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Reading an article a few paragraphs long on the internet is not the key to living an extraordinary life. Even reading an entire book on the topic is not sufficient. In fact, the only way to live an extraordinary life is to actually get out there and do it. However, what reading an article can do for you is help you start getting prepared, laying the foundation for figuring out what extraordinary means to you and how to pursue it.

Know Yourself

There are two big mistakes that people make. One is following a conventional path without really thinking about what that entails or whether they want it: getting a degree, getting a good job, buying a home and having a family. An extraordinary life can include all of these elements, but they need to be things that you actively choose as opposed to something that you just fall into because everyone else is doing it. The other mistake is pursuing someone else’s ideal of an extraordinary life.

Maybe you just read a book about someone exploring an uncharted section of the Amazon, and that seemed almost unimaginably exciting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that exploring unmapped rain forests or even traveling is the right choice for you. It might be, but maybe there was something else that attracted you about the quest: perhaps you want to be the first person to do or discover something, or maybe you just liked the idea of breaking out of a more conventional mode of being. You might want to be a business owner or an artist, or you might want to live a life that looks conventional but is driven by a sense of purpose. Read some books, explore your options, talk to people, journal and do anything else that helps you drill down to what you truly want and resist the temptation to be anyone other than who you are.

Get Your Degree

You don’t have to have a college degree to live an extraordinary life, but not having one closes doors to you, and having one opens a lot. Even if your life plan for the immediate future doesn’t involve anything that requires a college degree, getting one can be an important credential in many of the future ventures that you may want to pursue. In many ways, it is the kind of baseline educational credential that finishing high school was a few decades ago.

But you don’t have to look at attending college as just a thing you do so you can check it off a list. It can also be a time of extraordinary growth and learning even if you are beyond the usual age for a college student. Even if you’re pursuing a purely practical course of study, there is room to take some elective classes in more esoteric and knowledge-for-the-sake-of-knowledge areas. Pick up a class or two in such areas as history, philosophy or economics, and you may be surprised at how enriching the experience is. College does cost money, and this can discourage many people from attending. However, there are also many ways to pay for it, including by taking out a student loan. You can see your options here for more on getting a loan.

The Concrete

It’s important to take concrete steps to move the concept of your extraordinary life from dream into reality. It doesn’t matter what that dream is–it could be becoming one of the pioneers who explores space in the 21st century, being a great parent and provider for your family, both of these things, or anything in between. The concrete things that you need to have in place will not really vary based on what you have chosen.

First, you need some measure of financial stability and independence. The meaning of financial independence is going to differ from person to person based on your needs and your tolerance for risk. You do not need to be wealthy or on a trajectory to retire early, but if you are living paycheck to paycheck or constantly worried about money, it will be difficult for you to think beyond the moment. At minimum, try to minimize debt, build up some emergency savings and start putting money away for retirement. If you really want to achieve financial freedom, look into investing beyond your retirement fund.

The other concrete thing you will need to do is set goals. For many, it can be difficult to bridge the gulf between the life they are imagining and where they are currently. Goals help you do this. These should be measurable and should have a specific time frame. For the big goals, create a series of smaller ones that will build up to the build one. You can find many articles and books on goal setting to help you with this element.

The Underpinnings

With all this talk of staying true to yourself and pursuing the life that only you can make for yourself, you might be surprised to encounter advice to be flexible, be willing to pivot and be willing to fail. But the reason is because life cannot be lived along a rigid set of rules. You create goals and check-ins for yourself precisely because the only things that are within your control are your own actions.

Even that may change; your definition of what is an extraordinary life may shift over time, or you could encounter genuine setbacks that mean you have to retool things. You may have a period where you need to care for elderly parents, and this could mean putting your other plans off for a while. Expect detours and delays. Don’t shy away from the great teacher that failure is either. Don’t think of failure as the end of the story but as a learning experience along the way.

If you try something and do not succeed, figure out what went wrong and what you would do differently next time even if you ultimately decide to take a different path. Above all, stick to the principles you have identified as mattering the most to you. The decisions you make will flow naturally from these principles even if you end up going in a different direction than originally planned.

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