old has been quite accepting of having less and having to budget,in fact he said it was good having me around more!

      Reply
  13. Hi Michael:

    Thank you for your inspiring post. Yes, I believe that when you have a passion that you should do whatever it takes to make that passion happen. I also believe that deep down, you need to add a little belief in yourself to spearhead the action. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience in deciding to live your dream. Our dreams are an integral part of our life’s purpose, and for fulfillment in life, it’s important to pursue your dream. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. Just what I needed right now ;)
    Quitting my job and becoming a solopreneur to support people in living a more fulfilling life has definitely set me off in the right direction in living the life of my dreams. However, there are many more steps I am eager to take keeping in mind your advice of the two step approach. So, thanks for that, Michael.
    Wishing you the best of luck in whatever you do!

    Reply
  15. Michael,

    Thank you SO much for this brilliant and yet very simple message – just do it. My lifelong dream has been to be an actress & somehow all of the stars have aligned to make this happen and yet I am still in my own way, filled with self doubt and fear. I left my job last year (that paid pretty well) and have begun auditioning here in Los Angeles with might I add, the most incredibly supportive husband and cheerleader. I guess I have been waiting for someone to give me that talk that “you are doing the right thing & won’t fail.” Silly, I know. Self doubt and fear are vultures that can just about crush any dream – thank you for this honest insight & reminder. I don’t want to ever wonder “what if” years down the road, especially being this close to giving it 100%.

    Thanks and wishing you all of the best!

    Jami

    Reply
  16. Hello Michael,

    I’ve inadvertently subscribed to your ‘secret’ for 21 years – I write screenplays which seem to go nowhere and I’ve come so close to quitting – ironically, the quality of my scrips have improved dramatically over the two decades, I’ve inched closer to success, but it still eludes, me, lol – I love writing, but I still question whether the sacrifice has been worthwhile, but on the other hand, if I managed to sell one and thereafter was paid to write, it would be the life most desired, for me – so, I guess I keep writing a little longer.

    Reply
  17. That was an amazing post!!! I am at a crossroad in my life and trying to find out what I want to do but fear of the unknown is paralyzing me. I am 48 and came from a very tradition upbringing of go to school, get a job, and retire. My kids live on the other side of the country from me because they are “living their dreams”, trying new things etc…. They are trying to get me to go out and try something new, like moving to another state but I keep coming up with excuses on why I can’t. :P

    Your post is helping me push myself.
    Thanks

    Reply
  18. Meeting someone who does what you want to do helps enormously – they show you what’s possible. Everyone else? They just think ‘yikes! I’d never do that!’ and then proceed to try and talk you out of it.

    I agree with never quitting but not just forging forward when failure is obvious. It’s more about starting, and then tweaking as you go along.

    When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I figured I’d write books. Whoda thought copywriting was my thing? That’s the beauty of starting and tweaking.

    Thank you for an awesome post, Michael.

    Reply
  19. Great post, Michael. I wholeheartedly agree. I have been doing what I want to do since 2006 when I started my freelance writing business. I’m not rich, and many months I eek out a living, but I am free. I work for who I want to work for, spend time with my grandchildren, and enjoy my life. I write when I want to write and get to spend as much time as I want with the people of my choice. What more could I ask for?

    Reply
  20. Thank you Michael for another good post. Biggest thing like you said is “Don’t Quit”

    Reply
  21. Short, sweet and succinct – too often we muddy our efforts with too many rules, outlined by others about what we should do. Persistence is omnipotent and the only way to fail is to quit. Love this post and the cut to the chase, thanks Michael!

    Reply
  22. Great two step and well written. I agree with Emil; know what you want is the first step. What is your goal. Sometimes, that is the hardest part. I can persist and not quit but do whatever it takes might be hard if you have a family who depend on you. You can eat cat food but it is heart breaking to get everyone else in the family to do that. Still, if you want to be or to achieve something real badly, you might have to do the tough things or have a progressive roadmap towards the goal so that you can skip the cat food stage. Like the post, Michael.

    Reply
  23. Well…
    I think you may have just saved my happiness, if not my life! I was just {a day ago} given a scholarship {10K} for training to go into a well paid field I am not interested in at all.
    Since getting it I’ve been like a cat on a hot tin roof…Not happy. Not grateful.
    I know my dream and living it does not mean eating noodles it just means doing the work and putting it out there. If it sells I eat caviar {on sushi preferably…}, if not tinned salmon. Either way not really a bad thing.
    Now conquering the fear of putting my work under scrutiny….You got a post for that one?
    Thank you, so much.
    Cheers,
    Andrea

    Reply

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