dream big hot air balloon

It’s a lot easier to dream big when we are kids. I thought I could do or be anything I wanted.

At the age of 3, I wholeheartedly believed I could grow up to be a princess. As I grew older, my ambitions changed. I could be an author, a teacher, travel everywhere in the world, live in another country, and help people. I didn’t know how, but I had all the confidence in the world that I could make it happen. 

Over time, I lost my childlike wonder. I lost confidence that I could live an unconventional life. 

My first job out of college seemed like everything I wanted. I taught English at a university in Nicaragua. I felt like I was living an unconventional life aligned with my purpose.

Then, I got sick… repeatedly.

To make a long story short, my living situation was such that I simply could not stay healthy. After repeated bouts of parasites and amoebas (and losing 25 pounds in less than three months), I had to return back to the USA.

It took almost a year for my health to get back to normal. During this time, my life became a conventional story. We moved to northern New Jersey, right outside New York City. We got a dose of reality really quick.

We had to make ends meet on meager starting salaries. We quickly realized that our apartment had cockroaches. And, we couldn’t afford any entertainment beyond rending movies from the Redbox. So, we set our sights on making more money. 

After making this decision, it feels like I put my head down and went on autopilot for 10 years. Besides advancing at work, my biggest dreams were to take vacations. After the vacation was over, I’d return right back to the toxic, full-time work I came from. 

I put my dreams out of my mind. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to achieve them. “Why think about something if I’ll just be disappointed when it’s impossible anyway?” I’d ask myself. 

Things started to change for me in 2018. I had a mental health crisis in July of that year that made me step back and rethink everything. After several months out on medical leave, I knew that I couldn’t go back to normal.

Around this time, I learned about financial independence and lifestyle design. I started to understand what financial freedom could do for me. I began to learn about the unconventional ways that people were living their lives.

And, I started to believe that it was possible for me to dream again. 

Now, I know that I can do just about anything I want. Sure, I’d need to figure out how I’d pay for it and decide if the trade-offs are worth it. But, if I want something enough, I am confident I can make it happen for myself (even if not immediately).

Most importantly, I don’t need to wait until after I reach FI to dream big or make my dreams a reality.

Relearning to Dream Big

Over the last few years, I’ve relearned to dream big again. There were a few key things that supported this process that I want to share with you, including:

  • Exposing myself to different ways of living
  • Building a like-minded community
  • Silencing my inner critic
  • Brainstorming new ideas
  • Taking action through experimentation

Expose Yourself to New Lifestyle Designs

One of the things that had the biggest early impact was hearing the stories of people who were living their lives in different ways.

I started following bloggers and other creators who were doing interesting things. Here were some of my early favorites:

  • Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity) had written a lot about entrepreneurship and building up multiple streams of income by doing things you really enjoyed doing. 
  • Michelle Shroeder-Gardner (Making Sense of Cents) traveled around in a campervan for a few years before upgrading to nomadic life on a sailboat.
  • Paula Pant (Afford Anything) quit her journalism job and took a gap year to travel the world before deciding to take on freelance work, real estate, and eventually her own business.
  • Kristy and Bryce (Millennial Revolution) became financially independent at 31, quit their jobs, and traveled the world for $40,000/year. 
  • Jason (Mr. Free at 33) became financially independent by moving to Thailand and reducing his cost of living. 
  • Michael and Ellen (Uncommon Dream) reached FI in their 30s and spent long periods of time living in Ecuador and Colombia to help instill in their kids the love of adventure and the Spanish language. 
  • Liz (The Frugalwoods) decided to move with her family to a 66-acre homestead in Vermont.

Getting exposure to new ways of living was incredibly important for me. I had pushed my dreams away for so long that I didn’t even know what I wanted anymore. Learning how others were living their lives allowed me to see what could be possible for me.

Over the last three years, it’s been my mission to share the stories of ordinary people living unconventional lives – before reaching FI. I’ve done this through our Slow FI interview series. These stories have inspired me along my journey, and my hope is that they can inspire you too. 

Here are a few of the interviews that have inspired me most:

If you want to be inspired, I’d encourage you to check out the full list of Slow FI interviews

Build a Like-Minded Community

Beyond following people online, it’s been incredibly important for me to connect with like-minded people.

Getting to know people on a personal level has helped me realize that these people who I look up to aren’t much different from me. They aren’t larger than life. They don’t have superhuman levels of confidence. They simply had an idea and consistently took action (and experienced so many of the same mistakes and limiting beliefs that I have along the way). 

A like-minded community will challenge you to dream bigger and take action. 

If you want to connect and build relationships with people in real life, I’d encourage you to check out the following options:

While I’ve not attended or joined all of these, I aspire to! I’m most excited to attend the Ecuador Chautauqua that’s happening in just a few weeks! On the docket for 2023 is EconoMe, Camp FI, and possibly even my own Slow FI-focused event (so stay tuned!). 

Silence Your Inner Critic

To dream big, we need to silence (or at least manage) our inner critic. So many of us have the tendency to look for all the reasons why something won’t work. We need to arrest this process. 

One of my favorite frameworks to help silence your inner critic is the Disney Creative Strategy.

disney creative strategy

Within the Disney creative strategy, there are three distinct and separate roles or phases: dreamer, realist, and critic. 

The important thing to know about the Disney Creative Strategy is that it helps us create a separate space for realism and critique.

This allows us to create a container for the dreaming phase and not get derailed thinking about all the reasons why something won’t work. There will be a time and space for that… LATER.

One group agreement that I have in all my coaching programs is to focus on possibilities. Instead of thinking about all the reasons something won’t work, we flip it and ask the following questions instead:

  • How could this work?
  • What resources and skills would be required?
  • How could I build those resources and skills? 
  • What if it worked out? What would that look like? 

Lastly, when we are brainstorming as a group, we borrow the “yes, and…” approach from improv theatre. This means there are no bad ideas. We won’t shoot down any idea (no matter how hard it is not to). We see each idea as a gift knowing that we can take and build on. One idea leads to the next. Any idea could lead us to the next good idea. But, we’ll never get there if we take a “no, but…” approach. 

Brainstorm New Ideas

Once you have your mindset right and have the intention to focus on possibilities, this is when you can start to brainstorm new ideas!

When starting to brainstorm ideas, it’s important to start with what’s most important to you. In my coaching programs, I call this identifying the elements of your ideal life:

  • WHAT: the things you love to do
  • WHY: your core values and motivations
  • HOW: how you can carry out your WHAT and WHY in a way that feels good (taking into account your unique personality characteristics, limitations, and strengths). 

I won’t go into too much detail about this here, but if you want to learn more you can check out this blogpost where I dove a lot deeper into this framework. 

There are three idea generation techniques that I love:

  • Mind Mapping
  • Group Brainstorming
  • Creating Odyssey Plans

I first learned about mind mapping and odyssey plans when I worked through Designing Your Life, which is one of my favorite books. I now incorporate these two elements into my group coaching program. 

Mind Mapping is where you do simple word associations. You start with a word in the center of your page, then you draw 5-6 lines from the word and write down things related to that word. You move to the next layer and do that for each of the words you wrote down. You might do this for 1-2 more layers. The words don’t need to relate to each other. You just want to get the juices flowing. 

Because this practice can be challenging for highly logical people (myself included), it’s helpful to set a timer for 6-7 minutes. I try to write down as many possible things as possible until the timer goes off. 

Here is an example of a mind-map that I did as part of a lifestyle design process. 

mind map brainstorm dream

After creating your mind map, take a few minutes to look over the mind map and notice the words that are sticking out to you. Then, you can use these words to come up with new ideas, solutions, or activities that you want to try out. 

The next strategy is group brainstorming. The key to group brainstorming is that everyone in the group needs to commit to staying in the “dreamer” space and focusing on possibilities.

It’s great to brainstorm as a group after the mind-mapping activity. This allows us to make a list of all the words that stuck out, and then ask, “How many ideas can we come up with as possible related to these words?”  

When groups take a “yes, and…” approach, the ideas start to flow. One idea leads to the next bigger and better idea.

It’s also really inspiring to brainstorm with a group. When people are sharing what feels like a crazy idea, it’s amazing to realize, “Wow! These people actually believe I could do these things.”

Lastly, my favorite step is to create what the Designing Your Life book calls Odyssey Plans. These are potential 5-year plans to help you see what could be possible.

When you create Odyssey Plans, you create 3 life plans:

  • Life 1 is what you are expecting to do. It’s either your current life extended forward or an idea that you’ve been thinking about for a while. 
  • Life 2 is if the main component of life 1 is no longer an option. Imagine that thing no longer exists and people have no need for it anymore. What would you do instead? This helps us get creative and not just keep iterating on one plan.
  • Life 3 asks what life could look like if money or status were no object. If you could immediately generate the income you need and nobody would think any less of you, what would you do? Note: this is slightly different than if you had all the money in the world. Instead, it’s that you could immediately generate the income needed doing what you love to do. 

When I created Odyssey plans in 2019, my life 3 felt like such a pie-in-the-sky idea. I articulated that I’d love to be a lifestyle design coach, slow travel the world, and host retreats in different areas. Three years later, it’s amazing to realize that I’m well on my way to making it a reality.

I’m now self-employed and get to help people design lives they truly love. Our campervan will be complete within the next few weeks. I’ve attended and have spoken at a variety of retreats and other events. I’ve planned virtual retreats for my clients. And, I’m starting to brainstorm about running a live event in 2023!

One important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do one of these plans exactly as is. These are simply tools for brainstorming. Once you do them, you get to decide what components of each plan are most interesting to you. Then, you can start to explore and experiment. 

Taking Action Allows You to Dream Even Bigger

We can’t expect big goals and dreams to reveal themselves to us as we sit and reflect. We must take action. 

Once we have some ideas that we are interested in, we must experiment and test out these ideas. As we do this, we learn valuable insights and build the confidence to dream even bigger. The essence of lifestyle design is that it’s iterative. It’s a virtuous cycle that can keep us moving forward. 

lifestyle design cycle

When I first created my potential Odyssey plans, I had absolutely no idea what my life would look like three years down the road. But, I took action and experimented. I hosted meet-ups. I started giving presentations to my local meetup groups and virtual communities. I launched my group coaching program and built the Slow FI community.

All these actions helped me realize that I truly love doing this. And, it gave me the confidence to take the next steps.  

When I first dreamed up this idea, I thought, “Maybe I’ll generate a little income so I can semi-retire five years down the road.” After experimenting, I realized it was a viable way to generate income, and I realized I could make a transition a lot sooner.

Without experimentation, I would never have become self-employed three years later. I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.  

This is why lifestyle design is best described as a cycle. When we take action to experiment with our ideas, we refine the elements of our ideal life. We also build confidence that helps us dream even bigger. Then, we can experiment with those bigger dreams and the process continues. 

Lifestyle design is an iterative process. The more you experiment, the more you’ll learn about yourself and refine your goals and dreams. 

If you want to learn more about lifestyle design, I’d encourage you to check out this comprehensive guide I wrote about lifestyle design. If you are interested in learning more about my lifestyle design programs, click here to learn more about my lifestyle design program and join the waitlist.

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