Anybody can tell you to follow your dreams. Not just anyone, though, can give you a formula for following your dreams that actually gets you where you want to go. Jennifer Hirsch can, because she’s done it herself. Jenn is the founder and “chief enthusiast officer” at Marked Point, a strategic storytelling firm that supports mission-driven companies. She’s doing work that inspires her and that changes the world, and she knows you can, too. In this week’s Design Your Life column, she gives you some straightforward advice on making it happen.
At 17, I defined a successful life as one where I pursued knowledge, had a spot by the ocean for surfing and general sea worshipping, and could connect to people in every corner of the globe.
Get out there. Meet people. Speak. Write. Make connections. Do things that scare you.
With Marked Point, I’ve gotten all of that: pursuing knowledge of growing companies and storytelling, freedom to surf (sometimes even with clients) and having a global perspective.
But it wasn’t easy. I started working full time at 18 in the early dot-com days; put in long hours at big companies learning as much as I could about business, leadership and myself; and really took time to understand what people valued and would pay you for.
Every opportunity I’ve had has come from working hard to be in the right place at the right time and volunteering to leap into the unknown. If you’re willing to work hard, work smart and be focused, your life can be anything you want it to be. It’s up to you to draw the blueprint, lay the foundation and build your future.
Building a life where you follow your dreams takes discipline and courage. But you can do it. Here’s how:
1. Start with what you know
The biggest question I get about how to follow your dreams is what the first step should be. Start with what you know. Catalog your skills and interests, what you’ve loved and hated about past jobs and what draws your curiosity now. Treat every week like an experiment to see what will move you forward.
I’ve done this exercise countless times. I started out as a storyteller, reading and listening and making up my own stories (and having my entire family act them out) from a really young age. But I’ve also spent time working in several different industries. I keep a book with all the articles and moments of inspiration gained across the years. You can call it a journal of my career.
2. Make a decision
Just take that goddamn first step. It can be anything: “I’ll try freelancing as a copywriter” or “I’ll teach myself Python to see what I can build” or “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at pattern making my own dress.” Just do it.
Early in 2010, I saw the signs we would have a resurgence of the tech boom and I wanted to play a big role in it. I left my cushy career in London as a management consultant to work with startups in marketing and communications. Every decision that led to Marked Point stemmed from that initial big leap.
All it takes is the decision … action will come.
3. Give yourself a deadline
Getting things done means setting deadlines — and honoring them.
It’s as simple as saying “I’ll take one week to do a catalog of interests.” or “I’ll give myself three months to find a freelancing gig.” The shorter and more succinct the task is the better.
I gave myself three months to make Marked Point work. The first three clients I worked with led to two acquisitions (Storify and Wildfire) and a great brand name. To get there, I created my own sprint structures and tracking metrics to push myself to get to where we needed to be. As one client put it, I was persistent without being pushy, and my joy in the process was palpable. There is joy in a deadline … it leads to creativity.
4. Ask for Help
Now you have a plan, goals, deadlines and at least a vague picture of where you are heading. You will need help to get there. When you ask others for help, remember to:
- Understand how big the request is of the other person.
- Be specific for how and why they can help.
- Tell them what you don’t know.
- Be conscious of their time.
- Thank them and follow up.
When starting Marked Point, I had to find work to test my skills. I wanted to be part of a marketing organization of an up-and-coming tech startup. So I asked everyone I knew for introductions to a short list of target companies, asked the founders of these companies for what work needed to be done, and then asked them to take a chance on me. It all worked out OK. ????
Get out there. Meet people. Speak. Write. Make connections. Do things that scare you. If you navel gaze too much, the world will pass you by.
I attribute most of my success to this being second nature now. It’s being curious about who people are, what they want and where you can connect. Whether meeting with entrepreneurs while surfing or connecting with people at a conference, I keep Marked Point’s story at the front of my mind. But I’m more interested in what matters to others. You never know where you will meet your next client or partner, so be open to their interests and always ask where you can be of service.
It’s never easy to follow your dreams, but it is always worth it. You’ll amaze yourself with what you are able to accomplish when you just start.
Jennifer invites you to keep her up to date on your journey at @jenniferjhirsch.