Op Ed: Don’t Dream Your Life, Live Your Dream

My father has played an integral role in my financial outlook from an early age. When I was young, he told me he didn’t want to lend me money after the age of 13. I’m 31 now, and I am proud to say, that I have succeeded … much to my dad’s relief.

When I started my first job, running a paper route, I started to get really into the idea of being my own boss. I got my first pay cheque, and it was better than a sugar high – I tasted the sweet sweet freedom of having a disposable income for the first time. After a few months had passed, my dad and I were out shopping and I asked him to buy me a Backstreet Boys sticker book. He was surprised. “You’re working,” he said, “what are you doing with all your money?” I told him I didn’t know. Safe to say, he didn’t buy me the sticker book, but he did hand me a copy of David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber.

While I was too young to understand most of the book, I did like the concept of paying yourself first. As a 13 year old, I didn’t have any bills, but my obsession with the Backstreet Boys was becoming an expensive hobby. When they came to town, the only way I could see them live was if I saved my own money. So for every pay cheque, I’d put a little bit away and my dream of getting closer to Brian Littrell got a little closer as well! Before I learned about credit cards, interest, or debt, I knew that saving my money was the only way to achieve my dream. (That dream of course being that Brian would spot me in the crowd of rabid BSB fans and decide he had to marry me.)

I thought about my goals, and I made a budget. A real budget. An honest budget. Yes, I was saving, but could I be saving more?

Years later, when chasing after celebrity crushes became childish, I picked up The Wealthy Barber again. Even though I was saving some money, I wasn’t paying attention to where the rest of it was going. I thought about my goals, and I made a budget. A real budget. An honest budget. Yes, I was saving, but could I be saving more? Obviously the answer was yes. Once I put everything on paper, it forced me to be more honest with myself, and I started setting goals and making plans. I dreamt of travelling the world and making a living in a creative field. My goal? To follow those dreams by having the financial freedom to do so. Even though I knew what I had to do then, it still took a few years for me to properly implement it.

When I turned 18, I had gotten to the point where I was ready to see the world. At the time, I was working at an ice cream cone factory, an extremely hot environment where I worked for long hours, constantly on my feet. A normal day at the cone factory consisted of two 15 minute breaks, no lunch, and between those breaks I would work on one of three mind numbing machines. In order to get through the monotony and sweat and sore feet, I constantly thought about my next creative pursuit. I knew this job was only temporary for me because deep down, I felt I was destined to become an artist. If I really wanted to make my living in a creative field, I knew it was time to make some serious moves. 

I came home broke and went back to living with my parents. My dad reminded me that this was only temporary

I started working weekends and overtime and eventually saved enough money for my first trip to Europe. After three months, I was finally free to explore outside of the city I grew up in and expand my creative horizons. While I did have amazing experiences in Europe, I came home broke and went back to living with my parents. My dad reminded me that this was only temporary, and I needed to focus on what I wanted to do with my life. As depressed as I was to be ‘starting over’, back at my parents’ place, while my friends were in university, I did what my 13 year old self started years ago – I made a plan. 

I knew that I wanted to be an artist, but I also understood that it would be difficult to make a living in such a cutthroat industry. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of becoming a “starving artist”. I went back to making a budget. I broke down what I would need for the lifestyle I wanted to live. Again, I was reminded to pay myself first. My dream has always been to travel and work for myself, so I made a goal that I would accomplish that within 3 years. 

Another plan made, another budget written, another dream accomplished!

I became an apprentice in a tattoo shop, and because apprentices don’t make much money, I got a second job in the service industry. During the day I would be in the shop answering phone calls, booking appointments and drawing, and by nightfall I was cleaning up puke in the bar washroom. After a year of that, I finally got my first opportunity to travel to British Columbia to work as a full time tattoo artist. I doubled down in my second job, saved extra money, and made the cross-country move by myself. Another plan made, another budget written, another dream accomplished! After that first move, and first taste of living my dream, I started travelling and working heavily. I went from British Columbia to Toronto, to Turks and Caicos, to Australia, and back. This was all funded by networking, making connections, and putting myself out there to find opportunities to make my living abroad.

Often when I speak to my friends, I hear them talk about their goals or dreams, but they don’t always give themselves permission to achieve them. We have a bad habit of convincing ourselves that our goals are unachievable. Goals are the end result of small steps to get there. When I write a plan, I start with the goal in mind and I work my way backwards. What are the steps that are going to get me there? Who do I need to call to help me? Who has been successful in this avenue? What can I learn from them? These are important questions to consider before you start deeming your dreams unattainable. So my question to my friends and to you is, “Why all the negative self-talk?” Flip the script, and turn that dream into a plan!

It didn’t come easily, it took a lot of hard work.

Truth is, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to see the Backstreet Boys, to travel the world, or to become self-employed. I set my goals in a realistic manner and figured out what I had to do to get there, and I truly think this is something we can all do. It didn’t come easily, it took a lot of hard work. And when I look back on the things I achieved, I’m really proud of myself! (And I know my dad is, too.)