how I built the life I imagined

your dreams have a funny way of coming true, but…

Nancy Chen
Feb 3 · 7 min read
Photo by Michaela Menard

Dream are only dreams until you create a plan to make those dreams a reality.

April 26, 2018. I was feeling lost, feeling unmotivated, feeling stuck. I was afraid, at age twenty-two, that time was already running out for me and that I could not accomplish all the things I wanted to do in a lifetime.

That’s when an old coworker from the boxing gym I taught at popped back into my life with this simple ask:

Where can you see yourself in one year from now, and what’s stopping you?

I put it on paper (or rather, a Google Doc), as all writers do —

Photo by wanderabode on Instagram

One year from now, I’m working from a sunny coffee shop in Santa Monica. The bright sunshine pours in; there are white walls, wooden tables, and the scent of the sea in the air.

My hair is still drying from my morning ocean swim. I’m training for an open water race, and I alternate swimming in the ocean with a Masters swim program at a local outdoor pool. I had gotten some quality writing done while drinking my morning matcha before this, so I’m energized and happy.

As I take small sips of my cold brew, I’m blogging, writing, freelancing, and editing the final version of my soon-to-be-published book. I’m operating on my own schedule; I’m not taking meetings mid-morning or otherwise disrupting my productivity.

I’m dressed comfortably in a white tank and denim shorts; my toes are wiggling freely in my worn-in Birkenstocks.

I take a lunch break to sip green juice, workout, shower, and eat lunch at home. Afterward, I take pictures, engage on social media leisurely, clean, and then head back to work at another coffee shop.

In the evening, I’m teaching yoga or boxing. It’s so fulfilling to connect with my students and to inspire them — and to be inspired by them as well.


Why don’t we live the life we dream?

Because it’s scary. Because society tells us that if we don’t follow the path it has dictated, that if we don’t take a job having to do with our major, that if we don’t sit in an office from 9 to 5 and take our work home that we aren’t trying hard enough. That we’ll never make money. That we won’t have enough to live.

A part of me gets excited about job descriptions. Takes pride in my LinkedIn profile. Thrives on the challenge of a fast-paced workplace. Rises up to work, and then to work some more.

But after doing that for a while, I get worn down. Burnt out. I think about quitting, no matter how much I love the job or my co-workers. Is this what I’m meant to do? I think.

Maybe I’m lazy for wanting freedom. Maybe I’m idealistic for wanting to live my life the way I choose. Maybe I’m annoying for wanting to maximize my own potential. Maybe I’m headstrong to want to work for myself.

But why do I feel like living within these boundaries is stopping me from living my best life?

Maybe it’s selfish to think that we can have all that we want. Maybe it’s dumb optimism.

And maybe, it’s just the belief in yourself, that you can achieve your dreams and find, then follow, your own path.


Here’s the thing — our potential is limitless.

We can achieve anything we put our minds to, but it’s not easy.

You have to create a plan. You have to follow the plan. And you have to be willing to work hard, to make sacrifices, and to know that the plan doesn’t always work out exactly the way you envision it will.

Growth cannot happen without discomfort. Dreams cannot happen without change. We can’t expect things to just fall in our laps — we have to seek opportunities. I do believe things that are meant to happen will happen and that some things and people come into your lives because of fate, but you have to take steps and meet them halfway.

We cannot say that “someday” we will take these steps toward achieving what we really want in life. Because if we do that, inertia stops us. Without taking that first step toward change, you’ll find that “someday” never happens.

A life of “okay-ness” is an okay life to live. You can have a job you’re satisfied with, a partner you’re satisfied with, have the nice car and the big house and maybe the three kids, but if you never try for that “what if,” for that lingering dream, you’ll never know all that you’re capable of achieving.

I’ve felt this resistance before. You’re still young, people tell me. But I want the life I want to live to start now.

Not when I’m twenty-five, or when I’m thirty, or when I have things all figured out, because let’s be honest—no one ever does have it “all together” or all figured out.

April 26, 2019 is soon — so where am I now?

the view from the beach in Puerto

I’m typing from a sunny coffee shop in Puerto Escondido. The bright sunshine pours in; there are white walls, wooden tables, and the scent of the sea in the air.

My hair is still drying from my morning ocean swim. I’m on a low-key yoga retreat, and I just finished writing a poem about my days as a competitive swimmer. I had gotten some quality writing and reading done while on the beach, so I’m energized and happy.

As I take small sips of my Americano, I’m blogging, writing, freelancing, and editing the fifth version of a compilation of poetry that I’ve been working on since May 2017. I’m operating on my own schedule; I’ve taken this week off work to rejuvenate myself.

I’m dressed comfortably in a white tank and denim shorts; my toes are wiggling freely in my worn-in Birkenstocks.

I take a lunch break to eat an acai bowl and swim in the ocean some more. Afterward, I head back to work at another coffee shop.


Ok, but you’re on vacation, you think to yourself. What about the real world?

Here’s me on a day back in Boston:

Photo by Michaela Menard

I’m working from one of my favorite coffee shops in Boston. The hum of the espresso machine fades away in the background, as does the soft chatter of the baristas.

My hair is still drying from my mid-morning workout. I’ve taken the early morning to do deep work and can operate on my own schedule around when I work — no morning meetings to disrupt productivity.

As I take small sips of my cold brew, I’m brainstorming revenue-generating and retention-creating ideas, building email flows, and tapping into both my creative and analytical side. On the back burner of my mind, which I’ll get to after my work or during mental breaks, I think about my upcoming move back to California, think about the latest books I want to read and the latest I’ve progressed in my personal writing, and new playlists and sequences for my workout classes.

I’m dressed unfortunately in winter clothes, but I comfort myself with the thought that this is my last winter in Boston (and that I can work in jeans or I can work in leggings and no one cares).

Depending on the day, I’ll teach, workout at lunch instead of midmorning, or take a break to make/get some food.

The idea I carry with me? That we are capable of creating our own happiness.


How did I do this?

At age twenty-three, I quit my job, accepted an offer as an Email Marketing Manager at a fast-growing startup that allows us to all work remotely and prioritizes our mental and physical health. Their goal is to give us the tools and freedom to work in whichever manner that optimizes our own productivity.

Photo courtesy of Perfect Keto

During the past couple of months, I’ve edited and re-edited variations of a poetry book I’ve written and made progress on a couple of other big pieces of writing that may or may not ever see the light of day. I’ve been able to make connections through the Boston fitness community that have allowed me to expand my network, monetize my blog and Instagram, and do work I’m truly passionate about.

This process was a month of intense job searching (funnily enough, both my friend and I found the same job for me and thought it was perfect — she has a track record of finding all the perfect jobs for me), of saying the hardest goodbye I had ever said to a great company, and of beginning to move apartments, condense my life, and take baby steps toward leaving Boston.

Did I ever imagine, when Rachael asked me to close my eyes and see myself one year from now, that I could see that picture I wrote about in such clarity, that I would think about it subconsciously until I had taken steps to make that scene a reality?

Did I ever imagine myself finding that same scene as I meditated and manifested (a practice I did for a short time)?’

No, but here we are. Our minds are a powerful thing, and once we make up our minds, we are more powerful than we know.

So take the leap. Start creating change. Think about what the life you want to live is, and start today.

Nancy Chen

Written by

wellness blogger | psych/human behavior nerd | email marketing @perfectketo | I get weirdly enthusiastic about productivity ideas www.nourishbynancy.com

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