The voice on the other end of the phone was asking for advice. Do I or don’t I go to that writers conference? I heard the passion, the desire, the dream in her tone. So many stories unspoken, so much to say.
She was asking for advice, but what I knew she needed was courage.
Two years ago, I was the friend asking for advice. “Do I or don’t I go to that conference for speakers and writers? But I’m not published. I don’t do any speaking. What do I say if they ask me what kind of speaking and writing I do?” I’m forever grateful that my friend looked me in the eye, and with a paint roller dripping with primer said, “What do you have to lose? Worst case scenario, you go and decide it’s not for you. But you know that won’t happen.”
She knew that what I really needed was courage to go and find the next step toward my dream.
So often we have a dream, a calling, a gift, but we don’t know how to get there. Whether it’s fear holding us back, lack of courage, or just plain lack of knowledge, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut of talking and thinking about a dream but not moving anywhere.
Two years later, after nearly putting off going to a conference (for the third year in a row), I’m returning to that same conference as a workshop leader (tomorrow!). Oh, I still need lots of courage (and prayers if you could please!). But I’ve learned a few things over the past couple years about how to figure out the next steps and keep moving forward.
Sometimes, it’s showing up at a conference. Sometimes it’s simply getting out of bed and showing up to your own life one more day. Maybe it’s going to that job that you can’t stand but you go and give it your best shot anyway. I’ve interviewed a number of business owners over the past couple months, and at least half of them stated that before starting their own company they worked at a job they didn’t like, but the experience they gained there proved invaluable in starting their own company.
Wherever you are, wherever it is you know you have to go — show up. Be present. Don’t just go through the motions, but be fully there. With your heart, your eyes, your ears – all of you.
Once you’ve shown up, put on your listening ears. Pay attention the stories that others are telling. Listen to what you hear God saying in your heart. Drown out the fear and anxiety of not knowing what’s next with the voices of those who are where you want to be. How did they get there? What did they overcome? How are their stories similar to yours? How are they different? What can you learn from them? Take notes and pay careful attention.
Listen to what’s happening around you every day. Often when you have a dream or a desire or a decision to make, you find that what the pastor says in church, the songs you hear on the radio, the Scripture you read, the books you read, all seem to point you in a direction. Are you listening? Are you paying attention?
After you’ve spent some time listening, ask questions. At a conference last year, one young attendee had an appointment with an editor. She looked at me in near panic before the meeting and said, “What do I say?” I looked at her and said, “Explain your project and your passion. Then I think one of the best questions you could ask is ‘What do you think my next step should be?'” The young writer asked that question and received fantastic advice and tips for her next steps.
Ask God to speak to you. Ask Him to show you what the next step should be. I know that I’m a bit distracted and thick-headed and will quite possibly miss what He says. So I usually pray and ask God to make it so clear that there’s no way I can miss it. And He does, whether it’s through other people, open doors, the Word – He answers.
Sometimes the answer God gives is – Wait. While you’re waiting for doors to open, for the right job, for a contract, to start your own business — whatever your dream is — don’t just sit around on your hands hoping it will happen someday. Actively wait by growing, learning, and becoming better at whatever it is you want to be. Take a class. Go to another conference. Practice. Hone your skills. Continue to grow so that when the door does swing open, you are ready to sprint through it.
How about you? What helps you when you need a bit of direction to keep pursuing a dream?
photo credit: vivekchugh on sxc.hu. words added by Amelia.