In the short documentary called Forest Man, I learned of Jadav Payeng who has been planting a tree every day on the barren sandbar island in the Brahmaputra river since 1979. In that time, he has built a forest reserve covering 1,360 acres, which is now the home to wild animals, birds, and plants that before withered and died on the sandbank.
Can you imagine? Showing up every day to plant a tree for more than forty years. Rain or shine. Winter or summer. Healthy or ill. Happy or sad. It’s a story that can teach us a great lesson.
The single greatest reason we fail to achieve our dreams isn’t a lack of resources, talent, or time. It’s waiting for inspiration.
When we approach our dreams like amateurs, we believe we can only create when all the conditions are perfect. Our setting needs to be completely quiet; the children and the dogs are taken care of; we have fresh coffee in our special mug. We must also be rested, fed, calm, relaxed and free from distraction of any kind…
Do you see what’s happening? We’ve actually created a perfect formula for hiding from our dream. It’s as dangerous as quicksand – it feels like we’re saying “yes,” but our list of requirements is constructed so that it’s always “yes, but” which is actually code for “never.”
Weeks, months, or even years pass before we realize how much of our life was spent waiting for a feeling of inspiration that never arrived.
Would we approach any other aspect of our lives in this way? Imagine not eating until you had the perfect meal prepared and served in the perfect way, or never becoming friends until you found that one person who met every single requirement on your “ideal friend” list. You would starve, friendless.
There’s a better way. Think of how a committed professional would approach anything they wanted to do.
Once they accepted the assignment, they would show up on the right day, at the right time, ready to go to work regardless of how they felt at that moment. Writers write. Welders weld. Teachers walk back into the classroom every day - and not once do they consider bailing because they don’t feel inspired. Professionals show up, regardless.
And in the process, they make their own inspiration.
If there’s something you want to do – something that’s calling to you – this is what you have to do. You have to turn pro. It doesn’t mean you just quit your job, or leave your relationship, or move to Tuscany. You can’t pack your parachute after you’ve left the plane. It simply means that you start choosing commitment over comfort, or convenience. In simple terms, you show up and do the work by taking the smallest actionable step you can.
If you want to write a book, this week you can brainstorm three possible titles. If you want to open a bakery, you can study two bakeries in your neighborhood and keep a journal of what you liked best. If you want to paint or make music, you can list your two favorite artists and note three things about them you’d like to one day emulate. Next week, you can take another small step, and then another. Just like planting trees.
If your plan was this simple, wouldn’t it be easy to do?
Our challenge is that actions this small don’t feel important or significant enough to interest us. We’ve waited so long that it feels like only a massive commitment will be sufficient. We want to “go big or go home.”
And it’s only after we’ve signed up for the course, or joined the gym, or bought all the equipment that we realize we don’t have capacity in our lives for the commitment we’ve made. And then we feel like failures. Again.
Instead, remember this: complexity is the enemy. Small actions add up to big results. And if they’re small enough, they can be neatly wedged into the tiny spaces you have available in your life.
If you’ve dreamed of doing something, just begin. But start small. Keep track. Celebrate small wins. Show up even when you don’t feel like it.
Before long, the dream that was asleep in your heart will become a living, breathing part of your life. And one day, you will wake up in a forest of your own making.