It’s a scary thing for someone to ask you want you want, and even more frightening to give yourself permission to acknowledge what you want. No one wants to be vulnerable and have their dreams or goals go unrealized. And a cynical person, or realist, resists the question because it somehow suggests that you can have exactly what you want.

I’m here to tell you something important: you can. But there are a few things you need to do to get from thinking about what you want to achieving what you want.

1. Accept and acknowledge what you want. Don’t allow your doubts and fears to deter you from wanting it. We don’t do this because we don’t want to be vulnerable. Instead, we think about all the “what if’s” associated with our accomplishing our goal. What if I don’t get the interview? What if I don’t get a faculty job? What if I ask all these people to vote for me in this small business challenge, but I don’t make it to the final round? What’s encouraging about that? (That’s what I asked myself earlier this year before asking you to vote on my video entry for the Start Something Challenge small business competition.) Let go of the doubts and fears, and focus your attention on your goal. Each day allow yourself to visualize actually making it to your goal. Then, take one step towards it. The truth is you may not actually reach your target goal, but being open to trying can bring new information, contacts, and opportunities. The point is, you’ll never know where you’ll land until you start.

2. Get clear about what you would like to do, have, or be – for yourself and for those around you. It’s okay if you don’t have all the details of your dream career or job. Just jot down as much as you know right now. When you can articulate your vision to others, it allows them to rally to support you. It also allows information and resources to come your way, while opening opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t know about if you kept silent. Mentors, peers, and a career coach can help to sharpen your vision once they know what you want.

3. Get information and take advantage of resources in support of your goal. If you really want a faculty career, take advantage of mentoring or coaching, campus programming on faculty development, writing workshops and other tools and services that will prepare you for a faculty position. Take the time to nurture your goal. That may mean taking time for workshops, coaching, and support groups, reading personal and professional development books, or taking a part-time job or internship to prepare you for a career transition. There are no shortcuts in getting what you want, but at least you are working toward a goal and vision that you can own rather than one that was handed to you as default because supposedly “people with a degree in __________ do this ___________ (fill in the career)” or “people your age do that__________” (fill in the career)—or any other standard line you’ll hear.

4. Be open to experiences with similar features or characteristics. In other words, there may be activities that you have yet to learn about or consider that mirror aspects of your vision. I had a client who enjoyed her research, but she expressed that she really loved mentoring students of color and minority students. If her primary aim is to work with students more than it is to research, then she can seek out opportunities that allow her to do that mentoring. There are great career paths available in college preparatory organizations and higher education administration. Sometimes the path we want only takes shape as we pursue it, as much as we know of it at the time.

5. Take the sting out of failure. Ask yourself these questions: What does failure look like? What does it mean to fail? What would it look like if I failed? How would I move forward if this endeavor failed? You may find that failure is not as overwhelming as it appears to be. There is always a next step and a second avenue if the original idea does not come to pass as you had hoped. By recognizing that things may not work as you’ve planned, you also acknowledge that the experience is meant to take you to the next opportunity.

The coach in me that believes in you and wants you to succeed, says, “You cannot be afraid of your dreams.” But I know that it’s more complicated than that. My own life is an example that it’s more complicated than that. So instead, I say, “You may be afraid, but do it afraid.”

Have you ever had to work towards your dream when you were afraid? What was the outcome? What did you learn? Tell us in the comments below!

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