in: Intentional Living

The One Thing That Keeps Most People From the Life They Want

As it turns out, there’s ONE thing that keeps people from the life they want. And (good news) overcoming it is completely within your control.

—See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World

I was at a startup mixer the other evening and ran into someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years. After the requisite exchange of catch-up pleasantries, this dynamic and intelligent woman shared how she wanted to be a professional speaker. She’s written books, given free presentations, and crafted all sorts of topical speeches, yet she was frustrated that no one had hired her yet.

When I asked how many meeting planners she had contacted, her face took on this rather sheepish look as she responded with one word: None.

It was at that moment I realized here was yet another person who has fallen prey to what I call the “I don’t want to risk losing my dream!” syndrome. Which, ironically, kills more dreams than anything else…

Holding on to the Dream, Avoiding the Reality

I like to observe people of all kinds and wonder what motivates them and why. One of the most prevalent behaviors I’ve seen over the years is a tendency of people to hold on to their dreams by not pursuing them.

As strange as this may sound, it makes perfect sense at a certain level. You see, we all have rational minds, which simply means we are highly gifted at rationalizing anything. And the rationalization here is if I pursue my dream and don’t make it, I have nothing. But if I just hold on to the dream, then someday it just may happen. It’s kind of like waiting for Prince Charming. Well, like all fairy tales, this thinking is just that; a fairy tale.

I suspect that what my friend was really afraid of was getting on the phone and receiving a “No,” which will almost certainly happen. And to her that “no” would represent the end of her dream; she would then find herself floating in that awful void of “Now what? I’ve just lost my purpose in life!!” An existential angst if there ever was one. Until she is willing to risk the potential misery of uncertainty that comes with continually making those calls, she will stay stuck in the certainty of her misery of never reaching her dream.

But at least she knows what she wants. There are people who are afraid to dream about what they really want for fear they may never achieve it. Imagine going through life (as many do) fearful of even being clear about what you want from life, because if you were and didn’t achieve it, well… that would be a catastrophe!

Let me tell you what is even more catastrophic: never having a chance at a fulfilling life because you were afraid of even defining what that was.

Life Is Not a Spectator Sport

You’ve got to be on the playing field if you expect to have any chance at winning. Okay, I really, really tried to avoid sports metaphors, but this one just fits so well. Action and movement of any kind is better than just hoping.

Will you make mistakes? Count on it, we all do—welcome to the human race. Will you learn from them? Hopefully, and the key to doing so successfully is to: a) not take anything too personally, and b) realize that even if you fail to achieve what you set out to do you may end up with something even greater that wasn’t on your radar.

But doing nothing guarantees you end up with nothing, except the self-induced suffering of knowing you could of at least tried.

I recently heard an NPR interview of Academy Award Nominee Mark Ruffalo. Like most successful actors, he struggled for years prior to seeing real success and recognition for his talents. He shared how he had done over 800 casting call readings before being picked for a real part in a movie which ended up launching his career. He told how the first director that hired him asked where he had been all these years, as if his incredible talent just appeared out of nowhere. Mark replied by saying “Where have I been?! Where have you been? I’ve read for you many times before.”

The Time to Start Is Now

Procrastination is just another rationalization that never serves you. Jump in now, even if you feel you are not ready—and you’re not, but do it anyway. Learn from what happens, then do it again. Repeat as necessary. Along the way you may find your original dream may not be what it was cracked up to be, but that’s okay. Because in the process of doing with balls-out commitment, you are already living full out. And you provide yourself the best possible chance of achieving what your heart desires.

You do this for yourself, something magnificent will eventually happen. It may or may not be what you first hoped it would be, but I guarantee it will be extraordinary.


This article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with the author’s full (and kindest) permission. 

About the Author:

Michael Russer

Michael J. Russer is a prostate cancer survivor who was left completely impotent as a result of his treatments. Yet, it was because of his impotence that he and his partner discovered an entirely new approach to emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy that far exceeds anything either experienced prior to when things were working "correctly." His mission is to help men, women and couples everywhere to achieve extraordinary intimacy on all levels. He is an international speaker, author and thought leader on the issues of human connection and intimacy. He also speaks pro-bono to Cancer Support Centers and Gilda’s Clubs around the U.S. for cancer survivors and their partners about regaining intimacy in the face of cancer. Go to to explore the possibility of having Michael speak at your next event.Michael is also a champion of the nonprofit men's work being done by the ManKind Project. He completed the New Warrior Training Adventure in 2012. To learn more about Michael's work you can visit his website, tune in to his podcast, or watch his TEDx Talk.