For decades I walked around describing myself as “not much of a future-focused” person. I said it like it was a badge of honor. I thought it was–until the day I realized my lack of life direction was the exact reason I had yet take control of my personal finances.
What’s Your Dream? Everybody’s Got a Dream
So I dumped the past and dreamt up a beautiful dream for my future. And it starts a little something like this. (Cue hazy dream sequence.)
“The gentle summer breeze tosses the leaves of trees that protect the rear of the house from the rest of the world. When I close my eyes, my fingers caressing the warmth of my coffee mug, From the above me, I can hear his fingers flying across the keyboard. Another great American novel being crafted from the man who finally found his way to chose me.
My tuxedo troublemaker cat interrupts my romantic notions to remind me it’s time to kick into gear.
I stroll down to the boathouse, my toes slip through the soft green grass. My daughter’s family and my closest friends are arriving this afternoon. The Hackercraft needs to be ready to go with all-sized life preservers, towels, sunblock, and cold waters. The lake is gorgeous today and everyone will want to go out. I know very well that everything is already set but I just kinda love looking at that gorgeous piece of art. I spent a lifetime wanting that boat and I am not-so-secretly proud that I could gift to myself (and my family) at the ripe old age of 55.
Since I do have a bit more time, there’s really nothing stopping me from indulging in a quick dip in the Queen of American Lakes. I dive into the perfectly clean water and float on my back, staring up at the puffy upstate NY clouds. I smile at the thoughts of my best friends and how they are bound to charge in like they own the place (which I love.) I contemplate the necessity of leaving home when you are young and the beauty in the return. I think about true love and the importance of loving what you do. I am blissfully content and fulfilled and perfectly me.
“Are you gonna do any work today?” he yells.
I push back my hair in the water and surface with giggle. “Are you?”
It’s an old joke between us, a loving exchange that still brings a smile to both our faces. As I pull myself from the cooling waters, I don a towel and sunglasses and hike the short and gentle slope to my lake house.”
This is where it gets a little geeky. First. Did you ever try to solve one of those little box mazes you see in puzzle books….or the placemats of Denny’s? You drag your crayon down lots of dead ends, route backward, make a new choice, then move forward, until you hit other end and back up and take the opposite choice than you did before. At the end, it’s just a big ol’ mess. Well, that kind of describes my life until now.
Except for one thing. I’m freaking way smarter than that. I hate to sound like an arrogant ass but I’m smart. Even when I was a child, I knew that you could cheat the puzzle and save yourself the time and frustration by just running the maze in reverse. There’s no way you can fail. You start at the finish and work backward. One way in. One way to win. No obstacles. No dead ends.
Ding. (Sound of lightbulb moment.)
Now that I had my “end”, my dream life, I just need to run the maze backward. And for that, I look to my education in science and my passion for sci-fi.
I had to reverse engineer my dream.
Unfortunately, I can’t beam Scottie down from the Enterprise or even Kaylee from Serenity. I don’t know any engineers from Roswell, which is probably because they have all been brainwashed by the Men in Black. Shit. OK. That leaves little old me to fulfill my life dreams….and Post-Its. (Yes, Post-Its. They are very important part of my process.)
How To Reverse Engineer Your Dream Life
Step 1: Have a Dream Life
There are lots of different ways to arrive at your dream life. I’m not an expert but I do understand how important it is. Living an aimless life is fine for some. I get it. I did it for years. It works well for many and is kinda fun. However, the older you get, the more a haphazard lifestyle has consequences. Dreams give you something to work toward. Ambition begets growth. Growth begets change. Change is life.
If you are stuck, and can’t even imagine being out of where you are right now, trust that things will settle enough where you can dream. Don’t fret and DON’T give up on the idea that things can and will be better.
Step 2: Create Your Vision Board
I had a vision board for year before I realized that’s what it was. I know. I’m weird. It was meant as an inspiration board for a novel I was writing. However, my novel was semi-autobiographical and was set twenty years in the future. Again, weird I know. But I found this board recently and decided to put it on display as a way to motivate me to write my novel. (Don’t ask.) When I took an objective look at it, I realized it was always what I wanted from my future and now use it as my vision board.
There are tons of inspirational ways to build a vision board. Check Pinterest for ideas. Just make it visual and put it where you can’t ignore it.
Step 3: Attach the Price Tags
Not going to lie. This part sucks–but it’s part of the process. Take a look at your vision board and figure how much it will cost to you to get it. I’m speaking about monetary value but if you want to dig deeper into motivation, resources, assistances, etc., go for it. I did some ballpark calculations on what my dream lake house would cost, and the boat. I’m hoping the man will come along for free but my kids college education and the annual group vacations needed to sustain my friendships are in there.
It’s better to have those big figures up front. Don’t worry, the next steps break them into chewable chunks. (Eww, that’s a bad turn of phase.) You can choose whether to incorporate the figures on your vision board. I choose not to. I keep it in my “to be paid” folder with my bills as a constant reminder that I should be paying myself toward these goals.
Step 4: Identify The Big Goals To Get You There
Now that you have the dream, the visual reminder and the price tags, stop. Just take a step back. Try like hell to detach emotion at this step. See it as a business challenge. A problem to be solved. What 4-5 “things” are you going to need to make it happen.
For example, my dream is a beautiful lakeside home, self-employment, supportive romantic relationship, loving friends and family…and a kick-ass boat. I dissected this into 5 key goals. Location, Reputation, Friends & Family, Capital, and Network. I wrote these on big Post-Its. Are these the right “buckets”? Fuck if I know but they make sense to me. They broke the dream into smaller goals. They allowed me to move one step further backward to tactics.
Step 5: Brainstorm Tactics For Each Goal
Now that you have your “big goals” you can move one more step backward and split into tactics. These are projects/efforts/things you can do to accomplish that goal. For example, for my “Location” goal I understand very well that I can’t buy a lake house right now or anywhere in the foreseeable future. But I can improve credit score so I can eventually qualify for a mortgage. I might be able to buy a cheaper property that I could rent out to gain extra income. I can try like hell to hold onto my new life insurance policy that is predicted to pay nice dividends in 20 years. I can keep in touch with my real estate friends in that area.
Tactics are smaller, more bite-sized chunks that are associated with each goal. They go on smaller post-its and are situated near their corresponding big goal.
Step 6: Prioritize Your Tactics
I’d like to say I’m an expert an how to set goals and achieve them. I’m not. Remember me? The crazy Lady on this journey?
I dabble a bit with learning about goal-setting, habit making, etc. I read a bit of James Clear and I kind of dug the takeaway of Gary Keller’s The One Thing. However, the best I can come up for myself right now is having my vision board, bucket goals, and tactics on a wall in my bedroom. There’s a print out of my Steps Toward a Profitable Life and a Post-It with a handwritten Henry David Thoreau quote that reads:
“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, of rather indicates, his fate.”
Right now, I hit a specific tactics when I have motivation and energy. I’m kind of buck shotting it. Maybe darts at the wall? I do know there is a better way. I also recognize I’m not there yet. And that’s OK. I’m kinda jamming on my “The Lady in the Black”, “Fuck Tax Debt”, and “Frequent Group Vacations” Post-Its. If you feel overwhelmed, just go back to the dream and run the maze backward to where you are. Put a “You Are Here” pin in it and rest.
Step 7: Be Flexible. Stay Cool.
Funny story. My Post-Its started randomly falling off my bedroom wall. In a moment of weakness, I interpreted it as a “sign.” Maybe I was fooling myself. Who the fuck am I to dream such lofty goals when I’m still dragged down by tax debt and money mismanagement? I got sad. My dream guy and friends seemed so far away.
But then I found some tape and stuck those fuckers up with a vengeance. My dream. My goals. My Post-Its. Fuck weak-ass 3M glue.
If your tactics change, fine. Change them. If you get a new dream, cool. Build a new vision board. Your life. Your rules. And, remember, your money works for you.
When you an article like this, you are never sure of what your readers will take away from it. However, if nothing else, just know that dreams are transformative. You don’t need them but they do certainly make life far more interesting. And if you have them but don’t know where to begin. Start backwards. Reverse engineer your dreams. Scottie would be proud. So would I.