Have You Settled for a Less-Than-Ideal Life?

In the middle of a recession, we were able to fulfill a dream few think is possible. How about you? When will you get out of your rut? How about today? Here are five steps to get you started.
02/23/2016 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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I pulled my hood over my head as I looked down into one of nature's most magnificent creations, and one of my favorite things: a gorgeous waterfall.

We were ten kilometers into our hike at Yosemite National Park in California, and I wasn't at all tired. I was energized, drinking in every moment, knowing that for the next month and a half, I had even more amazing experiences coming my way.

This was the trip of a lifetime - the trip I had been dreaming about for years, and now it was a reality. My husband and I were on the road for two months, travelling the perimeter of North America - from Ontario out west to Vancouver, from Vancouver to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Florida, from Florida to Newfoundland, and back to Ontario.

So many of our friends told us they wished they could do a trip like this. Many asked how we managed it, and how we were able to afford it. The answer is simple: we stopped dreaming and we started doing. We sat down, wrote down a route, calculated the price of gas, joined travelling communities online, and started saving. We planned and saved for two years, and then we set out on our dream trip.

You can make your dreams come true, and you can get out of the rut you've settled for as your life. Wishing for something doesn't make it come true. You have to want it, and then you have to take the steps to make it happen.

If there's even one dream you've had that you now consider unrealistic, for whatever reason, I invite you to use our cross-North America road trip as an example. In the middle of a recession, we were able to fulfill a dream few think is possible. How about you? When will you get out of your rut? How about today? Here are five steps to get you started.

1. Change your mind about what is realistic.

Too many of us see "growing up" as giving up our dreams. We view dreams as silly or unattainable. This is wrong. Anything you can dream (barring the laws of physics), you can accomplish. So dream. Dream big. And then turn that dream into a goal.

2. Write it down.

Write down your dream, in very broad terms, on a piece of paper. Then see if you can make that dream a bit more specific, using the SMART goal method: make sure it's specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Keep it broad for now - you can break your goal down into smaller steps later.

3. Pay off your debt.

For many, dreams are unattainable because of debt. Before we set out on our trip, my husband and I paid off all our debt. We worked hard and we got it done. Is debt weighing you down? Get rid of it. The easiest way to live debt-free is to create a budget - and stick to it. There are many apps and software programs available to help you do just that. Research some; talk to your friends. And then make debt repayment the biggest goal on your budget (after real food necessities and house/apartment bills).

4. Start Saving

Remember that big goal you wrote down in step 1? Time to break it down. How much will your dream cost? How can you cut costs?

A big reason my husband and I could afford our huge trip is that we didn't stay at hotels. We are dancers, and we stayed with other dancers as we travelled. This not only made our trip more affordable, but it also made it a lot more fun and a lot more rewarding.

Once you have a rough estimate of how much your dream will cost, start saving. Take all the money you were putting into your debt and put it towards your dream instead. Remember the budget you created in step 3? It will help you immensely here.

5. Get rid of your useless stuff - whether material or habitual

How many material possessions does a person truly need? How many of your material possessions are cutting into the precious time you could be using to make your dream a reality?

Start purging ruthlessly. Get rid of anything you haven't used in over a year, get rid of anything that isn't extremely practical or that doesn't bring you joy. Sell these things, and put the money you earn from the sales into your dream fund.

What about useless habits? Get rid of them too. Be honest with yourself: how much time are you wasting on social media, video games, TV? How much time are you wasting on tasks that could be streamlined? Examine your life, and clean it up as best you can. Get rid of useless or bad habits, or time-draining habits that aren't getting you closer to your dream.

Your dreams are not impossible, and you don't have to settle for a "realistic life." The reality you create for yourself is only restricted by your imagination - so let your imagination roam free. Dream it. Put in the hard work (it will be hard work!) And then live it. This is your dream. Only you can make it happen.