A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

True visionaries think backwards.

I’m writing this blog entry for everyone out there who has ever felt mopey or sad or disillusioned about the future. In particular, there are those of us who struggle with weighty questions such as “Will the world ever really understand me?” or “Will I ever stop feeling like my unique talents are not being shown to the world?” If you’ve ever felt that way, this blog is for you.

It’s hard to pull yourself out of those thoughts sometimes, and it’s even harder to do what I’m about to recommend to get out of this sort of funk. When you’re not optimistic, and you’re struggling to be recognized, the world can seem like a gray and dull place. There’s one really good way I’ve discovered to get out of that gray mentality and start moving forward again, and that is to imagine the world as you would like it to be, and work backwards from there to where you are today.

This is totally different from how most people think about changing the world. Most people live their lives in a sort of forward motion, where they take things as they are now and make incremental improvements, hoping that those improvements will result in the changes they want to see in the world. But I believe the opposite is actually better — painting a picture (in your mind, on paper, in a journal, or even on a blog as I’m going to be doing) of what the perfect world really is, and then incrementing back slowly to where you are today.

Here’s an example of a gray day (or set of days) I had recently, and how I thought backwards to make my world a better place. You’ve probably read my adventures with buying Retrograde, a $4000 1978 Fireball RV. The question I asked myself when I bought Retrograde was “Will he make it to Burning Man?” The answer was yes, and indeed he did. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it home from Burning Man. He died in Walnut Creek at 6AM on the way home, leaving 3 of us stranded and exhausted (we had driven him all night.) His motor failed. I had him towed to a local repair shop in the East Bay, where they told me the bad news. Much sadness ensued on my part — despite only owning him for a few weeks, he felt like a member of my family. And he wasn’t going to be easy to replace (I don’t have as much attachment to most objects since they weren’t unique like this guy was.)

Slowly, over the course of a few days, I came out of my funk. I ended up selling Retrograde for $500 to Adrian, a guy I found on craigslist, who towed Retrograde away to live in. Listening to Adrian’s story, I understood that everything happens for a reason. Adrian had a job but couldn’t afford the expensive cost of living here. He was mechanically inclined and interested in fixing up Retrograde. He was also incredibly grateful to be afforded the opportunity to have a place to live and not be homeless, and I knew by looking in his eyes that he’d use Retrograde far more than I ever would have.

At the same time, this whole debacle afforded me a chance to design my future as I wanted it. I’d mentioned in my earlier blog post about Retrograde that what I really wanted was a truck and a travel trailer for true versatility. The truck would be fantastic for hauling to my house all those great things I found on craigslist for cheap, and would also be useful as a second car for the times when my Miata needed to go in the shop. The travel trailer would last for many years and wouldn’t be tied to the truck — if the truck died, no problem. I’d just get another truck.

As I started sketching my ideal reality, I realized that I could make this happen. Furthermore, this opened up new possibilities. In 2005, I first discussed the idea of creating an art car with a friend…who thought I was crazy! This scenario would also be a perfect way to create the art car of my dreams — a truck with modular pieces that, when bonded to the vehicle, turned it into…a roaming bar. Yes, even though I don’t drink, I want to own a roaming bar that goes around the playa at Burning Man and serves alcohol. I put together some ideas and came up with the name CRAB CAB…an ocean theme, with the bar in the back of the truck, and some way to stick on pieces at Burning Man so that the truck didn’t look like a truck any more.

Talk about possibilities!

By working backwards and designing my future as I wanted it to be, I was able to envision far more than just “getting another RV” or “replacing Retrograde.” Instead of looking at my life with an RV-sized hole in it, I took the opportunity to think about my perfect life: a truck that turned into an art car on a whim and a travel trailer that would last me a good 10+ years. Instead of being upset at the loss of my RV (I allowed myself a mourning period of a few days and then promptly got over it after realizing that Adrian needed it more than I did), I turned a loss into an opportunity.

I firmly believe you can do this with anything, and it doesn’t have to start with a loss. Take a part of your life right now that isn’t perfect, and instead of looking at it like a hole you need to fill, imagine what your perfect life would look like in that regard. What perfect significant other would you create? What perfect house would you live in? Find pictures on the Internet. Print them out and hang them up, and don’t ever for a second believe that you can’t achieve anything that you envision in these flights of creative fancy. You just have to start thinking backwards.

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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