The Incomplete Story of Living Your Dreams: Part Three

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This is the final segment of a three part series on how you can live your dreams by answering some not so simple questions about yourself. If you missed part one or part two of this series—answering the questions “who am I?” and “what’s my why?”—turn around and go back to those segments. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to explore this story in order.

To recap the first two parts of this story, you began by identifying the difference between selfishness and simply allowing yourself the time and space to understand who you are as a person. You found comfort and peace in the early morning hours, learned how to talk with yourself with honesty and without judgement, and you became grounded in who you are right here and now.

Then, you took on the next challenge, which was to find your why. You visualized what the perfect life, in all its imperfections, would be for you 20 years down the road. You allowed yourself to create this picture without any barriers of “but, what if” excuses.

You began trusting this feeling that spurred up inside you rather than wondering why you had never felt it before. You accepted the fact that your daily habits aren’t allowing this feeling to sustain itself and they should be transformed so that this feeling can have a permanent home.

You were left with one final thought at the end of the second part of this journey: find the success in failure and you will grow exponentially. And that is where we will be starting from today.

Find Your What

I’m wish I could say it only gets easier from here, but that would be grossly dishonest. The rigor of the first two questions was no joke, but the time they take in comparison to what’s next is where the comparison becomes a bit murky.

Finding your what contains an unknown timeline that can be frustrating to go along with. If I think about it from when I was born to where I am a quarter century later, I’m still not quite there yet. 25 years, and I still haven’t found the complete answer to “what” I want to pursue forever and ever.

What I am saying, and requesting, is that you find comfort, and even satisfaction, with your failures.

As great as it is to have grounded myself and to have found my why, these are not actionable feelings themselves. They act as the fuel to my fire, but don’t provide the food for what I’m cooking.

This is metaphorical and literal because the reality is, you and I need to put food on the table. No “feelings” are going to magically put money in the bank. We need to take action.

A lot of this action is going to end in failure after failure after failure, but just like any inventor or scientist who has ever had a breakthrough in their work would tell you, it only takes being successful once to go down in history.

I’m not saying “making history” needs to be your goal. What I am saying, and requesting, is that you find comfort, and even satisfaction, with your failures. Take the lessons learned and apply them to your next pursuit.

To get you comfortable with this lifestyle, I want to guide you down a path that is pretty accurate for almost all American children, and likely folks from many other countries.

Step 1: Recognizing why you see failure as an evil monster

As you were growing up, you were constantly being measured in a pass or fail setting. There were segments within the “pass” category that identified kids that passed “better” than others, but either way, as long as you passed, you moved on.

You were measured based on A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s, or maybe you were at a “hip” school that measured your performance on a scale of one to five. Either way, one side of the line represented success and as you started slipping toward the other end, failure became the dominant topic of conversation.

This setup demanded perfection. If you weren’t making 100’s on everything or at least 90’s (for the “A”), you needed to improve and should be clammed up with worry about why you aren’t excelling.

So, with 15 or 20 so years of being told by the education system that failure is this scary, heart-pounding reality you should avoid at all costs, you cringe at the thought of it on a daily basis.

Remember, you have been unfairly conditioned to resent failure.

Let me make you jealous for a minute on how different that experience could have been.

There are places of learning around the country that are starting to relinquish this fear in their kids and allow them to find fun, joy, and inspiration in failing. The most robust example of this is the Big Picture Learning (BPL) network.

Over 20 years ago, Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor had had enough with being leaders in the standardized system of learning. They were tired of working within the confines of a stale system where their learners were disengaged and disinterested in their work.

So, the two educators teamed up to rethink education in the United States. They set out to create a space where every child, particularly those growing up on the wrong side of the equity debate, could thrive.

Fast forward to today and there are now 65 BPL environments in the US and more around the world in places like Italy and Australia. What makes BPL different? Here’s what they stand for:

"What We Stand For" by Big Picture Learning

"What We Stand For" by Big Picture Learning

In this place of learning, kids get to explore their heart’s desires while developing an inextinguishable fire for knowledge and skill acquisition. If they have an interest in astronomy, they simply go learn about it. If it’s not quite what they were hoping for, they can put on their Chef’s hat (literally) and test their culinary skills, and so on and so forth.

With this freedom to explore, they learn from one failure to the next that the world is a dynamic place and there are limitless paths to choose from. And rather than being overwhelmed by this reality once the graduate high school or college, they are ready to make an impact.

Imagine if you had the same experience while you were growing up? While most kids are panicking over the next big exam, BPL kids are applying their learning to real world applications and carrying those experiences with them into the future.

This is but one example of the national learner-centered movement that continues to pick up steam as the 21st-century moves along.

As you move onto step two, remember, you have been unfairly conditioned to resent failure. Having this knowledge will now allow you to welcome failure with open arms. Now you’re going to learn how to do so gracefully.

Step 2: Learning how to fail gracefully

Hopefully you’re now thinking, “I want to fail, it looks like fun!” If not, go read that story one more time.

Now that you’re all about the failure life, let’s look at how you can make failing look damn good.

The whole point of failure is to identify the lessons you’ve picked up along the journey. As you come tumbling down the mountain, you land on your feet like a cat and restart your ascent, remembering to avoid that loose rock the next time it crosses your path.

That’s knowledge acquisition in a nutshell. You gain more and more information about the lay of the land, and over time, you’ll have a vibrant map in your hands showing you exactly where to go next.

Get rid of those negative voices in your head telling you why you should ignore my advice. Give them the middle finger and declare “this is my life, and I’m taking control.”

Of course, before you get there, you have a lot of unexplored territory to cover. That’s scary, I know. It’s in our nature to question what we don’t know. It challenges our status in this world and causes instability.

We need security, and venturing into the unknown is quite the opposite. But, I promise you this. Once you do it just once, with grace, the world will be wrapped around your thumb.

Failing gracefully takes many forms, but here are the key components you’ll need to have in place:

  1. Know who you are (part one of this story)
  2. Know your why (part two of this story)
  3. Find a failure buddy or family (failing with others will empower you)
  4. Admit your failure, and take pride in it (you’re taking risks others refuse to and that is damn admirable)
  5. Assess what caused your failure to happen
  6. Identify at least three positive lessons learned from your failure
  7. Intentionally take those lessons into your next pursuit (keep a journal of these learnings)
  8. Once another failure comes across your path, ask yourself if you applied your previous lessons, and if so, what new lessons popped up?
  9. Find success, and live the rest of your life with this tiny little smirk on your face that nobody can quite figure out.

This is not an exhaustive list and should certainly be transformed to fit your personal style, but I hope it can serve as a starting block for you to have the courage to act in the face of failure.

Now, let’s get to the fun part. Taking action.

Step 3: What do you want to fail at?


Are you ready for this? Like, really ready?

Remember that story about BPL kids, and their freedom to pursue their passions and interests? I’m inviting you to embrace that freedom as well.

Get rid of those negative voices in your head telling you why you should ignore my advice. Give them the middle finger and declare “this is my life, and I’m taking control.”

Oh yeah, you’re ready. Let’s get to work.

It’s time to sit down and write out everything you’ve ever had an inkling of interest in. For guidance on how to do this, there isn’t much better advice than what game designer, Nick Bentley gave over on his personal blog. He calls it “The 100:10:1 Method”:

"Step 1 – I quickly write 100 short game concepts in a notebook. In less than a week. Even in one day. I don’t give much thought to quality; I include whatever comes to mind, even if it’s dumb, incomplete or violates physical law (I do include good ideas as well). I keep spitting out ideas especially after I feel “spent”. Note: the exact number doesn’t matter as long as it’s a metric crap ton.

Step 2 – Based on some selection criteria, I pick 10 of the 100 concepts and try to turn them into actual games. Just crude working versions. I work on all in parallel. This usually take six months to a year.

Step 3 – I pick the most promising game of the 10 I’ve developed and play-test+polish it till I’m sure I can’t improve it. Then I make a list of its weaknesses and improve it more. Then I’m done."

Notice the timeline he lays out. Step one (which I sincerely challenge you to do in one day) and two can take up to a year.

In that year, you will discover whether or not one of your ten most intriguing interests are worth taking a deep dive into. Then, when you find that single passion, you get to take another one or two years developing your knowledge and skills even further.

I want to note this doesn’t mean you say “to hell with with everything else” and live a singular life. In my opinion, that would be far too boring. And, we live in a day and age where being a specialist, in most instances, is not going to take you very far.

Your skills need to be transferrable to whatever the future holds, and because this future is more and more unpredictable, acquiring as many skills as you can isn’t the worst advice.

There’s no reason to delay things if you see your passion sitting right in front of your face.

But, as always, you want to keep them in your scope of interest. Acquiring skills just to say you have them will be useless.

Once you get your 100 interests laid out, you need to have a way to filter the noise. In your case, you need to stay true to who you are and your why.

Not every idea will match these two components. In fact, there’s a good chance finding ten might be too big of an ask. If that’s the case, identify as many as you can, and take the next six to twelve months exploring these interests.

If you just so happen to come upon one interest that is so much greater than everything else you’ve written down, I invite you to break these unwritten rules and go forth! There’s no reason to delay things if you see your passion sitting right in front of your face.

What’s Next?

If you’ve made it to the end of this story, kudos to you, and thank you for reading! Out of everything that has been laid out here, the way forward is yours to discover.

There is only so much we can learn from one another until we have to fully embrace the uniqueness of ourselves. At which point, the only person who can guide us is our own inner voice.

Don’t let this disappoint you. You are now equipped with three things most people will never find.

You know who you are, you know your why, and you know the interests that will lead you to discovering your passions! Name three people you personally know that have all three of these aspects covered.

By going through this process, you have placed brand new value on your future self. You value him or her to such a high degree that you will do everything in your power to make him or her a reality.

And, guess what? That person will be a reality because there’s no turning back now. There’s no possible way you can resort back to who you were when you began this story. You’ve developed a brand new mindset.

Whenever this occurs, the examples that took shape in your past self can’t be interpreted here. It’s this crazy phenomenon that just is. You are now living into new possibilities, developing new examples of being, and will make this world a better place because of it.

I wish you the best of luck on your path forward and hope we happen to find each other along the way! In the meantime, let's stay connected. You can subscribe below and follow Your Pen Paul on Facebook or Instagram!

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