09/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You Living the Life You Imagined?

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

If you ask ten different children that age-old question, you'll likely get ten different answers--all delivered with the determination and optimism that comes with the innocence of childhood.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to help others gain a better understanding of themselves and achieve greater happiness. What were your youthful ambitions? As a child, how did you envision your grown-up self? Whether you wanted to become a novelist, a doctor, or a performer, you can probably remember the certainty with which you answered the question.

As adults, swept up in the hectic demands of work, family and endless obligations, we're faced with another, more difficult question: "Are you living the life you imagined?"

It can rear its head anytime--when you find yourself in the midst of a tedious task on the job, when you hear about someone else's life-defining accomplishment, or when you just sense that a certain indefinable something is missing. The question doesn't only pertain to our occupations--it can apply to the quality of your personal relationships, your involvement with charitable endeavors, or the time spent pursuing a passion or hobby.

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
- Henry Thoreau

In other words, do what you love, and success will find you. Easier said than done, right? Maybe--but turning imagination into reality may be within closer reach than you think.

So, where to begin?

1. Don't ignore it. Your imagined life serves a purpose--consider it a road sign marking the path to your optimal happiness and fulfillment. Too often, people discount their imaginations as impractical or unrealistic, instead of embracing them as cues for enlightenment.

2. Get inspired by others. Seek out people who are living their passions and find out how they went after their dreams. You don't have to copy exactly what they did, but their accomplishments will serve as a motivation for your own success.

3. Eliminate fear from the equation. Ask yourself what you would do if success was an absolute certainty. When you're not inhibited by a fear of failure, you'll be surprised how your imagination soars.

4. Keep a "passion list." Write down all the things that thrill, motivate, or uplift you, adding new sources of joy as you find them. When they're spelled out in front of you, even the most far-fetched items will suddenly seem more attainable.

5. Set out visual cues. If your goal is to write a novel, set out books by the authors you wish to emulate. Print out inspirational quotes and hang them around your writing space. These types of visual reminders will help keep the imaginative fires burning.

6. Get support from like-minded people. By surrounding yourself with others who share your same goals, you'll be more likely to take steps to pursue them.

7. Negate negativity. Regardless of how lofty or difficult your goals might seem, it's important to eliminate self-defeating sentiments--both verbal and mental. When you let yourself engage in limiting speech and thoughts, you're essentially pushing your dreams away.

I truly believe that embracing the imagination is the key to personal fulfillment. Success is never a complete guarantee, but when you silence your inner naysayer long enough to listen--really listen--to what your inner voice is telling you, your imagined life will become that much closer to the life you live.

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