Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Action Items: 3 Tangible Ways To Make Your Career Dreams A Reality

"Are you happy?" a curious and adorable 9-year-old girl named Emma asked me last week as my flight from Denver to Austin reached 30,000 feet.

"Absolutely," I told her.

"Me too," she said. "My mommy told me that when I grow up I should try to be happy. But I'm already happy so I'm trying to figure out what I want to be next."

"Oh..." I said. "How are you going about figuring that out?"

"I talk to a lot of grown-ups and ask a lot of questions," she said. "Have you figured out what you want to be yet?" 

"I have," I said. "I actually help people figure out what they want to be."

"Really?! You can do that?" she asked, eyes wide open. "Can you help me?"

"Of course," I said. "What do you do now?"

"I dream, tell stories on stages, dance on clouds, write in my journal, and make people smile," she said. "Sometimes it's real, sometimes it's just something I see in my head."

"When was the last time you told a story on a stage?" I asked. 

"Yeah..." she said, disappointed. "I haven't done that one yet."

"Can you create a stage for your family and tell them a story on it?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said. "I can do that."

"Start there," I said. "Then never stop finding stages to tell stories on."

For the rest of the day, I couldn't stop thinking about this little girl, her insatiable curiosity, and the dreams that, at 9-years-old, she's beginning to realize.  

Whether you're 9, 25, or 55, it's never too late to take action on what matters. So how do you take a dream and make it into a reality?

Here's a planning framework that'll help you understand which dreams are worth pursuing and how to make them real.

There are three key steps:

1. Identify what you want.

Do you want to write a book? Build a startup? Run a marathon? Travel the world? Tell stories on stages? Take 10 minutes to make a list of the things that you feel you really want to do.

2. Dive deep into WHY you really want it.

Before doing anything, the most important question we can ask ourselves is "Why?" This question gets to the root of our motivations and intentions. It ensures that there's alignment between what we think we want and what we feel is most important. 

There is a concept called the Five Whys, which I first heard about from Eric Reis. It helps in solving problems as you bring ideas to market and here, we can apply it to figuring out which dreams are worth bringing to reality. It helps us realize whether something is worth pursuing. 

For instance, let's say you want to write a non-fiction book about behavior change. Here's what the Five Whys might look like:

  • Why do I want to write a book? Because I want to put an idea I have into an easy-to-read format.
  • Why do I want to put it into an easy-to-read format? Because it makes it easier to spread.
  • Why do I want it to spread? Because then it has the ability to impact more people.
  • Why do I want to impact more people? Because if people read this book, it might spark paradigm shifts and behavioral changes.
  • Why do I want to spark shifts and changes? Because then people will lead happier, more fulfilled, and productive lives. 

Through this process, the motivation for why you want to do something becomes very clear. More than anything, it helps you make sure that what you want is aligned with what truly matters.  

It's your turn. For all of the things that you wrote down that you really want—do a Five Whys analysis to make sure it's something that's really worth pursuing.

3. Gain information and momentum.

In making anything happen, sometimes there's a disconnect between the theory of doing something and what it's actually like in practice.

The faster you close that gap, the faster you experience the answer of whether or not it's really worth pursuing.

That's why, before fully committing, it is helpful to do two things: gain information from those who've already done it well, and guild momentum by making the idea tangible as quickly as possible.

So, for example, if you decide a book is worth pursuing, you might talk to three people who've successfully published books, figuring out what the challenges were, how they overcome them, what worked well, and who else you need to talk to. You might also create a Tumblr blog, committing to consistent writing four times a week for the next three months. Also, aim to write guest posts on relevant and more influential blogs two times a month to build your audience. 

By talking to people who've successfully published a book, you'll gain insight into the process and next steps. By taking action and creating content consistently, you'll begin preparing for and building momentum toward your dream future. 

Above all, if you're ready to take action but don't know where to start, get in touch with your inner Emma, the 9-year-old you who already feels happy and spends time dreaming up big plans for the future. 

Ready to go bold and accelerate the trajectory of your work and life? Check out The Bold Academy. Coming to Boulder this July, it's a four-week experience designed to help you unlock your ability to lead the life you’ve always wanted to live.

[Image: Flickr user Justin Luong]

Add New Comment


  • Adam Hevenor

    Sounds a lot like John Lennon's childhood...

    "When I was 5 years old, my mom told me that happiness was the key to life.
    When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I
    wrote down “happy”. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told
    them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon

  • Amit Pandey

    Excellent! It was like a motivational and emotional blackmail to pursue our dreams...

  • Francisco Ramirez Cuevas

    I really love this post!!  it's inspiring and refreshing !!! and of course, practical !!

  • Aviva

    Excellent post! I revisit old writings from youth so that I stay in touch what matters to me most, in its simplest explanation from simpler times. I recently left full-time office work to pursue my dream of creating my own schedule and filling my work time doing things I love and believe in ( music, performing arts, visual media arts, literacy and education, social activism). In a discouragingly tough time, I found myself struggling to resist the temptation to hide behind another office job (and collect a steady paycheck), for it would be hiding from my dreams and goals for myself, if it was reasonable work. Posts like this are motivating and affirm my diligence to keep asking myself the "why" questions and the inquiries of purpose and desire that keep me on course. Thank you!

  • A Hidell

    Amber, I really enjoy your posts on pursuing the ideal career. I hold degrees in English and Art but have spent the last decade ensconced in a grey-walled cubicle, testing unexciting software programs and writing dry business specifications. In the last year I found myself more depressed than I'd been in my entire life, and after several months of soul-searching, realized the true source of my misery: my job. I'm not living the dreams of my youth, nor am I using the skills I honed in college, and I'm definitely not the type to thrive in a box. I am now in the process of implementing my exit strategy and shaping my future career, and your articles have been a big help. This one was especially poignant for me because I recently found a box of my old elementary school papers. There, scrawled in my childish hand and repeated on page after page of frail, yellowed paper, was the answer I'd known in my heart all along but had chosen to ignore for years: What do I want to do when I grow up? "I want to write and draw."