I wanted to write you a letter on how to make your dreams come true.
1. What dream did you have as a kid?
First of all, what is your dream in life?
I think we all have dreams as kids— but we get beaten them out of us as we get older and we need to ‘grow up.’
But fuck that. I say— follow your dream. Your life is short. Do you want to be 70 years old, look back on your life, and regret not taking those risks in life?
2. You can make your dreams come true today
I think regardless of your position in life, you can pursue your dream.
For example, let’s say your dream is to be a full-time photographer, traveling the world.
You might not be able to quit your full-time job, but you can pursue your photography passion with full-zeal, and to hustle your ass off during the weekends, perhaps during your lunch breaks, and even before work.
If your dream is to be a novelist; don’t think you will suddenly quit your job and have some cabin in the woods. Rather, write your novel during your commute. Be creative. If you’re stuck in traffic driving to work each day, dictate the lines of your novel into your smartphone. If you’re stuck on the subway, the tube, or the bus everyday — use that time to write your novel on your laptop, on your smartphone, or whatever device.
If your dream is to be a ‘YouTuber’ — start making videos. Just use your webcam, and the iPhone headphones that you already have (the microphone is actually pretty good). Make videos that you would like to see. And put it out there in the world.
3. Why have a dream?
“I had a dream.” – Martin Luther King
We all need a dream to wake up in the morning. Something to pursue. A reason to live.
Martin Luther King had a dream of racial equality. He risked his life, and ultimately became a martyr for racial equality. He had a dream where white and black people could live in peace, holding hands, and making plans together.
I think the reason we need a dream is because dreams help us elevate our spirits. We wake up with a zeal to live. We don’t just roll out of bed. We jump out of bed and say to ourselves: “Fuck yeah, today is a brand new day. I can do some cool shit today, and hopefully help uplift and motivate myself and others.”
I know for myself, my dream is this:
To have a world where everyone is empowered, where everyone is creative, resourceful, and has access to all the information they need to make meaningful art in their lives.
That is why I wake up each morning, and drink a shit-load of espressos. I really want to help empower others, because I know what it feels to be ‘de-powered.’ I know how much it sucks just sticking to the 9-5 grind, 5 days a week, without any hope or excitement in life.
That is why I keep everything on this blog ‘open source’ — because I want anyone and everyone to have access to information that might empower them.
I am ultimately a humanist who loves all of his fellow brothers and sisters on the world. I care less about stuffing more Benjamins in my pocket (100 dollar-bills)— I care more about helping others discover and nurture their inner-artists.
4. How to pursue your dream
I believe when you’re pursuing your dream, it is advantageous to have a full-time job. Because frankly speaking, we need to pay the bills and eat.
But I think your dream is something you can achieve everyday.
For example, rather than having a dream like: “I’m going to travel the world and make photos in Paris, Tokyo, London, ad Chicago.” I think a better dream is, “I’m going to make the most beautiful photographs that uplift my soul, in my own neighborhood.”
I think rather than thinking of having a dream, “I dream of driving a matted-out black Lamborghini.” I think a better dream is to think: “My dream is to design dope-looking cars, and I can start to teach myself 3D modeling software, and I can do that today on my laptop.”
Rather than thinking of making a million bucks, how can we learn to find freedom in the little money we already have?
Rather than thinking how we can get a million followers on social media, how can we best leverage the few followers we already have— to share with them our art?
5. How to be motivated
For me, I have a hard time motivating myself on certain days. There are days I roll out of bed, rub my eyes, brush my teeth, and think to myself:
Why am I doing all this? Am I really helping others? What is the point of my life?
But the way I am able to overcome this is by thinking to myself:
If I can just help 1 other person, it is worth it.
I know that my life is bigger than me. The purpose I was put on this earth is to help others, not myself.
For myself, I know I often feel discouraged on social media when I don’t get ‘as many likes’ as I have in the past. But a new strategy: I imagine my follower-level or like-level at 0. And if I even get 1 like, or 1 new followers— I rejoice. Because I am reaching out to someone else, helping at least 1 other individual.
And let’s say you upload or share some photograph that you believe in — but you get 0 likes, 0 comments, or 0 new followers. In that case, as long as your photograph uplifts your soul, it is worth creating and sharing.
6. How to take risks
For me, I am blessed and fortunate enough to have achieved my dream. To spend all my day at coffee shops, drink coffee, write, and do creative work. To teach photography workshops to other passionate photographers. To have loved ones in my life, and to enjoy leisurely 3-hour dinners. To not worry about paying the rent. And to be satisfied with all my material possessions.
I am lucky. I was born in America, which taught me the virtues of risk-taking, and following my passion. I am blessed with a phenomenal mother (umma) and an amazing wife (Cindy who believe in me. Who uplift me. I am blessed to have friends who deal with my ridiculousness, and help support me. I am blessed to have had all these great mentors in the past. My coach Lowe, who taught me tennis and virtues of hard work. My Sunday school teachers who helped guide me. My Boy Scouts scout-masters (Mike O’Connor, Pat Ransil, David Dial) who taught me how to lead.
If you really want to pursue your passion in life, and make your dream come true, you need to learn to love risk.
We cannot do anything epic in our lives without taking epic risks.
For example, when I decided to pursue street-photography full-time after being made redundant from my last job, it was a risk. I was lucky because I had a backup option (moving back in with my mom, if I failed). Another backup option: just getting another full-time office job.
So I feel that taking risk in life, and pursuing your dream is knowing what your maximum downside is. So if your dream is being a full-time photographer, know that your maximum downside is going broke, and probably moving in back with your parents. Which often isn’t a horrible plan (spending more time with your family, getting free rent, and good food).
7. Transitioning into doing your passion full-time
I think if you have a full-time job, don’t quit your job (yet). Try to build up your passion, your side-time gig, and your business idea while you have a steady inflow of cash. This way, you will be less stressed.
Having a full-time job will help you take more risk. Because you have cash in the bank, the best protection against risk.
I know that when I had my 9-5 job as an online community manager at eHow/Demand Media— I did my work as quickly as possible, so I could use my free time to blog ideas on photography, to learn about social media, and to take street photographs during my lunch breaks, and after work. Some of my best street photographs were shot when I had my full-time job (my escalator photograph, which was shot at the mall next to my work-place, and another photograph I shot after I finished work).
So if you’re young and reading this— I encourage you to work at as many internships to get ‘real world’ experience before you pursue your passion or dream full-time.
If you’re older, perhaps in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or even 50s — my suggestion: keep experimenting, tinkering, and taking risks in your side-business, or your side-gig, and only quit your job once you have enough money to pay your rent. Or better yet— do the minimum amount of work necessary at your 9-5 job, and (hopefully) one day you will be made redundant (and get a severance bonus, even better).
8. What if I get discouraged?
Let’s say your dream is more grand— like curing AIDS, Cancer, whatever. I think that is a noble goal— go for it.
But the secret is not to get discouraged. Try to count your ‘small wins’ in moving toward your dreams.
And no dream is too big or small. Don’t compare or judge your dreams with others. Just follow your heart.
9. Impossible is nothing
I believe my friend Justin Lee— who told me: “I no longer share my dreams, ideas, or concepts with others. Because when I share my ideas with others, I am less likely to actually do it.”
You either do, or don’t do.
Ideas aren’t worth anything. Dreams aren’t worth anything, without action.
Also know that impossible is nothing.
Elon Musk helped pioneer the first (successful) electric car company (Tesla).
NASA got men to the moon.
Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while having a boring 9-5 job at the Swiss patent office.
Spinoza was a philosopher who made his living making lenses.
Steve Jobs started Apple with Steve Wozniak in their parent’s garage.
Of course, there are a lot of people who failed at their dreams. And that is fine.
Let’s say you try a dream, and you fail. Don’t be discouraged, use that chance to learn, and to ‘pivot’ your dreams.
To ‘pivot’ means to head a certain direction, and know when to change direction. For example, if you’re driving a race-car, you need to learn how to change direction and to pivot left and right, if you’re losing the race.
Or you can turn your body, and pivot your body left and right.
So let’s say you have a dream in life, and it isn’t working out. Then figure out how you can adjust the course of the ship in your life. What new direction can you turn your dreams?
11. What is your end-game?
I have achieved most of my dreams in life. And when I did, I got a little depressed. Because I had no more reason to wake up in the morning and strive forward.
What keeps me motivated?
For me, I know that I will be a student until I die. I never want to stop learning. I want to learn everything. Not just photography. I want to learn philosophy, science, mathematics, geometry, painting, music, rapping, engineering, and everything. I want to be like Leonardo da Vinci — a modern day Renaissance man. I don’t want to limit my creativity.
I learn in order that I can teach, and share ideas. I learn for my own benefit, but ultimately to help uplift others.
I try to count my daily wins. My ‘small wins.’ I cannot quantify what it means to ‘change the world.’ But I can tell myself, “I am happy with what I did today. I wrote a blog post, I made a video that I uploaded to YouTube. I helped at least one other individual.”
So now that my dream in terms of my lifestyle is achieved, the ultimate goal is to keep doing more creative work, to help more people. Not to buy more Leica’s, Black-faced Rolex’s, or pink Rolls-Royce’s.
12. How to empower yourself
I also stay motivated by listening to a lot of empowering hip hop music. Some tracks currently on my headphones:
- All black everything – Lupe Fiasco
- Mural – Lupe Fiasco
- Bigger than me – Big Sean
- Jump out of the window – Big Sean
- Send it up – Kanye West
And of course, drinking a lot of coffee. And deadlifts at the gym.
The first step to being an entrepreneur and following your dream: Conquer your fears >
13. Do the smallest possible thing today, to step towards your dream
How can you get started today? Some ideas:
- Write a blog post, and publish it. Use wordpress.com, medium.com, or just post it directly to Facebook. Share a personal story, your personal thoughts, or your feelings. Share your photographs, and make a little story.
- Make a YouTube channel and record a video on your webcam, and make a video to your future self (5 years later). What would you want to tell yourself?
- Write a letter to your loved one: Imagine that tonight, you go to sleep, and you have a heart-attack in the middle of the night. You wake up tomorrow, and you’re dead. If you came back from the dead, what would you tell your loved ones?
And in terms of following your dream, do the smallest little possible thing today, to step forward towards your dreams.
If your dream is to be a full-time photographer, you can start off by making your own website portfolio. Signup on bluehost.com, and make a wordpress.org site. Install the ‘Genesis’ theme, and advertise your services.
If your dream is to be a novelist, start off by writing your first (shitty) chapter today.
If your dream is to travel the world, perhaps start off by booking a cheap ticket for a weekend getaway (for a city close to you). I know for myself as an American, I’ve found visiting New Orleans, Chicago, and Seattle/Portland more interesting than a lot of European cities.
14. Just do it
Don’t say or think. Just do.
Follow your dream
Learn how to make a living from your passion:
- How to Sell Yourself
- How to Do What You Love for a Living
- How to Create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
- How to Fail Big
- How to Invest in Yourself
- How to Be Bold in Photography and Life
- Mission: Cover Your Rent and Food
- 1,000 True Fans
- The “10x Principle”: The Only Difference Between “Success” and “Failure”
- Make More Value Not Money
- We Live in a Photo Utopia
How to be a Full-time Photographer
- How to Make a Living From Photography
- The 3 Principles of Making Money With Photography
- Advice for Aspiring Full-Time Photographers
- Don’t Go Into Debt For Your Photography
- How to Brand Yourself as a Photographer
- Trust: The Most Important Thing You Need to Succeed as a Photographer
How to Start a Blog
- How to Make a Living with Blogging
- 50 Blogging Tips For Beginners
- How to Start Your Own Photography Blog
- A Photographer’s Guide to SEO, Blogging, and Social Media
How to Teach Photography
- How to Become a Photography Teacher
- How to Teach a Street Photography Class
- Why I Teach Street Photography Workshops
- The Social Media Blackbook for Photographers
- Why Do You Need More Likes or Followers?
- Instagram is Going to Be the Next Facebook
- Don’t Trust “Free” Photography Social Networks