Self-help books that promise to help you live the life you want, to achieve your dreams, make me suspicious. I suspect it’s a hangover from reading The Secret, the global bestseller published 12 years ago. You’ve likely seen the film, out the same year, or you may be one of the more than 30 million people worldwide who bought this tiny volume. Maybe The Secret worked for you. Maybe you credit your entrepreneurial wins, your massive mansion or your dreamy love life to its magic.
Or perhaps, like me, you’re not a subscriber to The Secret’s main theory – the law of attraction, also called “cosmic ordering”. It goes something like this: you decide your dream or the thing that you want, say a lottery win. Once you’ve visualised this dream, you send your wish out into the universe… then, BOOM! Your wish comes true. It’s the universe as an overindulgent fairy godmother.
I do know some extremely intelligent women who believe in cosmic ordering – even Oprah championed it at the time. It’s not that I don't believe in people following their dreams, if they possibly can. Life is short, and all that. But I couldn’t get past the chapter that explains why you fail to get the things you’ve cosmically ordered. It says that it’s your own faulty spiritual self who’s to blame: you’ve either not asked for your thing in the right way, that thing isn’t intended for you or you’ve got the wrong dream. Nothing to do with the fact that the whole thing is purely magical thinking.
I much prefer the approach to dreams in the new book from Swedish stationary mogul Kristina Karlsson, Your Dream Life Starts Here. At first flick, the book looks pretty light. It’s beautifully designed, as you’d expect from the founder of a global stationary company, and couched in positive can-do-it terms. So far, so fluffy.
But, as you read on, the message that keeps coming through is that there is a way to live a life that’s true to your values; to live your dreams, if you want to put it like that. “The number-one regret people have is, they didn’t lead a life true to themselves. If I somehow can inspire people to really live their dreams, I’d love to do that,” Karlsson says, speaking to me from Singapore.
She told me that the book was borne out of the talks she kept being asked to do on how she launched her own business. Afterwards, “a lot of people would ask me, ‘Where do I start?’ and ‘How do you do it?’. I met way too many people who do not love what they do and who have forgotten that they are in charge of their lives.” Her book walks you through the method she evolved for herself. Karlsson first wrote down her dream of having a global stationery empire in possibly 1998 or 1999, she thinks, having moved from Sweden to Sydney. She opened her first kikki.K store two or three years later, in 2001. Now, kikki.K has 102 stores and sells in more than 147 countries (her next dream is a shop in New York). Looking at the timeline, the fact she built the brand over nearly 20 years, it becomes obvious that this isn’t a cosmic-ordering kind of instant dream delivery.
You need to work on your dreams. Nothing happens without doing the work
In fact, the first thing Karlsson tells me is that to make anything happen, you’ve got to graft. “You need to work on your dreams. Nothing happens without doing the work,” she says. She advises spending a full hour a day – if you can spare it – on this kind of personal development and refining your dreams. Her own hour – her “holy hour” – is first thing on most days. “Morning is the best part of the day – there are no distractions.”
The first exercise in the book is called 101 Dreams, and Karlsson says it’s one people love in her workshops. “Ask yourself: if you couldn’t fail, what would you do? If you had all the money you needed, what would you do? Take a year off? Work part-time? Spend more time with the family?” You start writing and keep going until you’ve got 101. The point of brainstorming dreams rather than goals, she says, is that your dreams are going to be way wilder, being outside your current financial, family or confidence restrictions, and based on your heart rather than your head.
Once you’ve got your 101, you edit it down to three that you can actually go for, then brainstorm the actions you can take and think of the people who can help you. “If you start putting dreams on to paper, they are more likely to happen. But you need to work out what kind of actions you can take to make them happen.”
You might be thinking: OK, dreams are fine for those who already have the advantages of money and privilege, with health and time and energy. And that is true, to some extent. But the most beautiful and moving of the case studies in Karlsson’s book is the story of of Tererai Trent, who Karlsson bills as as “Oprah Winfrey’s all-time favourite guest”. Trent grew up subsistence farming in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), wasn’t able to go to school and, by the age of 18, had four children and an abusive husband. Her dream was to get a PhD and to go back and help her community – and she has achieved this via years of hardship and hard work (listen to her story on the Your Dream Life Podcast). Dr Trent now raises funds for education and her foundation has built 11 schools and improved education for 5,000 children in Zimbabwe. One dollar from each copy of Kristina’s book will be donated to this. “One of my dreams is to sell a million copies and raise a million dollars for her foundation,” Karlsson says.
I don’t doubt that she’s going to achieve her million-book dream. And I’m certain her route to this has already been meticulously planned. Unlike The Secret, where you only get as far as visualising your dream, Karlsson’s method is about real planning plus sheer effort. Sure, the book is packaged beautifully and the words are super positive. But if you do have a dream, this book could be what helps you find a practical route to making it come true.
Your Dream Life Starts Here: Essential And Simple Steps To Creating The Life Of Your Dreams by Kristina Karlsson is published by Hardie Grant