Your Dream Begins with a Single Step

Your Dream Begins with a Single Step

“The Riba-roja Dream Tree” (2018)

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Every feat that Man has accomplished, every vision brought to life, every adventure and journey completed… they all started with a single step.

We’re surrounded everyday by news of people who have fulfilled one of their goals, from huge newsworthy events to your friends’ social media status updates.

When we read or hear about these results others have achieved, we may feel inspired, we may happy for them, and we may also feel a little envious, or perhaps resigned and wishing: “If only that could be me.”

We believe they must have been exceptionally talented, lucky, and/or disciplined to be able to pull off such a feat, and if we were to compare ourselves to them, we may see ourselves as “lesser” beings.

But really, if we had been privy to the process and the struggles these people went through to reach their goal and manifest their vision, we will see that every single one of these journeys had started from a single step.

Which goes to show that you are no different, and all your dreams are no exception. Every dream you have, no matter how small or big and seemingly far off into the unknown future, is completely possible for you.

However, nothing will happen until you start taking action and taking that step. And then you take the next step, and the next step… until you finally arrive at your dream’s door and fling it wide open.

And since there are going to be many steps you’ll have to take along the way, the best time to take that next step is right now.

There is never going to be a “right” time until you decide it is, and you are never going to be “ready” until you decide you are.

The only thing we know as a certainty (though we usually avoid accepting this as a reality) is that some day our time in this world is going to run out.

And even before your time is up, your living circumstances may change so drastically that it becomes more challenging to pursue that dream; thus there may never again be a more opportune time in your life than right now.

I’m not even talking about fulfilling your entire dream. I’m only asking you to look at that single step that you need to take right here right now.

The entire journey of living your dream is one you may be able to envision, but because it hasn’t unfolded yet, it’s still intangible and out of reach. On the other hand, that single step to move you along is tangible and concrete, within your immediate grasp, and usually doesn’t require a lot of time or effort to complete.

However, that one step can often be the most difficult to take.

On the surface it appears too insignificant, something that doesn’t seem like it will make much of a difference, compared to the rest of the entirety of our dream (at least based on how we envision it to be). And because that step doesn’t seem like it will make much of a difference, might tell ourselves, “It’s not going to take long — I’ll do it later. I can do it easily whenever I want. I’ll do it when I have more free time.”

At the same time, on a deeper level, a part of us knows that this one step will unfold countless possibilities thereafter, and the fear that we can actually manifest our wildest dreams, that we’re more powerful than we imagine, that we’re bigger and stronger and more capable than we know… that fear will arise to stop us from going for it.

This is where we secretly tell ourselves inside: “I’m not good enough for this, I don’t deserve to have it, I’m afraid I will fail…”

Often repeated externally as: “I’m not ready yet, I need XYZ first before I can do it, I need to have a stronger portfolio, I need to have more experience first…”

And soon enough, weeks, months and even years would go by, time that could have been spent taking each single step needed to move in the direction of our dream, wasted instead on giving ourselves justifications for why we can’t do it just yet.

I totally get it, because when it comes to pursuing what truly matters to me, I deal with these struggles within myself too.

One of these steps that I finally took after many years of putting it off eventually led me to begin the journey of living my craziest, wildest, biggest dream as a traveling artist. The funny thing is, I already had this dream for many years, but I kept telling myself that I needed to have enough money before it could really be possible for me.

From the time I returned to Singapore in 2012 after living in the US for four years, I’ve had a dream of wanting to hit the road again, and to experience life in different places around the world.

At first I was more focused on fulfilling my childhood artist dream, where I took many steps over two months and organised my first ever solo exhibition in early 2013.

After my exhibition, my travel dream surfaced again, and I thought in passing that I would love to apply for an artist residency soon… but then I rationalised that I will need a lot of money in order to travel while being an artist, plus there’s the added challenge of transporting my canvases and art materials wherever I go.

And since I was a new artist at the time, I didn’t think my work was “good enough” or that I was “ready” for an artist residency. So I put these dreams on a shelf, and didn’t even begin looking into them.

I remained in Singapore, continued working on my art and trying to make a living with it, so I could someday have the money and live my dream as a traveling artist.

But the longer I stayed in Singapore, the more restless I became, and after unsuccessfully trying to figure out where I belonged in the local art scene, I began to feel I was stagnating as an artist.

In 2018, five years after my first solo exhibition, I was in the midst of expanding my network in the local fine art scene so I could get more opportunities, and one day I had a conversation with an established local artist, where I mentioned I would like to travel, and he asked if I had done an artist residency before.

Suddenly I was reminded of the moment just after my first solo exhibition, when I had been excited at the prospect of attending an artist residency, but I stopped myself because I thought I needed a lot of money to travel and that my work wasn’t “good enough” for such opportunities.

(To be honest, at that moment, even though I had accumulated more artistic achievements on my CV, I still didn’t feel I was “good enough” or “ready”.)

The artist very simply told me, “Just try anyway, because until you try, you’ll never know.”

So I decided to take a single step, a very small one of simply visiting a listings website for artist residencies, and having a look at what’s available. No pressure to apply for anything, I was just going to have a look, and maybe compile a list of the ones that seem interesting to me.

That single step of “just have a look” led to the discovery of a residency in Spain that really intrigued me — they wanted to turn a village into an outdoor gallery, and were looking for artists to install permanent works of art over two weeks, PLUS accommodation, food and materials were all paid for, and there was some monies for transport as well.

I still didn’t think I was “good enough” to get accepted, but I decided to take the next step anyway and apply. I kinda reasoned with myself that if I applied and got accepted, I could still turn the offer down. But never applying meant not even having that possibility. So as much as I wanted to get accepted, I also told myself this was just an experiment to apply and see what happens next.

The next step was to write a proposal of the work I was intending to create. I realised the only thing I could do was paint a mural, though I had only painted on two mural projects before, and neither were my own design. So I looked through my body of work so far, and the largest two paintings I had ever completed were of Dream Trees (painted in 2014 and 2016 respectively), and that’s when I reasoned that it shouldn’t be too difficult to just paint them bigger.

“Dream Tree” (2014), acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 23.4 x 33.1 in.
“The Artists’ Dream Tree” (2016), acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 24 x 36 in.

Interestingly, the more I wrote the proposal, the more my Dream Tree idea evolved. First I shared what the Dream Tree symbolised in my work. Then I got the idea to include elements of the village such as its characteristic landmarks, features of the surrounding area, local customs and stories, anything unique to this area. And then I realised this mural would thus be symbolic of all the hopes and dreams of everyone who lives in the village, so I included that in my proposal as well.

Next I compiled my portfolio, which consisted only of four Dream Tree artworks — the two largest canvases I had ever painted, a Dream Tree made up of smaller canvases (from 2015), and the first Dream Tree drawing on paper (from 2014). They weren’t my most recent works, but they were the most relevant to the proposal, and with fingers crossed, I completed the application and sent it off.

“Dream Tree” (2014), watercolor and color pencil on paper, 8.3 x 11.7 in.
“Lovebirds Dream Tree” (2015) acrylic and mixed media on canvas, multiple panels, overall size: 24 x 41 in.

A few weeks later, you guessed it, I received an email saying they loved my proposal and they would like to offer me a spot in their residency that summer.

A couple of months later, I was in this village in Spain, installing my very first mural overseas. And when I completed this mural, it suddenly all fell into place for me that this was exactly how I could travel the world, experience life in different places, and bring my art with me all at the same time.

Painting “The Riba-Roja Dream Tree” in Riba-roja d’ebre, Spain, 2018

A few months later, my craziest, wildest, biggest dream as an artist was born — to paint a total of 100 Dream Trees in 100 different places around the world, as a way to get people connected to their dreams again.

I took the next steps to apply for more artist residencies in 2019, to get more opportunities for more Dream Trees. And after many many more steps, I had installed 7 more Dream Trees over 6.5 months in 5 countries.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken that single step to “just take a look” and see what artist residency opportunities were available. And then I chose to take the next step of applying for one when I didn’t feel “good enough”.

In fact, when I applied for the residencies in 2019, I had completed only the first Dream Tree mural, and I wasn’t sure if it would be “good enough” either, but I got accepted into five programs.

That’s also when I realised that what we think is “good enough” or not is usually just in our heads, and the reality yields something completely different, but we will never know till we take that single step to find out.

And that one step could change everything, because in the grander scheme of our lives, that single step is really a step outside of our comfort zone.

It’s a step where we choose to try something different beyond what we already know and are familiar with.

It’s a step that takes us out of our limitations, and a little closer towards our dream, and thus also towards all of our dreams that will come from that one dream.

“Project: 100 Dream Trees” began with a dream of attending an artist residency. Attending an artist residency was a dream that came from having made my first solo exhibition happen. And that first solo exhibition was a dream I’ve had for many years, that was reawakened because I did a drawing class in my final semester in college in order to explore something different I hadn’t tried before.

So whatever that snapshot of your dream is, no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is — whether it’s to write one line of a song, put down one brushstroke on canvas, research opportunities to showcase your work, record a vlog to share your passion… Whatever that single step is, step into it, take action and start doing something about it.

There is never going to be a “right” time until you decide it is, and you are never going to be “ready” until you decide you are.

The journey of your dream begins with a single step. Take it now.