The words what if can be the foundation for dreams to grow or the place where fears stop them.

When we’re children, we have dreams of what we want to be when we grow up: a firefighter, an actress, a comedian, a farmer. But as we grew up, our dreams changed, and that tricky little thing called life got in the way. Some of the goals accrued during those early years came right, while others were put on the back burner so we could focus on family and work.

We often think that our dreams will never happen. We resign ourselves to thinking, “This is my life, for better or worse.” We console ourselves with the fragile belief that maybe one day…

If the opportunity to fulfill those dreams appears, we say “But…” or “I can’t right now.” We believe our lives have barriers: money, possessions, family obligations. And then we tie our happiness to those elusive dreams.

When I was in my early 20s, while others were in college, starting their careers, and finding love, I was raising a kid. My dreams of traveling around the world were put on hold. Self-destructive thoughts played over and over in my mind: I don’t have the time; I’m molding a human being; I don’t have the money; traveling right now is just plain selfish.

I could have called it quits on my dreams. Instead, I planned.

Italy and India were not immediately feasible, so I satiated my desire to travel with smaller adventures. I went to New York City dozens of times. I went to Philadelphia, Rehoboth Beach, Washington, D.C., and up and down the East Coast. My husband and I went to see his family in Ottawa, Canada, and also made time to visit Montreal and Mont Saint-Sauveur.

Even with those small trips, I never let go of my ultimate dream. I spent 18 years dreaming of Italy and India, but instead of thinking about if I would go, I thought about when I would.

It was that thinking that helped me plan for my dreams. I became an active participant in my life. I learned about the best times to fly, how far out to buy tickets, and how to bargain shop for flights. And then, one day, when my daughter was a senior in high school, and I was about to be an empty-nester, I bought my ticket to India. And then Belize. And then Italy.

In two years, I traveled to 11 countries.

During those years, many of which were spent living paycheck to paycheck; I could have resigned myself as someone too weak to move. Instead, I had to negotiate what I needed and what I wanted. I had to make a choice to let go of what society says is a “perfect” life to live the life I felt drawn to.

Did a new car help me get to Italy? Would Prada shoes take me to India? Would decorating the house with every cute thing I saw at Pier One bring me happiness?

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Author Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Living simply helped unshackle my tie to the material world. It was a bit like decluttering the mind. In co-creating my life, I became the hero of my story. I wasn’t the victim of life’s circumstances. Did that mean I didn’t have overdue bills, family members interfering, or chaos at work? Not. What these choices did was help me realize that I could either use these circumstances to define who I was and what I was capable of, or I could determine my destiny.

Making our dreams and goals happen isn’t something that falls into our laps. It is about doing the work. It’s about discovering what makes us truly happy, and then chasing it like a dog chases a squirrel—with stubborn determination.

It’s not about making sacrifices; it’s about identifying what is essential in our life and not just junk that will one day be donated to Good Will when we move into a nursing home. Because let’s face it, our kids most likely don’t want every knick-knack we bought over the course of 40 years.

We are born with nothing, and when we die, we take nothing but our experiences with us. It is our dreams that provide those opportunities for us to live truly so that in the end, we not only have something our children will want—our stories—but we live a life of example. We live a life that proves that anything is possible.

Here are five steps to help us get started:

  1. Identify your dream. More money, a new car, and a high-paying position are not dreams. They are the result of ideas. Think about what makes you happy. What do you feel drawn to?
  2. Write a comparison list. How do you currently spend your time and money? Does this line up with what your dreams are?
  3. Identify what you’re willing to change or do to make your dreams happen. If you eat out five times a week, maybe you reduce it to once a week. If you have self-destructive thoughts, use meditation as a tool to find equanimity.
  4. Set a timeline. Don’t force the schedule, but don’t give up hope either. Be reasonable. I set my deadline for 18 years! It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, but it also doesn’t have to be two decades away.
  5. Feed the dream each day. Take a few minutes each day to imagine what it would be like to live your dream. Journal about it. Create a scrapbook. Do research. Feeding our dreams helps them grow.

Do you think is hard to follow those steps? Waiting for your opinion.