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How to Get the Life You Want

Step 1: Hunt and gather.

Get your hands on any info you can find about what it'll take to attain your goal. Read online, check out books and magazines, investigate courses and local adult-education centers and colleges, and talk to people who've done what you want to do. Don't know anyone with "connections"? Call associations that represent the subject area that interests you (if you want to become a massage therapist, call the American Massage Therapy Association) or visit businesses related to your dream (Want a horticulture degree? Chat up the salesperson at your local garden center). "This is a confidence-builder because it helps squash the feeling that you need to know it all from the outset," says Fortgang.

Step 2: Tackle your fear.

When you're embarking on something huge that you've never done before, it's completely natural to be scared. "You're out on a limb without a net and you don't know what the outcome will be," says Fortgang. Keep your nerves under control by having an "anchor"—a tangible reminder of your goal that you can refer to when you start to wonder why the heck you're putting yourself through all this. That anchor might be anything from a mission statement that you write in your journal, to an object you keep on your desk, to a person (your husband, your sister, a close friend) you can turn to for encouragement whenever you need it.

Step 3: Take baby steps.

You don't need to know how to get from point A to point Z when you start. Write up a plan of small to-do's that will take you to one milestone, and then keep repeating the process until you've reached your goal. "The enormity of the task of writing a book proposal really worried me and my coauthor since we both have kids and full-time jobs," recalls Colburn-Smith. "Breaking the project down into bite-size chunks made it feel manageable and kept us moving from one step to the next." Multiple mini-goals also give you plenty of opportunities to celebrate your many accomplishments, which will keep you motivated all along the way to the finish line!

Step 4: Walk your walk.

When your hard work starts paying off—say, you've been accepted to a graduate school program or you've written half the recipes for your cookbook—act like the expert you are by identifying yourself that way, which will help you take yourself seriously. When introducing yourself, get in the habit of saying, "I'm a writer" or "I'm a chef." Or get business cards printed up with your new info, as Colburn-Smith did. Don't be wishy-washy about it: Statements like "I'm trying to be an author" or "I'm sort of working on becoming a therapist" can mentally sabotage you, while treating yourself like a complete success reminds you that you will be one!

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