By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES
Some people are dreamers. They have hopes and dreams, aspirations, and goals that occupy their thoughts incessantly. They are happy to share those dreams with their closest friends. Year after year. Do you know what happens to some of those dreamers? They sleep comfortably with those dreams. And nothing ever changes. All they actually accomplish is dreaming.
Other people wake up and work hard to make those dreams reality. The difference is a mindset shift. You have to decide to make your dreams come true, and making that decision usually involves deciding that you are not content with where you are and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to change the narrative of your life.
Change is difficult for most people. Impossible for others. Change is especially difficult when we realize that we have to change ourselves to change our circumstances. There's a certain mental fortitude necessary to arrive at this level of self-realization, and that is frequently uncomfortable. In fact, sometimes, it can be downright painful.
I remember once when I was young, maybe 8 years old, I got taught a life lesson that changed me forever and underscored the point I'm making. I wanted a bike because almost all of my friends had bikes, and kids who have bikes don't like sharing their bikes with kids who don't have their own bikes. I begged my grandmother - my primary caregiver for most of my childhood - for a bike. I must've gotten on her last nerve because after what seemed like months of whining and begging, she relented. My first bike was shiny and red, and it was the closest thing to a motorcycle a 8-year old could ask for. I was the happiest kid in the world. I used to shine it up every day before I went outside to ride up and down the block (I wasn't allowed to go farther than that without adult supervision - the hood is dangerous, after all), and I used to wipe it down to clean all the dirt off it when I came back inside. Life was wonderful.
Until my bike got stolen. Two high school-aged kids (I'm sure they had dropped out of high school already, but they were definitely around high school age) who used to hang out with the older kids on our block beat me up and stole my bike. They yanked me off my bike and punched me in the face until I let go of the handlebars. It felt like my nose had exploded, and my swollen lips covered most of my face. My friends saw the whole thing and nobody lifted a finger to help me. True, most of my friends were about my age, but a bunch of us could have taken the two of them....we could have at least jacked up their kneecaps or something. But, nobody did a thing. And I walked home a bloody, bruised mess, crying while I watched those punks ride my bike.
Lesson #1 Learned: nobody cares. The world doesn't care. Not only didn't my friends help me save my bike, they didn't even bother to walk home with me and make sure I was OK. The same guys who wanted to take turns riding my bike now were suddenly oblivious to the fact that my bike was gone and I got beaten up by a couple of guys twice my size.
When I got home, my grandmother didn't hug me or console me. She gave me a brief lecture and said: "Boy, do you know how much that bike cost? Don't come back in here without that bike. You need to decide right now if you're more afraid of those punks or me." Then she beat me with an extension cord to give me the motivation I needed to get my bike back.
I went back outside and marched up the street screaming at the top of my lungs, "Gimmie my bike back!" The thugs laughed, and so did all of my useless friends. One of the thugs said, "Little man, you ain't gettin' this bike back. It's my bike now. Go back home before you get hurt some more." I realized I was in a no-win situation: get beat up by these high school dropouts again, or get beat all night by my grandmother who had an itchy trigger finger. I turned around to walk away to gather my thoughts, and I saw a brick on the ground, near a tree. I grabbed the brick and bashed the guy on my bike in the head as hard as I could. He fell off the bike, and I jumped on him, teary eyed and angry, and I kept hitting him as hard as I could until his friend pulled me off him. Then I got on my bike and rode back home. My grandmother smiled when I came back home with my bike and told me that I'd made the right decision.
Lesson #2 Learned: you have two choices when life's circumstances aren't in your favor - change, or remain the same. I could've accepted that those juvenile delinquents were bigger and stronger than me and that I didn't stand a chance of getting my bike and my dignity back. But I decided that giving up wasn't an option, and at that moment, I realized that nobody was going to give me anything. The first time I went back home, I was a victim - in every sense of the word. The second time I went home, I was victorious - not just because I got my bike back, but because I didn't allow myself to wallow in self-pity and remain a victim. In short, I overcame my fear, and I learned that for the rest of my life, I'd have to go after what I wanted with an off-the-meters effort if I was going to accomplish anything and be successful.
Similarly, I had an epiphany at work one day that reminded me of that early life lesson. I'd been working a full-time job and I did my own business as a side hustle. One day I got an email to inform me that my university was holding weekend workshops for the masters dissertation students in Dubai, and I sent my boss an email informing him that I needed a visa to attend the workshops, but I wouldn't miss any time in the office. He refused. He had the temerity to tell me that I couldn't go to a workshop for my dissertation, although it wouldn't cost him a dime or impact my productivity in the office.
At that moment, I made a decision: I'd finish my contract, and that would be the last time I allow myself to be enslaved by a job. I decided right then that I needed to change the trajectory of my life and take the necessary action to live my dreams instead of just dreaming them. But I had to change something in myself first. I had to release the fear that prevented me from taking a leap of faith and going into entrepreneurship with the same unbridled effort that helped me get my bike back when I was a kid.
Yes, I said fear. I'll admit it. I've got a family. I have responsibilities. The steady paycheck, small as it might be, provides a security blanket, a safety net. I knew that as long as I showed up, the direct deposit would hit my bank account on the first of the month. And the truth is, I was miserable. I had dreams - big dreams, but all I was doing was helping someone else build theirs. However, at the moment the nature of the employer - employee relationship was made clear to me, I decided to take back my life and build my own dreams. It was deuces, and I was out the door.
Life is short, and if you're going to make your mark on the world, you need to decide that you won't allow your current circumstances to define the trajectory of your life. You have to decide that your fear - fear of the unknown, fear of failure - isn't greater than your desire for success. It's your life, and the choice is yours: change, or remain the same. Dreams do come true. But not until you change your mindset and take action. Rise and grind.