How to Follow Your Dreams

Photo of Jimmy Byrum Want to hear an amazing story?

I had coffee with a good buddy from Yahoo! (YHOO) this weekend, Jimmy Byrum. I tell you his name because he’s one of those guys who you just know will be famous one day. Then I can look back and say, “See, I called it!”

Jimmy was a rock star developer at Yahoo!. He wrote most of the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code for a previous version of Yahoo!’s home page. The code was so well-written and optimized that an outside reviewer claimed it must have been written by a machine. (I wish I could find the article that stated that… anyone know the URL?)

A quick aside – code should never be prematurely optimized. It should be optimized for developers first (using good programming practices), then users second (using automated tools). Jimmy just happened to be one of those rare people who could optimize his own code better than the automated tools at the time.

But that isn’t the amazing story. The amazing story is that he dropped all that – a rising career, highly-desired technical skills, and a growing reputation – to travel throughout South America and teach English. He could easily be a recognized technical leader right now. Or working at a fantastic start-up. Or starting his own company. Instead, he chose to drop all that.


Because he chose to follow his dreams.

How many of us can say we’re ready to drop everything and follow our dreams? Yes, it is hard to turn your back on everything you’ve worked for. It’s scary as hell. But what if all that stuff wasn’t really what you wanted? What if your true dreams lie elsewhere? On your deathbed, are you going to look back at your life and say, “Boy, I’m glad I worked so many hours at the office and didn’t start a band like I always wanted”? Probably not. So what’s holding you back?

Why People Don’t Follow Their Dreams

There are three major reasons why people don’t follow their dreams:

  1. Too scared to drop everything for their dreams
  2. Don’t have the ability to follow their dreams (e.g. family obligations, health issues, physical limitations, etc)
  3. Don’t know how to follow their dreams

If you’re too scared to follow your dreams, then you have my sincerest condolences. You’ll probably be trapped in the rat race and either learn to accept your chosen lot in life, or end up a bitter old person.

If you don’t have the ability to follow your dreams, you also have my sincerest condolences. Sometimes there are situations beyond our control that limit our abilities. However, I’d like to introduce you to six-year-old Cody McCasland and former race car driver Alex Zanardi – both of whom are legless, yet still ran 26-mile marathons. They are proof that when you put your mind to something, anything can happen.

(By the way, if money is your limitation, that’s a lame excuse. Jimmy’s example below will prove that money isn’t a true limitation.)

If you don’t know how to drop everything and follow your dreams, let me tell you how:

  1. Determine your end goal
  2. Build a plan
  3. Take each step one at a time
  4. Stay focused
  5. Continuously revise your plan as situations change
  6. Reach your goal

Jimmy’s Example: Traveling the World

Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe too easy. Let me use Jimmy as an example.

  1. Determine your end goal

    Jimmy knew he wanted to travel the world and have new experiences.

  2. Build a plan

    Determining his end goal was easy enough. Building a realistic plan was much tougher. He didn’t sit down and type out a formal plan of any kind though; he followed his heart and his plan revealed itself to him. But if writing out a formal plan helps you, then you should definitely do it.

    Traveling the world requires time, money, and guts. So years in advance, Jimmy began saving up. He lived frugally and taught himself how to maintain a strict budget. This required a lot of financial discipline, but he stuck to it.

    To build up his comfort level, he took baby steps. He read vigorously and moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. This may not sound like much, but some people never leave their home towns. Moving across the country is a huge step.

    Living on a budget and moving across the country gave him money and guts. And if he did this fast enough, he’d have time too, while he’s still young and healthy.

  3. Take each step one at a time

    Then he took his next step – he transferred to the London office. This still kept him within familiar boundaries: a steady paycheck, doing a job he knew, and an English speaking environment.

    From there, he took his next series of steps and did what any North American in London would do – weekend excursions all over Europe, baby! Traveling around Europe and being in non-English speaking cultures further emboldened him to continue forward.

  4. Stay focused

    Many times, he was tempted with raises and offers at other great companies. But he stayed focused. He politely turned down each offer and continued saving his money.

  5. Continuously revise your plan as situations change

    Every once in a while, he adjusted his plans. Instead of traveling the world like Caine, he thought about other, more realistic alternatives. Friends taught him Spanish. Then somewhere along the way, he heard about a program teaching English in South America. That became his next step.

    This way, he could maintain his financial capital, have room and board, learn the Spanish language and culture, and most importantly, contribute meaningfully to the world. And that’s just what he did.

  6. Reach your goal

    What’s he going to do next? You’ll just have to ask him. But you can bet it will be another step closer to his goal!

My Example: Becoming an Entrepreneur

You may be wondering what’s this got to do with business and entrepreneurship? Well, it has everything to do with business and entrepreneurship. Do you dream of being an entrepreneur one day? Of owning your own company? Of being your own boss? I did. So let me close with my example of how I’m following my dreams.

  1. Determine your end goal

    One of my end goals is to start my own business. Those who know me know I have many goals in life. This is just one of them.

  2. Build a plan

    I knew that being an entrepreneur involved a lot of risk and a wide range of knowledge. My specialty is the internet, so I knew I needed experience in technology, UI design, marketing, sales, business fundamentals, finance, project management, people management, leadership, etc.

    My nature is to be conservative and risk-adverse, so I structured my career path to lead me to this goal. I applaud those who jump right into their own companies – I totally admire you guys. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my approach; it’s just where my comfort level lies.

  3. Take each step one at a time

    My resume kind of reads like my plan. One of my first jobs was doing web design. Then web development. Then a technical management. Then a product management. Each pushed me outside my comfort zone and into new skills and experiences.

  4. Stay focused

    It would have been easy to stay in a particular role and become specialized. Changing roles didn’t always give me the highest salary. In fact, some role switches bumped me down in salary. But I did it anyways because it put me closer to my end goal.

  5. Continuously revise your plan as situations change

    Plans didn’t always go as smoothly as I liked. Originally, I wanted to start a company early this millennium, like every other dot-com hopeful. Then the dot-com bombed and I changed plans. I decided to grow my skills in a stable corporate environment that provided a steady paycheck.

    This gave me time to build up my capital, as well as some other side benefits – growing my network, meeting some amazing people, and giving me invaluable knowledge and experience.

  6. Reach your goal

    Ultimately, I knew that starting my own company couldn’t happen while I had a steady paycheck. The hunger & fear of working without a safety net is a strong teacher. So I finally took the biggest step. I quit my job and became an entrepreneur. After a few false starts, I now have a profitable business (to be announced shortly, once we finish our website).

Dropping everything and following your dreams is scary. But it is possible. Very possible. Just look at Jimmy. He’s now gallivanting around the world with a big smile on his face. And look at me, owning a business and learning a great deal about entrepreneurship. What are you doing?

Photo by: James Byrum

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

3 thoughts on “How to Follow Your Dreams”

  1. That is an inspiring piece. I also followed similar steps to being an entrepreneur. There are many other steps involved on this path, but you captured the gist of the journey. Now I am on my way to financial freedom and financial wealth!

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