Small Steps toward the Big Goal

Creativity involves dreaming. Dreaming encourages the creative process. Dreaming is good. But dreaming can also halt your creativity – completely. That is if dreaming becomes nothing but a dream. If you don’t turn the dream into action, nothing comes out it. I have written about this before, talked about doing the work. And we can talk about creativity till the end of time, but if we don’t do the work, we are not creating.

There is something more to it, though. Because dreaming also has the aspect of dreaming the big goals, the big achievements, the ultimate expressions, the big aspirations of the creative life. There is nothing wrong with that. But big dreams have a tendency to scare us more than encourage us. Going for the big leap is so much more frightening than staying put. But the reality is that creative life is not made in big leaps, but by a lot of small steps – every day. Instead of believing everything has to be done at once, we should rather start out small and take one small step at the time. That’s exactly how babies learn to walk. They continuously practice first by crawling, then getting up on their feet, taking small steps while still holding on to something, then try one or two steps without holding, before they are finally are able to walk, better and better as they practise more and more. So it is with all big goals in the creative life, too. We must take small steps and continue doing smalls steps, until one day we have achieve what we once dreamt about.

For instance many photographers dream about getting an assignment for National Geographic. But just the mere thought of having to compete with the world’s most accomplished photographers or even just approaching the picture editor of National Geographic seems like too big a leap to even try doing. And it is, if you start out there. Instead look to what you can do today. What do you need to get closer to the dream? Well, first of all some work to show for. Then start doing personal projects, and do something you can accomplish wherever you are. And start doing it today. When you have a body of work, try to sell it to the local publication. If it doesn’t sell, do another personal project. Eventually you get enough experience to move up the ladder and maybe one day even to the top. Small steps toward the big goal.

I have experienced people telling me how they envy my way of working and living, that I am able to travel the world and make a living out it. Again the best advice is to start out small. Do a travel story in your own backyard and try to sell it to a smaller publication. Next time you go on holiday somewhere give yourself an assignment to photograph your destination as if it was a travel story. Small steps toward the big goal.

Or writing a novel. Instead of worrying about getting published or not, start writing a couple of page every day. Or start making a disposition or a plan for the writing and then do it, little by little. When one day the novel is written, you can take the next step. Make it sellable to a publisher, make a synopsis, an introduction letter, and do research on publishers. And then start selling the novel. Going to the publishers one by one. That’s by the way exactly where I have stopped myself. I have written a novel – and even started a new one – but lost track of the road, the one step at a time. The novel has been lying there for too long, I suddenly got scared by the thought of approaching publishers – I might actually get rejected… But no more. That’s really why I have now written this post – to push myself into take the next step. Small steps toward the big goal.

If you can break you dream down to small increments then every task becomes so easy, you can do it, no sweat. Do not look at changing you whole life in one swoop. That is too scary and a sure way to stall yourself. No, small steps toward the big goal.


66 thoughts on “Small Steps toward the Big Goal

  1. Thank you for liking my post “Three Days at the Beach”. I have read three of your posts, and they all speak to me – to the things that I think about, worry about, wonder about as a photographer. I look forward to reading all of your posts in the future – wonderful blog!

  2. Baby steps, never pausing too long, getting up after a fall with hope and excitement, a little sore but also a little wiser, & charged with creativity! You said it more elegantly.
    Best of luck with your novel!

  3. It is so kind of you to offer advice and guidance to those who wish in one way or another to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for a well-written blog. Your advice is encouraging and eloquent.

  4. You made an important point for this dear Otto Von, you are right. I want to repeate your words to myself always… I was writing in my own language but then one day I stopped. I decided not to write anymore… But without writing it wasn’t me! So I started to write in this language… Yes, there is a long way to reach my dream(s) but I am happy to be on my way… And now with your beautiful sharings I feel good too. Thank you dear Otto, you are nice one that you share with us, especially what we need… Good Luck for your writing world, I haven’t known that you wrote a novel. How I wish(ed) to read it. Blessing and happiness, with my love, nia

  5. Isn’t is amazing how merely declaring publicly on a blog that you’re going to do something spurs you to actually begin the process. That’s also one of the main reasons I blog, to make myself keep my promises. It would be so embarrassing to have to admit to my followers that I was a quitter!

  6. Thank you for sharing your insight. I too have written novels, but not taken them to through the final step of publishing. I will use your push to finish as my push to finish as well. Thanks again!

  7. I’m glad you’re trying to put your dreams into action. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do myself too. I have a couple of writing projects on ice and your post actually prompted me to take some action. Thanks!

  8. Such wonderful and very generous words of encouragement, thank you so much and all best wishes to you for getting that novel out of the drawer and into the light of day!

  9. Wonderful post…lots of lessons to learn here. And you’re so right. sometimes I feel overwhelmed becuase I want to do it…feel I should be doing more…faster and then I realize I have to slow down and take my time to real master my craft. Terrific image as well.

  10. Thank you for your words of wisdom Otto. After reading your many pages about photography, I have reassessed at how I see things, now, when I look at something, I recall your words, then I raise the camera.
    Thank you.

  11. That seemed written for me! I have the half finished novel, and the enthusiasm and the ambitions to achieve more with my photography. It’s so easy to get carried away and for that enthusiasm to run riot in your life and for the balance to get lost. Enthusiasm is vital but it has to be tempered by reality. It’s not easy and I often overstep the market and find I have to reign myself in.

  12. Looks like we are all needing to learn to take baby steps again. Sometimes it only takes a stamp, doesn’t it, souldipper? Good luck everybody, with you small steps! 🙂

  13. So many words of wisdom here for anyone. Constructive dreaming is associated to goals – but to put goals into action – goals must have a plan and the person must know their priorities in order to implement the plan.

  14. I love this post! My mom dated a world traveling photographer who had National Geographic as one of his clients. During the time they dated, he’s the one who got me interested in photography as a child. Tony would show me the ins and outs of a camera and cool little things. He was the ultimate adventurer. He basically told me what you posted on this blog about achieving your dreams and not being stuck of just being a dreamer (whatever the dream may be). Great post!

    1. That is pretty neat, to have had a photographer from NatGeo be your personal inspiration or trainer. Looking at you blog, what I like best, though, is that you have developed your own clear vision – not going for a National Geographic-kind of style.

  15. Excellent post, and a timely one for me. I don’t desire to become a NatGeo photographer, or to write a novel. But “small steps toward the big goal” certainly applies to other parts of my life! Good luck with selling your novel. I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

    1. I don’t think National Geography should be the ultimate goal per say for any photographer. We should find our own way – as I just commented above – and that’s what I see you are doing.

  16. I could swear you were taking directly to me! It is amazing to me that we can know these things, forget them, re-learn them, get a firm grip once again, then in a moment of distraction, let it all slip away yet again. Your timing was perfect for me. Great stuff, well said Thanks for the invaluable reminder.

  17. Great advice! My mother always told us to do the “next right thing”, never to get overwhelmed by the enormity of something because it’s just a bunch of tiny steps!

  18. Otto, You have hit the nail on the head so to speak. Dreams can be big and I do like to think big, we just need to look at them in those baby steps to make them happen. I’ve only been photographing for over 20 years and with new technology and social networking, I have been able to share with others and get instant feedback. I started with a suggestion someone made of doing a 365 project and while that was not met daily, it got me to shoot more than ever before and see things I have never seen before. I limited my thoughts and dreams to my own way of thinking – that I have to travel the world to be a great photographer, when in fact I have taken some great pictures in my own backyard. Dreams never die, they are always a part of you. Mine have been with me my whole life and now I’m taking those bigger steps. If I fall short, it’s ok, I enjoy the journey anyway. My goal isn’t money or fame, it’s self-satisfaction and loving what I so and hopefully helping to inspire some others along the way. Thank you for sharing such a great post.

    1. It’s so easy to limit ourselves or make excuses for why we aren’t doing what we want to do, isn’t. I think it’s great that you can turn your backyard into memorable pictures and pictures that stand out. Long time ago there was a book called The Sky is the Limit. I think it was a pretty uninteresting book – but the words of the title still holds true, being a cliché or not.

  19. Thank you so much for dropping by my blog. Now I’ve seen your marvellous work, your kind comments mean even more to me.

    Best wishes,

  20. Inspiring & Beautiful post with a great advice in it. I read somewhere a quote that, “Everything in your life is under control if you are moving slowly in your life.” I am also going to agree with you. Dreams are not so cheap that a person can make them true over night. Everyone has to take baby steps to reach them. It a journey, we have to cover with out much worried about reaching the destination.
    Thank you for this post.

  21. Words to the wise, Otto, that I need to take to heart. I wonder what my small dream might be…and perhaps it WOULD be to start with my city here in the Netherlands (as an expat) and see if there’s a venue for my images. Hmmm. Let me start defining my dream and then do something about it. Thanks for the kick in the pants. 🙂

  22. This post has come at a time, when I have put off for a few days now, sending an e-mail to a resort manager to ask if I can sign on to do guest posts while there in a couple of weeks. I keep looking at his email address and dreaming………ACTION! Today! Thank you for the gentle kick in the pants I needed.

  23. What a wonderful encouragement. We all have those things we’ve put aside because of fear…fear of rejection? Fear of success? I am never quite sure which is the bigger problem, but I do like the idea of baby steps. I think you are so wise to announce your intention to work on your novel. Good for you! You are obviously a gifted and creative guy, so keep it up. I love the photograph of the children at the top of your post. Beautiful! Debra

  24. This is so true. It’s something I know and yet I let myself fall into those little doubt traps. Thanks for the encouragement! And thanks for stopping by my photography blog so I could hop here and read just what I needed to read today!

  25. Step by step are the first magical words. Not sure who said it but someone famous said that even the longest trip begins with one step. (i think he was Mao). And dedication is what we need to make the second step, the third and the…
    great post, nice to read.

  26. Wise advice, Otto…especially the part about breaking the goal into small steps. At work, I was always an action plan driven purpose and I believe that has helped me in my writing as well.

  27. I’ve been doing a bit too much dreaming lately. Thanks for this reminder that I have to pair it with action.
    And thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad my photos make you want to visit.

  28. thank you for liking my post… mostly because it linked me to this inspiring post. sometimes my blog, and reading other blogs, actually serves as a way to subconsciously procrastinate pursuing my creative dreams, because it terrifies me. Both the overwhelming process and the thought of success, terrifies me. No excuses… now i must stop reading and take my next humble step. thanks again!!

  29. I really like what you have written here, wise words indeed so thank you for making me think about my next step. I can’t wait to take more photos now!
    Keep up the amazing work, your website has beautiful shots. 🙂

  30. I was about to write how good to dream and to pursuit it but when I read your article, I said to myself I have nothing to write now. You already says what I wanted to. But I don’t mean that I’m angry with you… maybe I am envy with you. You’re great and I like what you says here.
    Thank you for visiting my blog recently… I’am happy you enjoy my blog..

  31. Very inspiring post! This is great advice for fulfilling one’s dreams. Life is too short not to dream. More importantly, why not make that dream become a reality one small step at a time? I’m with you! By the way, I hope that all your dreams come true for you. 🙂

  32. Thank you for liking my post. I wonder how you came across it and why you liked it. I just read this post of yours and liked it because I am seeing you at this moment as an angel. I am a firm believer in things happen for a reason. I’m feeling at a stand still in my creativity for reasons of my own doing (learning how I can make that creation-schooling) and for reasons I have no control over at this time (full-time job). I finally learned to be patient, and I am, but I’m tired of learning and want to start dreaming again. I need to fulfill some of my old dreams that are still there but I have a need for new dreams too.
    Thank you for crossing my lifes path, Angel from Norway.

  33. You wrote: “Going for the big leap is so much more frightening than staying put.” By coincidence, a few minutes ago on another blog I was led to this poem said to be written by Guillaume Apollinaire (and I’ll add that I’ve found several versions on the Internet, so I don’t know which is the original or if Apollinaire even wrote it):

    Approchez-vous du bord, dit-il;
    -On ne peut pas, Maître, on a peur ;
    -Approchez-vous du bord, réitéra-t-il;
    – On ne peut pas, Maître, on a peur;
    – Approchez-vous du bord, fit-il encore.
    Ils vinrent.
    Il les poussa…
    Et ils volèrent…

    English translation:

    “Come to the edge,” he said.
    “We can’t, Master, we’re afraid.”
    “Come to the edge,” he said again.
    “We can’t, Master, we’re afraid.”
    “Come to the edge,” he said yet again.
    They came.
    He pushed them.
    And they flew.

    Steve Schwartzman

  34. Thank you so much for this post. You have no idea how much it has helped me. Thank you thank you thank you. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, right?

    Here’s something that always gets me over any fears I may have. I hope it helps you:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” –Marianne Williamson.

    And remember George Eliot: “It is never too late to be who you could have been.”


  35. Thanks for this inspiring and encouraging post! I am blogging about my own creative project that gets done each week in baby steps. It is great to find others who are finding success with this approach. Thank you for sharing and good luck with your novel!

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