We all know the fantasy. You decide you’re finally going to do it! You’re going to stand up in your cube, and announce Jerry Maguire style that you’re quitting to pursue your dream! You walk out of the office, head held high, feel the warm sun on your face and realize…um, wait how am I going to pay my mortgage this month? The fantasy is a good one; unfortunately the reality isn’t as romantic. Phrases like “Follow your dreams” and “If you can dream it, you can do it” surround us. We are constantly told that the only way to live your life to the fullest is to find your purpose and pursue your passion. This article is not arguing that, not really. I fully believe that you should do something you love, and do everything possible to pursue your dreams. However, you can do this and still be smart about it. Yes, you may have to take big risks in life if you are chasing a dream. But you can take calculated risks, and still be a responsible adult while chasing your dreams. It just takes some patience, planning, a few reality checks and of course, hard work.  And if you do it right, you’ll be more successful in the long run. Here are 9 tips on how to chase your dream without going broke.

  • Don’t quit working. It’s exciting when you realize your true calling in life, so it’s understandable to immediately want to jump in with both feet. However there are usually many steps needed before you’re able to really pursue your dream; most can be taken while still working a ‘day’ job. Brainstorm and list every step needed to get from where you are today to where you want to be. Make a note of which ones you can do while still working, and when you absolutely have to quit. Keeping your job while preparing for your end goal will take pressure off you to immediately succeed, provide income and insurance during the many months (or years) before your dream job can support you, plus allows you to save money to fund your dream.
  • Develop your business plan. This doesn’t need to be a formal document and doesn’t apply to all pursuits, but if you are starting your own business you must have the basics: description, target market, market analysis, organization, funding, revenue and expense projections (more to come on that). wikiHow provides an easy, detailed step-by-step guide on how to create your plan.
  • Gain experience. If your current job is not related to the field you want to pursue, consider switching jobs to something that will give you needed experience while still getting a regular paycheck. Or find some related work on the weekend. If your dream is to open a brewery, see if there’s an open shift at your local bar.  Also consider volunteering or freelance work in your free time; Abdullahi Muhammed’s recent article “79 Websites To Get Freelance Jobs Fast” is a great resource to find some additional work. Experience not only will help you get a foot in the door, but will also give you a better understanding of what a day in the life of your dream job really looks like. We tend to romanticize the greener grass on the other side, and your dream job may end up looking better on paper than in real life.
  • Perfect your craft. Become an expert in every part of your dream job. If you want to become a fashion designer, learn every tool of the trade. Perfect the ability to sketch your designs by hand. Work with multiple fabrics. Play with computer programs. Experiment with different types of clothing. By the time your start your dream job you will already be an expert and won’t have to waste time (and money) learning.
  • Put yourself out there. Networking is key. Make sure you are always in the right place at the right time. You never know when you’ll get a break, make the right connection or get valuable advice. And when it comes to anything remotely related to your passion, say yes to everything. As Richard Branson says “If someone offers you an opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” 
  • Estimate all expenses. Determine how much money you will need to get started with your new endeavor, and where it will come from. Assume that once you start your new path, you will have no income for one year (it could be less or longer depending on the complexity of your plan). Create a spreadsheet with the following:
    1. Living expenses. Look at your current budget and take out all unnecessary expenses to get the minimum amount you need to survive monthly.
    2. Monthly business expenses for new pursuit, such as rent, utilities, insurance and salaries.
    3. Add the above two totals, then multiply by 12, as we are estimating expenses for one year.
    4. Add start-up costs. If you want to be a professional photographer, this will be minimal. If your dream is to own a coffee shop, you will need to buy coffee machines, grinders, refrigerators, chairs, tables, etc.
    5. Decide how you will fund this venture. It could be through personal savings, friends or family, loans or VC funding. Sites like Fundera and the US Small Business Administration (SBA) have details on multiple funding options.
  • Explore all revenue sources. Your dream job probably has an obvious path to making money, but think outside the box for additional revenue streams. Revisiting the coffee shop idea, your revenues will primarily come from coffee sales. But look at creative sources of revenue. Maybe you could find corporate advertisers? What about selling cute t-shirts and mugs at your store? Look into hosting parties, or partnering with local artists to showcase their art on your walls.
  • Be realistic: Out of college I wanted to be an actress. I got an agent and everything. But after working at it for a few years I realized I wasn’t very good. I knew no matter how hard I worked, I was not going to be ‘discovered’ and Leonardo DiCaprio was not going to invite me to star opposite him in his next romantic blockbuster. So I had to be realistic and shift gears. You don’t want to quit your job and begin investing time and money into your dream and THEN realize it’s unattainable…and you’re left without a job or a dream!  So first take a long hard look at your dream, and ask yourself these questions:.
    • Does my dream take an extraordinary talent (Opera singer), and do I have that talent?
    • Does my dream need specific, difficult to attain experience or qualifications (Astronaut, Supreme Court Judge), and am I qualified?
    • Am I in a position where I can take a major risk? A single parent or someone facing a serious health issue may not be able to risk losing income and insurance.
    • If you answered “no” to one of these, it doesn’t mean you have to give up. Through hard work, some talents can be learned and it’s possible to gain needed experience. But sometimes, no matter how hard you work, it’s just not going to happen (sob, goodbye Leo).
  • Be flexible: So, maybe you realize you can’t be a Supreme Court Judge, but that doesn’t mean your dream has to die there! Maybe you’re a gifted writer and can author a book on landmark Supreme Court cases. You just need to adapt; identify your strengths and find a way to use them while pursuing your dreams in a different way. The best way to achieve success is to combine your passion with your strengths.

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