Talk to most professionals about their ultimate goals, and you’ll get the same responses – work for myself, travel the world, and maybe even win fame and fortune. Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup and The Art of Non-Conformity, managed to do all of the above before hitting 30. If you’ve been putting off your dreams, here’s his advice for how you can take action now.
Face down the internal obstacles. The first step in accomplishing your dreams is recognizing that, as Guillebeau says, “You don’t have to live your life the way others expect.” Societal expectations often exert a powerful pull. “We’re all busy, and if you’re going to school or have a day job, it’s easy to fill up the time without making an active choice to do something different,” Guillebeau told me in a recent interview, conducted via email as he was en route to a speaking engagement in Alaska. “Sometimes it’s easier if you’re fired or laid off—you simply have to do something then.” But Guillebeau especially respects people who proactively choose to take a new path.
Find your purpose. Non-conformity itself isn’t the goal, says Guillebeau, although it’s a handy umbrella term. “You have to figure out what matters to you, how you’d like to live your life, what the greater purpose is, and how you’re going to make that happen,” he says. “If you get that far, you’ll be ahead of the curve.” And how do you discover your raison d’etre? “Ask yourself, ‘What bothers you? What would you change about the world?’,” Guillebeau advises. “This is often a better starting point than asking ‘What am I passionate about?’”
Understand what others value. Finding your passion is powerful and important – but it’s destined to remain a hobby unless there’s a market for what you’re offering. (See my Harvard Business Review post ‘Don’t Do What You Love.’) That’s OK, but if you want to link your passion and your vocation, says Guillebeau, “you have to focus on creating products and services that people actually want. This is critical! Lots of times people tell me about a business idea and they ask if it’s ‘good.’ What do I know? If it’s a for-profit idea, the validation over whether it’s ‘good’ or not comes down to whether people want to pay for it. So I’d encourage readers to focus relentlessly on making sure they’re making something in response to a clear demand, need, or problem—not just something that sounds good to them.” In Guillebeau’s case, that meant developing products tied to the questions he most frequently received from readers, such as how they could learn to work for themselves or travel the world on a budget.
Build your base. No idea will be really successful unless it generates passion in others. Guillebeau built an international following through a rigorous schedule of blogging, and in-person trips to connect with his readers. “I spent two years thinking about my blog before publishing anything,” he says. “Of course, I was working on other projects at the time, but the point is I wanted to be sure I would stick with blogging for the long-term once I started. Then, once the blog went live, I just kept plugging away. I wrote to everyone I knew and asked for help. I set a publishing schedule and never broke it. I created products, wrote a book, and started hosting reader meetups wherever I went.”
Keep it up. Guillebeau’s success, quite literally, has been built one reader at a time. “Right now, I’m writing you from a middle seat in Economy Class on a flight to Anchorage,” he says. “I’m going there and back in a day to do a $100 Startup event for a relatively small group of people. Last week I was in Austin and Newark doing much the same thing, albeit for bigger groups.” His combination of steady blogging and in-person events is “more of an ongoing pattern of life,” he says. “These things add up over time. Overnight success, such as it is, usually comes about through a lot of work.”
What are you doing to live the life you’ve imagined?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on March 26, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.