We were designed to have a life of meaning, relationships and passion for what we do. It’s not necessarily a perfect existence, but life was meant to be good nonetheless!

However, all too often people just don’t experience that. They find their time, energy and money are sucked up by business concerns, caretaking of others, lots of crises and constant problem-solving. And as they get a bit older, they start having thoughts like:

• Is this all there is?
• Hey, what about me?
• How do I get to things on my own bucket list?
• Where does my time go?

These individuals are simply out of touch with their passions, talents and interests. They may have an unmet artistic desire, an unexpressed service or ministry, or a new career idea. But nothing gets created or started.

At the heart of most of these concerns is usually a problem in boundaries. Boundaries are those personal “property lines” that healthy people draw for themselves so they can have space and time for themselves while still being nurturing and caring people. Dr. Henry Cloud and I have written many books on boundaries (my latest is “Beyond Boundaries”), and we have found that good boundaries help you actually have a life.

Here are some tips to help you get started with your own passions, talent development and interests:

1. Assemble three to five friends who want you to have a good life. It’s hard to say “no” to some of our commitments, meetings and even our kids sometimes. We want to be caring people. When we tell someone who needs to talk, “No, I can’t have lunch with you,” we feel selfish and guilty.

It’s really hard to break out of this and realize that you are a good person who just needs to say “no.” You need a few people around you whom I call “boundary friendly.” They will encourage you to spend less time caretaking or being available to anyone who wants time with you. I have a friend who even told me, “If you need to meet less with me to get your dreams going, that’s fine too!” And I did, for about a year. It helped.

2. Create a “dream time” for yourself. I call it that because before you figure out what you want to do with your non-parenting time, you need to delve into your feelings, ideas, values and experiences. It’s that internal dialogue in your head from which a job, hobby, service or ministry begins to emerge. You must start there. Otherwise, you’ll end up just being a useful person to everyone in your life but you.

Calendar your time. You need time to dream. This is not a weekend exercise. I recommend three to five hours a week of scheduled dream time. As busy as we are these days, my mantra is: that which is not on the calendar does not happen.

3. Now that you have some “you” time, start writing what you feel. It’s a great exercise to just write on a legal pad, whiteboard or flip chart what you feel and what you desire. It’s preferable at this stage not to use a computer, as the creative and passionate right brain is better accessed through the act of writing rather than typing. You will begin to see some themes and ideas that will excite and motivate you.

Look at your list, then reduce it to one thing. Passion comes not from 20 things but one, or at least one at a time. Keep honing it down.

4. Put a strategic plan together. This is simply a game plan for making your passion a reality. Give yourself a year, with the right resources, people and incremental goals along the way. Growth is not prepared in a microwave, but in an oven.

A little dream time is good for your personal life, relationships and career. And it all starts with setting the right boundaries. It is really worth it.