I bet, after reading that headline, you know what leap I’m talking about, what “leap” means for you.
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re looking for the guts to throw yourself into your writing or take a career break to travel. Or maybe you want to change jobs or move to a new city or start your own business or have a family.
I’m talking about The Big Leaps. Not asking out the guy who’s always making everyone laugh at the geeky tech meet-up you attend every month. (Oh wait, is that just me?) Or mustering the courage to try a new kickboxing class at the gym. Those moves can be scary, no doubt. But this post is about The Big Leaps, the ones that are scary because they have the potential to be life-changing.
Making a decision to take a life-changing leap often comes down to just that — making the decision. Committing to the leap. But there are certain things you can do to make it less scary. I say this because I was scared to all hell of quitting my job to travel. (Well, my colleagues called it quitting; I called it leaving.) Taking a long, solo backpacking trip was something I’d wanted to do for years, but I kept waiting for the right time. I waited until I finished my master’s degree. Until I got my first job in newspapers. Until I had three years of work experience on my resume.
Then, finally, I made it happen. I like to think that for my next leap in life, I won’t wait as long.
So whatever your dream is — whether you’re halfway there or haven’t even started — here are some tangible steps you can take to propel yourself toward that starting line:
Tell your friends. Saying your dream aloud makes it real. It helps you commit not only to the idea, but to making it happen. And if you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, they’ll hold you to it. They’ll help you follow through — make sure you follow through — because they love you, and they want you to be happy.
Surround yourself with people who support your dreams. This is easier said than done, because even the nicest people in your life might look at you like you have four heads when you tell them you want to open a bookstore or take more than a week off work to travel or live a television-free life. Some people won’t understand these choices, because it never occurred to them that these options were choices at all, and it doesn’t seem fair that you could do those things if they can’t. (They can, of course; they just don’t realize it.) As Chris Guillebeau says, “realistic” is the adjective of cynics.
But all you need is a few people who understand your pursuits, a few people who encourage you without that twinge of resentment in their voice, a few friends who are figuring out how to live their lives in their own out-of-the-box ways. These friends will sustain you, and you’ll become closer for it.
Lay the groundwork. What stands between you and this dream? Even if you can’t bring yourself to decide on a launch date, figuring out what you need to do to make it happen will help you see the leap as an attainable goal, rather than an overwhelming mess of what-ifs. Laying the groundwork also helps you prod yourself toward making your adventure happen.
When I was a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, I knew I wanted to take a backpacking trip, and I knew I wanted to hit some French-speaking countries, but I didn’t know when or how that would happen. Though I had no concrete plans, I signed up for French classes, figuring the longer I had to brush up on the language, the better. I didn’t plan it this way, but in retrospect, going to those classes helped my dream come into focus. The more comfortable I felt with my French, the more I envisioned myself taking my trip. And learning a language, like saving money, isn’t something you can do overnight. Start on tasks like this now, so when you’re mentally and logistically ready to make your leap, you can.
Make a check-list. In addition to those big tasks like saving money or learning a skill, you’ll face lots of little tasks that will have to get done before taking your leap. Some will have to wait until the last minute, until you know your plan and your time line. But you can get started on others now. Want to climb a mountain? Start getting in shape. Looking to make a career change? Focus on growing your network. Making a check-list of all the things you need to do — both big and small — will make it less overwhelming. Try to check something off each week or month so you can see how you’re working toward your goal.
Save money. I love Ask A Manager’s post about what she learned from quitting her job during the recession because she says having savings helps us act from strength, not desperation. It’s not just the money we need, it’s the feeling of security. Feeling secure financially helps us take leaps in life. One way to save money is to live more simply.
Look for ways to make more money. This is option No. 2 when it comes to saving. Rather than skimping to put aside a buck here or a buck there, be creative about ways to bring in income in addition to your day job. Because of the Internet, this is easier and cheaper to do than ever before.
Start getting rid of stuff. It’s far easier to wrap your head around leaving a place if you don’t have to take a huge moving van of stuff with you. It’s even easier to jump into a new venture or take on a new responsibility that doesn’t require moving if your physical life feels less cluttered. Give away things you don’t use or need, rather than piling them higher and higher in the attic.
Remind yourself that it may never be the “right time.” I’m all about laying the groundwork and making your own luck, but the truth is that it’s never the perfect time to take a leap. In retrospect, it always is. It’s so easy to say afterward, “I was ready for a move and all the pieces fell into place.” But while you were making the decisions to take that less-traveled road, the pieces likely felt more disjointed. And when we’re scared, it’s easy to use one challenge or obstacle as an excuse, as the piece that won’t fall into place. Find another place for it, or put the puzzle together without that piece.
This is where you might have to be creative. How can you travel when you have a mortgage? How can you write a book when your spouse thinks it’s a bad idea? How can you take your leap when all the logistics of life and money and family stand in your way? Think outside the box. If you want it badly enough, you can find a way to make it happen.
Connect with people who have done what you want to do. No matter how unique your upcoming adventure, someone else has probably done it. And thanks to the blogosphere, you can probably read about it. Find blogs on the topic, and connect with those people on social media. Ask them how they overcame the obstacles that are holding you back. Chances are they feel strongly about the choices they’ve made, appreciate that you value the lifestyle and want to help you. Learn from their mistakes.
Let yourself dream. Because once you’ve started laying the groundwork, it’s no longer just a dream. You’re turning this into reality. Pat yourself on the back, and let that dream grow.
Take some chances. Taking risks does not feel good in the gut, nor does it always turn out how we’d hoped. But it turns out well enough that it’s worth doing. And the truth is that no matter how much you prepare for your leap and set the groundwork and make your own luck, it’s still going to feel like a risk. And you still have the potential to fail — depending, of course, on your definition of failure. I probably don’t need to remind the awesome readers of this blog that a new experience can never truly be a failure, because you gained that: a new experience. Maybe your launch won’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped, but I bet you, in nine times out of ten, you won’t regret it.
Have you taken a leap lately? If not, what leap are you waiting to take? How can you make it attainable?