Izmael Arkin, a middle school teacher quit his job to follow his childhood dream: To become a Ninja. Read on to see how Izmael went from a struggling life as a middle school teacher in california to becoming a Ninja in Japan.
Enjoy his 6 Steps to Turn Your Dreams Into a Reality.
I looked at my hands.
They were shaking.
I pulled over to the side of the road. The questions ran through my mind:
What did you do wrong?
How did you get here?
What are you going to do with your life?
Then the tears started to fall…
I was in my 4th year as a middle school science teacher in Los Angeles, California.
26 years old, getting a masters degree in education. I was moving up the ladder fast, soon to be running my own school.
I was making more money every year. I drove a nice car. My resume looked fantastic. Everyone was impressed.
But there was a problem.
I hated my life.
I’d lie awake at 2am unable to fall asleep. Anxiety, fear, and stress overtook my thoughts.
Night after night the questions, voices, and thoughts kept coming.
What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? (The Million Dollar Question)
I thought I wanted to give my life to education. I thought this is what I was supposed to do.
I tried to use logic.
You have a good job.
You should be happy.
You’ve done everything you were told to do.
Logic is stupid… when it leads to depression, anxiety, and stress.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
For months on end I battled with the million dollar question.
What are you going do with your life?
I made it my purpose to discover my purpose.
I talked with friends and family. I read books. I took personality tests. I tried new activities. I volunteered in my community.
Friends would ask “Izzy, if you aren’t going to be a teacher, what are you going to do with your life?”
I’d smile and give a little laugh.
“I want to be a ninja.”
It was meant to lighten the mood, to bring some humor, to such a serious question.
But one day it clicked… I’m not kidding.
What is a Ninja?
About 4 months after that fateful October day, I wrote my dream on paper.
“I want to be a ninja… But what is a ninja?”
It’s a good question, right?
As I explored this question I realized something. I didn’t want to be a traditional ninja. I wanted to be the ninja from my childhood imagination. It’s a childhood dream.
So then I asked the question: According to my 8 year old brain, what is a ninja?
The answer became very clear. A ninja does 3 things.
- Moves to a far away land
- Trains extensively in martial arts
- Challenges the traditional rules of work and life as we know it
As I wrote these down I sat back in my chair with a surge of emotion. It clicked.
I Quit My Job, I live In Japan, I Train 4 hours a Day in Martial Arts
Over the course of 4 years I would quit my career in education, save money, find work in Japan, and eventually train extensively in martial arts.
I now live in the historical capital of Kyoto in Japan. I train in Aikido (a martial art) 4 to 6 hours a day 5 days a week.
Am I a ninja? By technical definition, no… But that was never what I wanted to be. I wanted to be the ninja from my childhood dreams.
I have now lived in Japan for 2 years. I have given my life to Aikido.
4 years ago, I was a depressed, stressed, overwhelmed 26 year old middle school teacher. Now, I wake up with joy, purpose and meaning.
I share my story for one reason. I’m not magical nor special. My life is evidence that you can follow your dreams no matter how absurd they may initially seem.
6 Steps to Identify and Live Your Dream
Below I break down the process to 6 specific practical steps to turn your dream into a reality. I know this stuff works because my life is the evidence.
Step 1: Answer The Million Dollar Question
I believe there is nothing more important than to identify your purpose.
The million dollar question is as follows:
If you had a million dollars, what would you do with your life?
Many of us allow money to be our excuse.
We use it as a crutch to slow us from moving towards our dreams. In some cases we even use the money excuse as a dagger that rips right through the heart of our dreams.
Your job above all else, is to identify what you want to do. After that, then you can figure out how to make money doing it.
Step 2: Define Your Dream
Once you know what you want to do, create a clear succinct definition for your dream.
Take my dream for example: to become a ninja.
That sounds totally absurd, unrealistic, and crazy. But when I give you the definition (according to my 8 year old brain)
1) Moves to a far away land
2) Trains extensively in martial arts
3) Challenges the traditional rules of work and life as we know it
It all of a sudden becomes possible.
Defining your dream makes the ‘impossible’, possible.
Step 3: Determine The First Step
Once you know exactly where you want to go (your purpose) and you have a clear definition then you need to identify the first step.
Do not be concerned with step 9, step 29, or step 109. All you need to do is focus on the next step in the process.
Step 4: Take The First Step
Action is the great differentiator. This world rewards people that ‘do’, not people who ‘think about doing’.
Everything comes down to execution. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but it don’t mean a darn thing if you don’t take action on it.
Step 5: Start Saving Money
Yes, I mentioned above that you cannot use money as an excuse. And that is correct. But here is the other reality.
As soon as I identified my dream, I started saving money every month. I called it “my dream fund”.
By doing this I was gaining momentum on my dream. Every month it felt like I was getting closer.
How much you save isn’t near as important as saving. Choose an amount and start saving today.
Step 6: Reflect, Adjust, Act
As you take action, you’re going to learn incredible things about yourself. But here’s the simple reality: you’re going to make mistakes.
It’s critical that you learn from these mistakes. After you take action it’s important to set time aside at minimum weekly to reflect. There are 3 specific questions I always ask myself:
1) What actions did you take in the last week that are moving you towards your dream? (keep doing those)
2) What actions did you take in the last week that are preventing you from moving towards your dream? (stop doing those)
3) What actions do you need to start doing to accelerate your progress towards your dream? (Choose one of these and do it).
Then based on your answers to these questions, adjust your plan and take action.
Repeat this “reflect, adjust, act” approach every week and you will be amazed by the impact it has on your life.
Identify Your Dream, Then Take The First Step
At the core of all of this are two very simple concepts.
To turn your dream into a reality all you need to do is know exactly where you want to go and then continuously take the next step.
This sounds simple because it is simple. But simple does not mean easy.
If some former middle school teacher can quit his job to become a ninja, you can follow your dream.
What actions are you going to take today to start turning your dream into a reality?
Izzy, The 30 Year Old Ninja
How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
Time is the raw material of our lives. How we choose to spend it, shapes our life accordingly. So having the motivation to spend it on achieving goals is crucial to creating a life we want.
What is Motivation?
The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the desire or willingness to do something – our drive to take action.
Scientifically, motivation has its roots in the dopamine pathways of our brains. When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. Our actions are driven by the desire for that reward (the good feeling).
Author Steven Pressfield describes motivation more practically. He says we hit a point where the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. He sees motivation as crossing the threshold where it’s easier to take action than it is to be idle. Like choosing to feel awkward while making sales calls over feeling disappointed about a diminishing bank account.
However you choose to think about it, we all want to harness motivation to achieve our goals.
How to Get Motivated
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that most people misunderstand motivation. They think that motivation is what gets us to take action. In reality, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Once we start a task, it’s easier to continue making progress. Like Isaac Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion.
This means most of the resistance when working on your goals comes right before we start. Since motivation naturally occurs after we start, we need to focus on making starting easier.
4 Ways to Make Starting Easier
1. Schedule it
One reason people can’t get started on things is that they haven’t planned when to do it.
When things aren’t scheduled it’s easier for them to fall by the wayside. You’ll end up hoping motivation falls in your lap or hoping that you’ll muster enough willpower to get it done.
An article in the Guardian said, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”
2. Measure something
It’s easy to feel uninspired when you don’t know if you’re making progress or what you’re even working towards. That’s why you need to make your success measurable in some way. Starting is easy when you know exactly how much closer your current actions will bring you to achieving your goal.
3. Extrinsic motivation
This type of motivation is from external factors. It can be either positive or negative. Positive motivation consists of incentives like money, prizes, and grades. Negative motivation consists of deterrents like being fired, having a fight, or being fined. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work effectively long-term, but it can work well in the short term to get you started on something.
4. Make it public
Keep yourself accountable by telling friends and family your goals, or even sharing them on social media. This makes it easier to start something because you’re pressured to not let others down.
How to Stay Motivated Long Term
When we say we want to feel motivated to do something, we don’t want to be pushed or guilted into doing a task. We want to be so attracted and drawn to the idea that we can’t resist not taking action. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation that will set you up for consistency.
These are 5 techniques that will help you do just that:
1. Stay in your goldilocks zone
The goldilocks zone is when a task is the perfect level of difficulty—not too hard and not too easy. In this zone, we reach peak motivation and focus.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against a 4-year-old. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become bored and not want to play. Now let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against Serena Williams. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become demotivated because the match is too challenging.
The Goldilocks zone is in the middle of that spectrum. You want to face someone with equal skill as you. That way you have a chance to win, but you have to focus and try for it. Adjusting your workload and goals over time to stay within your Goldilocks zone keeps you engaged and motivated long-term.
2. Pursue intrinsically motivated goals
Being intrinsically motivated to achieve a goal is when you want to achieve it for what it is. There are no external factors like a reward or the risk of being fired. The drive behind your actions is coming from within.
For most intrinsic goals we pursue them because they will enrich our lives or bring us closer to fulfillment. That makes these goals extremely sustainable long-term because they directly affect our quality of life and the things we care about.
3. Use “chunking”
Chunking is the technique of breaking down a goal into smaller short-term targets. By doing this you achieve multiple successes in your pursuit of the main goal. This triggers the brain’s reward system and drives you to keep going.
Traditionally, you may set a goal that you expect to achieve in one year. That’s a long time to commit without seeing any results along the way. By chunking your goals into monthly or quarterly targets, you get the consistent positive reinforcement you need to stay motivated long-term.
For example, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds in one year, try to lose 4 pounds every month for 12 months.
4. Be flexible
We’re all victims of circumstance. Things happen along our journey that we can either adjust to or quit because of. That’s why it’s important to have leeway and flexibility when you’re pursuing a goal. If you expect everything to go perfectly, the inevitable failure can make you disengaged and desireless. When you plan for things to go wrong, you make sure you can keep up for the long haul.
5. Pursue your goals in a sustainable fashion
Don’t lose hope when you’re not an overnight success. Overnight successes are the 1%—for the most part, they don’t exist. What we see as an “overnight success” is actually countless hours of work behind the scenes finally hitting a tipping point. Pursuing goals is a story of patience, persistence, and unseen effort.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is a recipe for a drop in self-confidence and satisfaction. It also cultivates a mindset where you think you haven’t done enough. As a result, you may raise your expectations and put more pressure on yourself.
This is pointless because things worth achieving take time. So we obviously won’t compare to the things around us when starting.
Mastering motivation is a superpower. With that ability at your fingertips, you can accomplish your goals and shape a life you want to live in.
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