Dreams Are Like Pirate Treasure: Hard to Find, But Worth the Risk

by Anne Dorko

All dreams start somewhere and typically, no matter the size of the overall dream, most dreams start small. Let’s say yours is to feel better at work every day. You focus on sitting up straight in week one. Week two finds you taking a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. Week three sees you on a regular sleep schedule. By the fourth week, you’ve even started eating an apple with lunch every day.

By the second month, things are starting to feel a little brighter.

But my guess is that you’re not reading this because you want to sit in a cubicle. What if your dream is bigger than this? Mine was to explore and see the world. I started in an office, but soon decided it was a pirate’s life for me. I left that cubicle and everything I knew behind again and time again until I found what I was looking for. It’s the nature of exploration!

It all came back to the fact I had a clear treasure map. The clues were vague and shrouded in mystery, sure. But the treasure? That was clear as day. My ultimate treasure was lifestyle freedom, the ability to be wherever I wanted for as long as I wanted. I knew what I wanted to see the world, and the world certainly wasn’t going to come and find me.

It took years to get here, but now I’m finally loading my found treasure onto the ship and figuring out what to do with it.

Today I’d like to show you how to take off on your own high seas adventure so you can find that spark you’ve been waiting for, something to ignite your life and light your way.

It all starts with your treasure map. After that, all you need is the courage to launch on your voyage.

The Signs You Need a Treasure Map

Imagine yourself as the character in a pirate story.

You look drearily up from your innkeeper’s desk as a dark stranger walks through the front door. He asks your name. You give it to him.

“I have something for you,” he says, placing a small parchment in front of you. Before you can even reach out to touch it, he’s gone.

Your heart beats loudly in your ears. Your fingers tremble as you open the letter: It’s a treasure map.

Cut back to the real world. There is no one out there documenting your life goals on a secret parchment. There is no one arriving at your door with a secret mission for you. The closest thing you’ve got is me telling you it’s time to get started.

You know better than anyone what you want. That one thing that you’ve been too afraid of. Something that could change your entire life. Are you waiting for a sign? This is it.

It is time.

Create Your Treasure Map From Scratch

In any story, a treasure map changes everything. It takes someone normal and launches them down a path that turns their entire world upside down.

Open water at Oamaru, New Zealand

Adventure is calling. Will you answer?
A treasure map tells you a few things:
  • The treasure exists
  • Where to look for it
  • Clues to help you along the way

In other words, your treasure map is your guide to change.

Since this is the real world, you have to discover it on your own. The best part is that you can draw it yourself.

I wasted a lot of time thinking I knew how to change my own life, but thinking that I had to wait for the right time. I had a lot of general ideas about what I wanted, but no specific plan of action. It kept my treasure intangible and unreachable. Then I uncovered a dark secret. To change my life I would need a clear image of my goal, but I had no idea what my dream life might realistically look like, so how could I ever find it?

Since that discovery, I have had quite a few life changing experiences. I quit a full-time job, took a seven-month American road trip, lived right on the beach, flew around the world, and went on a month-long solo bicycle tour. And that’s just the summarized version! A pirate’s life for me, indeed.

How did I go from being cooped up in the office and slowly losing faith in humanity to gallivanting all over the world? It all comes back to my treasure map, a clear image of what I wanted in life.

There are long- and short-term dreams, big and small dreams. Only you know what is the right fit for your life. I find it helps to sit down to consider what it is you want before even starting to design a treasure map.

The structure that works for me all comes back to a six-month timeframe.

This is a perfect timeframe because six months is enough time to enact big changes, but short enough that you’re forced to get the ball rolling right away.

Once I decided that I wanted to work on the road, making the choice to freelance full time was a no-brainer. It gave me the confidence to quit my job. This allowed me to prepare for my open-ended road trip to see all 48 contiguous states.

As that trip came to a close, I knew I wanted to experience life right by the beach. This gave me the clear directive to arrange a beachside apartment as soon as I pulled back into San Diego.

Each time, these directives took my abstract idea of “lifestyle freedom” and transformed it into specific action for what I wanted to see happen in the next six months.

The same concept went for my move to Austin, my worldwide trip, my bicycle tour, and now – moving to Germany. Each step of the way was unpredictable even a year beforehand! But by using the sixth-month timeframe, I was able to make decisions confidently and effectively.

If you didn’t notice, there’s a pattern emerging:

When you have a treasure map, your path is clear. You know what direction to move towards, and having conviction means you will make it happen.

So I’ll ask you:What’s your dream life? What changes could you make to realize that dream in the next six months?

Prepare for Your Voyage

Dock in South Hobart, Tasmania

Step back into our pirate tale.

After what feels like an hour, you carefully fold the parchment and slide it into your breast pocket.

You wonder, did anyone notice your interaction? The room is quiet, making your chair seem to squeak even louder than usual as you push away from the oak desk. You try to remember which direction the man went as he left.

Maybe he went to the docks. Soon you find yourself pacing in a salty breeze, watching busy crewman load and unload a sloop.

You realize you have many preparations to put in order.

See, you can’t just sit on a treasure map. If simply owning a treasure map were all it took to putting that treasure in your hands, there would be no such thing as adventures.

As far as we know, teleportation hasn’t been invented and goals don’t achieve themselves.

On my road trip, I played most things by ear. But that only worked because I created a structured plan beforehand that held the dream together.

The process looked something like this:

  1. Pursue enough freelance gigs that I could afford to quit my job. (Note: I asked my boss at the time whether I could work remotely before quitting. The answer was no.)
  2. Actually quit my job.
  3. Go through everything I own and either get rid of it or pack it away.
  4. Get my car checked out to make sure I wasn’t driving away in a time bomb.
  5. Make sure I addressed any legal issues that come with having no permanent address or regular employment. (How I would handle important mail, insurance, etc.)

It seems like an obvious list, but so often it’s the obvious things we tend to neglect. You have to focus on each issue specifically, or something important will get overlooked. Preparing well beforehand means the journey is much more likely to go smoothly.

Note that my clear treasure map made creating this list simple.

If your action list to freedom isn’t clear, you need to go back to the drawing board. For example, wanting to become a digital nomad is a life dream, but not enough to draw a treasure map from. Treasure is a specific reward you can reach in the next six months – like moving to Thailand and opening a web design business.

If your treasure map isn’t made of measurable goals, you’ll never find your treasure.

Find Yourself a Crew

The salty breeze fills your nostrils as you continue to watch the sloops. These men on the dock work together to lift heavy crates. You realize you won’t be able to go on a voyage without a crew of your own. It takes a lot of work to man a ship, swab the deck and, not to mention, help you bring the treasure home.

A shiver runs down your spine as the cold wind kicks up. You turn back to the closest pub. A poster there catches your eye: “Hands for hire.”

Your face splits into a grin as you push open the swinging doors to walk inside.

Having a crew is more important than you realize.

![Pictured: Awesome crew members.](../images/2016/06/find-your-crew.jpg)Pictured: Awesome crew members.
Willpower and intrinsic motivation comes in short supply. Most of us don’t have what it takes to go alone. We each need our support team: People who keep you accountable and back you up when strong storms blow in.

For example, I partnered up on my road trip. Meanwhile, I communicated my plans with friends and family.

When things were hard or money was tight, I had people to remind me of the goal. I wanted road-bound freedom, to see the world and take on the impossible.

It was easy to get caught up in the details or get depressed over the little things that went wrong leading up to the trip. Not to mention that making such huge life changes comes with a lot of added anxiety.

Without that accountability, it’s hard to say whether I would have seen it through.

I was even more grateful to have learned that lesson by the time I went on my solo bicycle tour! Without the backing and constant encouragement of my family and friends back home, I’m not sure how far I would have made it.

Sometimes you’re unable to surround yourself with people who support you. Other times, they simply don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve. It can be hard to find a true support team. Thankfully, there are entire communities online and off that you can seek out. The important part is that you find them.

Begin Your Voyage

San Diego Bay

The shore begins to disappear off in the distance as you stand proudly above your very own sloop.

The first mate taps you on the shoulder, startling you out of your pensive state. You almost lose balance as you swing around to face him, your sea legs still adjusting to the slow rock of the boat. “What’s the word, Captain?” he asks.

His words seem to bare your soul. This is the moment of truth. What’s your first order as captain?

You drew a treasure map and created a game plan to put everything in motion.

You got yourself a support team. Everything is in order for the journey.

Life is good… except you forgot to think about the details of your first steps. There’s a lot more to worry about when you’re at the helm. Stepping into control of your own life is exhilarating. But the truth is that it takes time to get used to this control. Sometimes we get so excited about living life on our own terms we forget that we’re still just learning.

When you falter, that’s when you bring out the treasure map again, which is your ultimate tool to guide you where you need to be.

“Follow your dreams. They know the way.”
Kobi Yamada

In Conclusion

Black and white photo of sailing in San Diego

Your dream will never become reality unless you put a plan and action behind it. No one is just going to hand it to you.

For me, I package my dreams into six-month treasures with actionable steps I can take to achieve it. Sometimes I find better treasure along the way and change course – but the point is that it keeps me moving. I am constantly discovering new and wonderful things. In the end, that’s the lifestyle I want for myself.

Here are the basic steps to follow:

  • Realize that now is the best time to begin your adventure.
  • Create your own treasure map because your treasure is unique to you.
  • Make preparations to go after the treasure.
  • Hire yourself a crew, i.e., build yourself a support team.
  • Set sail and start chasing your dream.

What treasure do you want to achieve next? How does it line up with the life you want for yourself?

Featured image: Steven Johnson

First published June 24, 2016

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