Dreams aren’t always realized in one big step. Lifelong dreams, like those of running your own business, are often met a bit at a time until one day you wake up and realize that that once far-off goal is now within reach.
Each business or career I’ve launched has been a step closer to my real dream. The first couple businesses I started were not particularly close to what I really wanted to do, which is to write novels. I recognized early that it’s difficult to get a job writing novels. It’s even more unlikely you can launch a novel-writing business. So I took a more practical road to success. I become a professional marketer. Close enough, right?
I enjoyed marketing, and I knew a bit about writing. So I wrote direct marketing copy for a number of companies. That skill came in handy when I decided to launch a more substantial business, a publishing company. I had worked for a couple publishing companies, and it didn’t look all that difficult. So I started publishing magazines.
Selling advertising and magazine subscriptions was more difficult than I ever imagined. Like many roles in business, it looks far easier from the outside. Yet the process of getting a publishing company up and running was exhilarating. When I was in college I dedicated my energies to learning how to write. But I didn’t want a pastoral academic life. The action in the marketplace looked far more interesting. Launching a company certainly satisfied my desire for action.
I spent ten years getting my publishing company up and going. It started as a one-person shop. I hired freelancers to write, edit, deign and produce magazines and later books. The freedom was deeply satisfying, even though it wasn’t really freedom. When you’re building a company you’re serving others — customers, clients, vendors, family members, the bank. But it was my dream, and all of these people I was serving were helping me make it come true. Close enough to freedom.
Ten years after the launch, my desire for marketplace action was well satisfied. The original dream of writing started to haunt me. I was hiring writers and editors, but I spent my time selling and managing. I also ran into the entrepreneur’s brick wall of management. Those who can get an idea up and going are rarely able to manage it once it’s running. My heart wasn’t in it, nor was my disposition. I sold the publishing company and turned to writing.
Nonfiction sells better than novels, so I decided to become a freelance journalist. The process of getting it going was far more satisfying than launching a publishing business, but no less difficult. During the first two discouraging years, I held tight to a comment from Jay Leno. He talked about his early discouraging days on the stand-up circuit. He decided to persevere in spite of a seemingly endless series of setbacks. His comment: “I knew that sooner or later things would come my way as long as I stayed in the game.”
I plugged away at creating a home-based journalism business. For the first few years I’d write anything for anybody at any price. Slowly my skills — long dormant after ten years of running a publishing company — returned. The most important personal quality during those years wasn’t a talent for writing, but rather the willingness to stay with the dream in spite of all outward indications — which were certainly not encouraging.
Over the years, I weeded out the low-paying clients and I replaced them with higher-paying clients. The road wasn’t easy, but the payoff was tremendous, a life-long dream fulfilled. I’m not writing novels — yet — but I get to sit down every day and do what I want to do with my life.
Dream big. Take each necessary step to fulfill that dream. Some call it “putting feet on the dream.” For me, it took half measures over the course of decades. Each stage took me closer to the dream. The energy and persistence you need to reach your highest aspirations will be provided if your commitment is sufficient. Dream big. Then figure out the steps you need to take. If you take each step in spite of the discouraging signals, “sooner or later, things will come your way.”