How to Accomplish Your Big Goals (Even if They’re As Crazy As Making a Movie)

Aug 22, 2012 -
Get our best career advice delivered to your inbox. Sign up today! Do you want to be a Ringleader? No, not the whip-cracking, lion-taming kind. I’m talking about being the captain of your own ship. About taking control of your future through leadership. In 2010, I went after my dreams—the big ones—the reach-for-the-stars kind of dreams. Yes, I made a movie. It was scary and euphoric and lonely and exciting all at the same time. And while I don’t pretend to have the wisdom of Oprah or Donald Trump, this experience taught me a thing or two about professional success. So, here’s my take on how to be a Ringleader, for both your career and your life:

Prioritize laughter

Take a chill pill and laugh at life once in a while. There’s a direct correlation between the number of times you laugh in a given day and personal success. Okay, so I haven’t done a scientific study on this, but I’ve run a few tests on my own and here’s what I’ve found: people are more willing to help you if you break the ice with a laugh. Back in college, I spent my summers door-to-door fundraising, and on one particular day I decided to test this theory. I knocked on 50 doors and made it a point to throw in a laugh during half of the conversations. Not only did the laugh significantly contribute to my monetary success that night, but it also resulted in a number of free meals and water bottles. As humans, we long for connection. That connection doesn’t have to be established with some in-depth discussion of Picasso’s blue period. Just smile and laugh and good things will happen.

Value education

Unless someone is asking you for advice, you should approach every conversation as a student. This is especially crucial if you’re looking to change career paths. When I decided to make my first film in 2010, I already had a B.A. and J.D. under my belt, as well as a significant amount of business, sales and leadership experience. But entering this new field meant taking my ego out with the trash, and here’s why: people prefer to give advice over favors. Give others an opportunity to feel important, and doors will open. Also, if you’re open to learning, well, you might actually learn something.

Seek adventure

Think outside the box. I’m not telling you to reinvent the wheel, but if you’re looking to find a job, change jobs or move up in a job, don’t forget there’s more than one way to skin a cat. In 2009, I decided to graduate a semester early from law school to pursue my dream of making a feature film. This was UNHEARD OF in academia, but by thinking outside the box, I not only moved forward with my legal career, I also learned how to make a movie through trial and error. If two roads are “diverging in a yellow wood,” don’t be afraid to take the one less traveled by. It really could make all the difference.

Breathe your dreams

Dream big. Dream often. Dream in detail. When you’re young, it’s completely normal to answer the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question with: astronaut, professional soccer player or Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Once we’re adults, however, we’re expected to be more realistic with our life goals. Get rid of that mindset; that’s for people who are risk-averse and afraid of change. If you’re not happy with your professional career, figure out what you want (no matter how “silly” it may seem), write it down and tape it to the mirror in your bathroom. Then every week, no matter how small, do one thing that brings you closer to that dream. Go at it with energy. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. If there’s a will … there is a way.

Make time for relationships

Period. No “I have a deadline to meet” or “you live so far away” or any sentence that starts with “my boyfriend...” I don’t know anyone who has been successful in business without the help of at least one other person. Success isn’t about working hard. It’s about working hard and knowing the right people. The ONLY reason my film tour has been successful this summer is because my friends on the East Coast were willing to help me book venues, advertise and house us for free. These weren’t business relationships; they were friends—people I played beer pong with in college or met briefly while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Yet through them, I’ve made business connections and booked a full-fledged, 35-venue tour. Make time for friends. It will pay off professionally, and more importantly, it will increase your personal happiness ten-fold.

It’s never too late to go after your dreams

In 2006, I didn’t know any filmmakers or lawyers. Four years later, I passed the Illinois bar exam, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (that’s 2,178.3 miles) and made a movie. Dreams really do come true—if you can find the courage to be a Ringleader. Katherine Imp is a lawyer, filmmaker and outdoor adventure enthusiast living in Chicago. She also works part-time as a business and travel consultant, blogging regularly at