The One Thing More Important Than Following Your Dreams

The One Thing More Important Than Following Your Dreams

The path to success may be paved with dreams but navigating it requires more than wishful thinking.

Abdul Kalam, President of India from 2002-2007, loved to talk about dreams. My favorite of his many quotes about them is, “Dream is not the thing you see in sleep, but is that thing that doesn’t let you sleep.” Indeed, I suspect the phenomenon of waking up in the middle of the night in an entrepreneurially-induced euphoria is commonplace for you.

Yet, there is another aspect of our dreams that we often talk about much less, but which provides a surprising compass setting for finding success–the fear that stands in the way of realizing them. But wait, entrepreneurs are fearless, right? Actually, the ones I’ve worked with have usually blasted their way through a mountain of fear to get to the other side.

Taking a Moonshot

As a child I had one great ambition, to become an astronaut. Growing up in age of moonshots it was a dream I shared with many. One tiny obstacle stood in the way; I was scared to death of heights and flying. I mean panic attack terrified. The view down from a few flights of stairs was enough to induce vertigo and the mere thought of a Ferris wheel would send me into a cold sweat.

My nightmares were almost always about being stuck on a bridge, or the ledge of a skyscraper, or a plummeting plane; I’d wake up drenched in fear. But I also had recurring dreams of me flying like a bird, unfettered, without a care.

Ultimately I had to choose, it was the dream or the nightmare. In my late teens I learned to fly. Not a big deal. With time and training anybody can learn to fly. But breaking through my fear caused me to realize that fear was not the enemy, far from it; my fear was an ally pointing me in the direction that I needed to go in order to succeed.

Getting to the Other Side

As I built my business that theme repeated itself many times. There was the overwhelming fear of leaving the comfort of a steady well-paying job to start a new venture from ground zero; the fear of personal guarantees and signing long-term leases; the uncertainty of acquiring companies and monthly payrolls; betting on new products and services; navigating the financial crisis of the early 2000’s, and starting a new business in the great recession of 2008; a long list of fears that I either had to face head on or run away from. In each and every case one thing was clear, as Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, once said “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

But here’s what’s missing in Canfield’s quote; you don’t get around fear, you go through it. That’s not just the most direct route; it’s often the only route. And in the midst of it is where you learn the hardest and most important lessons, the ones that provide the insight and the courage to move yourself and your organization to the next level. It’s what Richie Norton talks about in The Power of Starting Something Stupid, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.”

So what are your fears right now? Whatever they are I’ll wager that they are standing dead center in the path of where you need to go. So rather than look at fear as something to avoid and steer clear of, how about seeing it as a guide to take you where you need to go. How about standing right next to it, embracing it, and thanking it for illuminating the way to your future?

The bottom line is that we owe a lot to our fears; they’re beacons that can guide us to just about everything we want to achieve.

Radical thinking? Not really. How about you just sleep on it.

Tom Koulopoulos is the author of ten books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc 500 company, which focuses on innovation and the future of business. He is also an adjunct professor at the Boston University Graduate School of Management, an Executive in Residence at Bentley University, the past Executive Director of the Babson College Center for Business Innovation, and a frequent keynote speaker. The late Peter Drucker once said of his writing, that it challenges not only the way you run your business but the way you run yourself. Tom’s latest book is The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping The Future of Business.

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