Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Don’t Take the Leap, Build a Bridge to Your Dreams

My freshman year of college, I had a crush on a girl named Lane. With curly hair and a sweet smile, Lane was cute. She was also two years older than me.

Don't Take the Leap, Build a Bridge to Your Dreams

Since I had just broken up with my girlfriend, I was eager to get back in the game of dating, and Lane seemed to be the perfect girl. When I told my friends I was going to ask her out, they asked how I was going to do it.

“I thought I’d just call her,” I said.

“What?!” my friend Doug exclaimed. He was always the romantic. “Jeff, are you kidding me? You’ve got to sweep this girl off her feet. Go big or go home, man.”

So I did what any college male with a guitar in the corner of his dorm room would do: I wrote Lane a song. At ninety seconds of pure lyrical delight, it was the essence of romance and took me only a few days to write.

One Saturday afternoon, I picked up the phone and called Lane’s number.

Three rings, and then a click.

“Hello?” a voice answered. It was her.

I slammed the phone against the receiver, grabbed my guitar, and stepped outside, shutting the door behind me. Because now I knew Lane was home. Racing across campus with guitar strap slung over my shoulder, I ran to her dorm.

Catching my breath in the lobby, I waited for someone to let me in, then walked straight to her door and knocked.

The door opened. And I stepped into a room full of people.

Going for broke

About half a dozen people were sitting around Lane’s living room, chatting as college students tend to do on a Saturday afternoon. As soon as I entered the room, they all turned to me. Lane smiled nervously and looked at me. I didn’t say a word.

Swinging the guitar from behind my back, I pulled it up to my chest and began to play. For the next one and a half minutes, I serenaded Lane, trying my best to ignore the onlookers.

The song finished with the on-key line: “Will you go to the dance with me?”

When I resolved with that final strum of the C chord, I looked at Lane, waiting for her answer.

She looked at me. I looked back at her. And everyone else looked at us.

And I waited.

Taking a deep breath, I grinned at her with fake confidence. This was the moment I had been waiting for, what I had been working up to for weeks now. I had, as my friends suggested, gone big, laying all my cards on the table. Now it was up to her.

Lane opened her mouth and let out two soul-crushing words: “I… can’t.”

My head dropped in defeat.

“I’m sorry.”

Shoulders slumped, I nodded, pretending to understand. But then I did something even worse: I didn’t leave!

Instead of excusing myself, I sat down in the middle of the room and tried to blend in. As if somehow that would be less embarrassing than just playing a song in front of a bunch of people, getting rejected by a girl, and then leaving.

I attempted to join the conversations, only to be greeted by looks of curiosity. But I played it cool: “What, that? That thing I just did? Oh, I do that every Saturday. In fact, I have three more gigs lined up today! This is just another stop on the College Dormitory Rejection Tour.”

Unable to bear the awkwardness any longer, I finally got up, walked across the room, and excused myself. Lane rushed to the door to see me out, walking with me through the hallway. “Well, thanks for my song!” she said sweetly.

Through gritted teeth, I mustered in the most sarcastic voice possible, “Oh, my pleasure. I aim to entertain.” And I left.

The truth about the leap

After that incident, it would be a long time before I would ever do something so audacious for a girl again. But looking back now, I understand how it happened the way it did.

Why did Lane shut me down? Probably because I had uttered a total of one hundred words to her in the previous year we had known each other. In my mind, I had built up the fantasy of a relationship without ever sharing the vision with her.

I think we do the same thing with our dreams.

First, we flirt with them from afar.

Then we fantasize, imagining what life will be like when we are united with what we love, without ever doing any real work. We wait, building up courage, and save all our passion for the big day when we will abandon everything and go for it.

And finally, we take the leap.

Sometimes, though, we don’t make it to the other side. We fall on our faces. Doing our best to pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off and try again.

But if this happens enough, we begin to tell ourselves a familiar story. We remind ourselves that the world is a cold, cruel place, and maybe there’s no room in it for my dream. We get disillusioned and make the worst mistake you can make with a calling: we save all our energy for the leap instead of building a bridge.

The problem with how we chase our passions is that reality doesn’t always conform to how things appear in our minds. Lane said no because she didn’t know me. And as much as I would have liked to think differently, I didn’t really know her.

Relationships take time, as do dreams. They’re full of routines and unexciting work that make them unfit for a movie script but appropriate for real life.

For nearly a decade, I did this with my passion for writing. I dreamed of it, talked about it, even made “plans” for when luck would come my way and I’d be able to do what I love for a living. All along, though, I was kidding myself, believing the myth of the leap, which was the very thing holding me back from my dream.

When it comes to chasing a dream, don’t take a leap. Don’t go all in. Not yet, anyway. Take your time and build a bridge.

It takes longer and doesn’t look particularly “sexy” but this is the way to build things that last — not by taking a giant leap but by building a bridge.

Dreaming done right

A year and a half after moving to Burundi, the second poorest country in Africa, Ben and Kristy Carlsons turned their love for coffee into a business. They wanted to help as many people as possible, and they saw the potential for Long Miles Coffee to be something significant. So they went all in.

Committed to providing fair prices to farmers and inspired by Benjamin Zander’s words that “money follows contribution,” they decided to make a go for it with the business. They didn’t know everything before taking that step, but they trusted that things would come together.

“I’m not saying everyone should run out and quit their jobs,” Kristy wrote me. “I am saying that some risks are worth taking and that as we take them, opportunities often open up.”

And so far, it has worked out.

Just the other day, I was at a coffee shop and saw some of their coffee on the shelf. Apparently, things are really starting to take off for them. By no means did they play it safe, but neither did they risk everything as we sometimes think we must in order to chase a dream.

As part of writing my fourth book The Art of Work in which their story appears, I asked Kristy how long her “leap” took. She told me ten years.

Ten years! That’s not quite a leap. If it is, they were moving in slow motion, like one of the characters jumping from building to building in the Matrix. But this is how you chase your dreams. Slowly and intentionally. Sometimes, amazing things happen suddenly. I’m not saying that won’t happen. But don’t count on it. Count on the work being hard and long, and learn to love the work.

That’s the best advice I can give.

At one point during our interview process, I made the mistake of suggesting the Carlsons made the leap due to a sense of being called to something great, which Kristy Carlson corrected me:

I think placing words like ‘greatness’ near us makes it seem as if we are not your average human beings, and we really are. Any person could move in the direction that we did if it seemed like the right fit for them, even if it’s just one small step at a time.

What is your big dream? How can you build a bridge to it before you take a leap? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Sarah Geringer

    Jeff, this post is so timely. I’m launching my second self-published e-book today. As exciting as it feels, so much of me wants to take a leap into the dream world of success in writing. It’s easy to forget that every morning I get up early and write before work is building a bridge to my dream, piece by piece. Thank you for the calming perspective, which quells my doubts.

  • That’s such a great story, Jeff. I have a similar one. She said no, too. Fortunately, I can’t play guitar.

  • bo white

    I think it’s a both/and as a first reaction. is the ‘leap’ actually to start building the bridge? And then it’s commitment to building, so that first foundational step is significant, just that it’s a leap in to bridge building and hard work, not a leap in to automatically reaping the benefits of the dream. Is that a fair read?

  • Jeff, it obviously would have worked with Lane had you played bongos. Well, maybe not. Great story, and nice transition into the clear power of incremental, applied work. Thanks.

  • Jeff- Love your line “relationships take time, as do dreams.” People love dreams, but not necessarily the blood, sweat and tears that make dreams come true. As the sign in my art studio says, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

  • Brilliant post Jeff and what I really needed to hear. I can identify with how easy it is to build a fantasy about my dreams without actually engaging with it and seeing it become reality over the long haul through all the hard work and effort. Thank you for your honesty and transparency.

  • Wendy Pearson

    Jeff, excellent post! You’re vulnerability as a person and writer allow all of us to find the right pacing for our hopes and dreams. Thanks for sharing this. I always look forward to your posts.

  • I think all my most embarrassing stories are from college, and have to do with boys. Ah, the good old days!

  • Mohammad

    I agree with Jeff on the necessity of building up gradually, and not jumping into an adventure without calculating the risks or thinking about a plan for success. It is especially true in writing. Some people might be gifted writers or poets and not needing any preparations or even education, but for majority of people, the process is tedious, long, torturous, and hard. But, if we believe in ourselves, we can do it.

  • Hi Jeff! My big dream is to become a successfully published author. I’ve been writing fiction for 10 years–learning and honing my craft that entire time. For the last year and a half I’ve been establishing my presence online and (very slowly) growing a following. I’ve been building my bridge for a long time. On February 7th, my first book, Sketchy Tacos, will be published, and I could not be more excited. But I’m not stopping there. I’m continuing to learn and grow (extending my bridge and this metaphor) so that the next book will be stronger and sell better, as will the next one after that.

  • marenadrlik

    Thanks, Jeff for writing this post. I did a leap earlier in my life, thinking that if I leaped everything would work out. It didn’t and I paid dearly, both emotionally and financially. I’m now working on something different (it involves writing which is why I’m following you) and I have am focused on doing the work rather than just the dreaming and wishing. Thanks for telling your stories.

  • Kimberly Henson

    Hey Jeff! Interesting post. Since I was a child I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but then life got in the way (like it does, grrr).
    I have been blogging for 1 year, but go through waves of inconsistency. Mostly due to fear, and because I am a “slow-and-steady” type of person of how I pursue ANYTHING in my life. I used to see this as a fault, but this post is making me rethink that maybe I am doing this the right way. Taking the time to figure out how to go about writing, and being able to practice in the dark as you said. Thanks for another great post!

  • Rosanna Penner-Sauereisen

    Thanks for this post. I really like your point about consistency. It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons because I’ve been blogging for a year and a half now and some bloggers are so successful by now. It’s a small thing, but I’ve been showing up and writing something every, single day. I don’t know if it’ll pay off in the end, but I’ve learned a lot during this time. One of those things is that I absolutely love writing. I’m at the point that I couldn’t quit because of how much I love it.

  • N K

    Gosh Jeff! What a brilliant post! I really needed to read this today. Totally love the way you de-glamorize the “sexy” myth of taking a big leap one day and getting lucky immediately. Have been following your blog from over a year now and also applying your tips IRL. And it’s not just about writing, your tips apply to any dreams we might be nurturing. Thank you so much for this post. Your honesty and vulnerability is what makes you feel like “just another person” and makes us relate to your words so much. Stay blessed 🙂

  • Hi Jeff.
    My dream is to become a full-time freelancer and quitting my job. I haven’t jumped on it. Just trying to gather as much skills I can and I am finding out my clients so that I can earn consistent money.

  • Sushmita Tripathy

    My reading this article itself points to the fact that I love writing and I want to establish myself as a writer. My big dream is to share the unseen version of me with the world. The bridge that I want to build before taking my leap is to first establish myself as a blogger having good content to share.

  • The analogy of many incremental leaps resonates well with many in your tribe, I’m sure. Great post!

  • DrAngel

    I’ve made many leaps without bridges, learning some hard lessons along the way. I’m impulsive. Only in the last few years have I held back more than before. This piece placed some perspective on timing and patience. Thank you for sharing!

  • Ben Weaver

    Thanks for this, Jeff! I enjoyed the story just as much as I did the first time I read it in TAOW. I launched my blog yesterday thanks to you and the TW community! I can’t wait to see what 2017 unfolds as I have some audacious goals set!

    • Thanks, Ben! I really appreciate that.

  • AnneM

    And all along I have been gathering momentum for a big leap-Thanks, I now see

  • This is beautiful.

    Wow..the way you connected the point with your personal stories. Amazing. It happens with the best of us.

    We do take a leap and fall hard.

    For me, my dream is to be able to live on my terms doing things I love. Thankfully, I have started the work and seeing some progress.

    Once I have the green light, I will walk to the other side of bridge.

    On a side note, it is tempting to leave everything and take that leap. But as you said, it is better to build that bridge and smash your goals instead of your smashing yourself.

    Beautiful insights buddy. Stay Awesome.

  • Kulandai Swami

    It all sounds abstract –Leap, Bridge and Dreams! It could be better-said in plain language!