How do you decide that it’s finally time to chase your dream? Should you just start or are there markers in your life that will make it clear that “today’s the day”?
These are the sorts of questions you’re probably asking yourself. “I’ve wanted to be a ________ for my whole life, but when should I start?” There’s no definite answer. It really depends on your situation. There are some things to start looking for, though.
I start with the one that triggered me to ask, “Is now the time?” I’d asked the question before, but I started to suspect it was time when I heard about the change in my employment at my last “regular job.”
For reasons that I still don’t get fully, they said they thought they could get better bang for their buck in California than Kentucky, so they offered to move all of us from my department. I didn’t feel called to leave, but I felt that it was especially true when I heard that while they planned to help with moving expenses, they didn’t plan to raise our salaries to compensate for higher living expenses.
Having decided not to stay with the company, I received a generous severance package. This was akin to a quarter of my yearly salary, so I knew I had an opportunity to do what I’d felt called to for about twenty-five years.
This is an example of a “boundary situation.” In my case, I was coming to the end of work with that company and needed to do something different anyway. It’s at least worth asking when this happens if you should do the “obvious thing” and get another corporate job or start doing something different.
The money I received when I left made it easier. I was able to use that money for the first year, stretching it, to ease the transition. It wasn’t the cause of the decision for me; it was evidence that it was the right one.
Our lives are filled with boundary situations of one kind or another. There are boundaries in employment, in location, in relationships, and other areas. Sometimes it’s just a “major birthday” that causes you to stop and think about your life. That’s a boundary, too.
The funny thing about life is that we can coast for years in the same direction, never really considering if it’s the right direction or not. Boundaries are the speed bumps or stoplights that give us time to change direction.
It’s just time
Sometimes, there isn’t a clear external stimulus that causes you to launch out. Sometimes, you’ve laid all the ground work and it’s just time. Why didn’t Jesus start His ministry earlier? He had 30 years after He was born. In Luke, we read about an incident at the temple where He was teaching with other leaders, so He had the ability. He wasn’t waiting to know God well-enough or anything like that. So, why wait? I think He was waiting for the time to be right.
Did you know that the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone with a touch screen? Why did the previous ones not take off and it did? To be sure, part of it was good engineering, part of it was good design, but part of it was timing. Like the iPod before it, others existed in the market, but had limitations that actually drove demand for the iPhone when it arrived. Timing really does matter.
Think of it this way. There were reformers before Luther. Many of them were killed because the ideas couldn’t spread fast enough and there weren’t powerful people to protect them.
Luther had a technological advantage over his predecessors. This advantage with the printing press. The “95 Theses” were printed and distributed quickly and resonated with those who read them. Additionally, nobles in Germany were willing to hid him and protect him as his ideas spread.
It was a good time to start a reformation. Timing can make or break an idea.
Let’s look at technology again (because it’s my thing, so the analogies come easily to me from that sphere). Microsoft had quite an advantage over Apple when it came to phones before the iPhone was announced. Windows phone was one of the dominant operating systems. It had a limitation because it required a stylus to tap small targets on the screen.
When the iPhone launched, it became clear that styli for hitting small buttons weren’t a good idea. At first, Microsoft mocked Apple’s ideas. Eventually, it became clear that they needed to redesign their interface.
When Windows Phone 7 (and 8) launched many people who tried them actually preferred the “live tiles” of it’s user interface to iPhone and Android, but in the time since Windows phone was just a scaled-down version of the Windows 95 and following desktop systems, Microsoft lost their lead. People left Windows phones in favor of iPhones and Android devices.
There was a large gap of time, measure in years, between the old-style Windows phones and the current ones. Since a lot of people upgrade their phones every year or two, this was a problem. When the current version of Microsoft’s phones arrived, people had already made their choice.
You can choose to move too late and that’s what Microsoft did. They could have held onto people with a change earlier, but since people had found a better solution, they were hesitant to return to something that wasn’t exponentially better as iPhone and Android seemed to many when compared to Windows.
Be careful when you’re waiting for “the right time.” Some have gone their whole lives looking for “the right time” and they either missed it or it didn’t come at all. Either way, the result is the same. If you don’t stop at every boundary, if you don’t notice “the right time,” you could miss it and never do what you dream of doing.
Please pray about situations that come up which seem to fall into this last category, to be sure, but sometimes it just seems obvious.
For fun, let me ask you to imagine a situation that you’d classify as “obviously time.” Now, since I don’t know what your calling is, I can’t imagine for you, but I’m going to throw out a possible list. Let’s see if any of these resonate with you.
It might be obviously time if you receive money from an unexpected source that pays the equivalent of your salary for a long time. It might be obvious if you get a contract to do what you’ve dreamed of that you can only meet if you do it full-time. If you realize that you’re financially independent, but your dream still begs to be chased, it might be obviously time. If your spouse has grown tired of you not chasing your dreams and has the means to sponsor you to do so, it might be obvious.
It’s possible that some combination of these things or others will be the trigger for you, but you’re probably dreaming of the “obvious situation” right now.
For most of us, I don’t think these come around. In fact, some people pass up “the right time” hoping for the “obvious time.” We want to be certain with big decisions, to be sure. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy.
For everyone else
I wish I could say that everyone will come to a boundary, at the right time, and make the obvious decision. I wish it was that way because fewer people would die with regret. The fact is that you probably need to start now doing something about your calling, rather than waiting.
Hear what I’m saying here. You shouldn’t necessarily quit your job and move to Alaska to start writing (or whatever you’d do if you knew you couldn’t fail). I’m saying that you should start and make progress toward your goal.
I can trace some of my decisions back to high school, some twenty plus years ago. When I had a teacher tell me I was a good writer, I chose to believe her. When I chose to go to a better school instead of the school I thought I wanted to go to, I was investing in my skills. When I went to seminary and learned to do video, I was just starting to catch a glimpse of my present self.
I didn’t take the leap I took in a vacuum. I didn’t start with nothing one day and start a business the next. I built skill after skill and kept my eyes open for the time.
It might not surprise you to hear that, much to my wife’s chagrin, I only searched for jobs that I thought would aid me in this goal. I worked at a chain electronics store. I worked in a church as a creative director. I worked in local television. I worked as a store manager, leading people and making business decisions. I worked in a video store. I worked at a hotel as an audio-video technician. I worked at a whole-house audio-video manufacturer.
During most of this time, I volunteered at my church. My hobbies were cutting-edge techniques that I later would write about. See? I didn’t have a dream one day and pursue it the next, but I built my skills slowly over time.
Work on your foundation now even if you have no idea how to build the first floor of your dream. Start with what you can do and keep going until you can do it all well enough to have a structure in place.
Will you know how to do everything? No. Should you know how to do a lot? Yep.
One final caution. Don’t discount what you already know. Talk to your friends about the area you want to do. It could be that you’re the only one who knows about the need for clean water in Africa. Maybe you obsess about leading worship. Whatever it is, don’t discount the distance you’ve already come because while I don’t want you to go from formation of the dream to acting it out 40 hours a week in a week, it could be that you’re closer to taking the leap than you think.
I can’t tell you which camp you fall into, but you do fall into one. Keep that in mind and take your next step…today.