Only 26 credits shy of an engineering degree from the University of Maryland, Bruce Johnson decided he would rather study cosmetology. “I wasn’t loving engineering. I was just doing it,” he admits.

Unsupportive friends threw darts at his new career choice. “I would hear things like, ‘How much money do you really think you can make?'” recalls Johnson. “One of my buddies tried to talk me out of it. He thought I was making a mistake.

Today, the 39-year-old owns the Avatar Salon & Wellness Spa in Silver Spring, Maryland. With 11 employees and an impressive client list that includes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Johnson is thankful he followed his own path despite the criticism. “I don’t think I would have been as stimulated by a career in engineering. I wanted to be happy and successful,” he says.

Following your intuition is often a difficult choice. “You’re not supposed to leave college,” Johnson says. And yet, he did just that. By day, he studied cosmetology. At night, he rode his bike to his job with UPS. But if you’re willing to commit to doing what is necessary, you’re less likely to be proven wrong. “It was a struggle. But my heart was in this,” Johnson says. After working 10 years in someone else’s salon, Johnson opened his own in 1999. You “jump out of bed” in the morning when you love what you do, says Johnson, who enjoys each day at the salon.

Just as following your dream can lead to unimaginable personal and professional fulfillment, ignoring it can have negative consequences. “When you’re living your dream, it energizes you,” says Kevin Ross, a South Florida-based life and business coach (www.kevinrossspeaks.com). “When you’re not, it exhausts you.”

In the book If Success Is a Game, These Are the Rules: 10 Rules for a Fulfilling Life (Broadway Books; $15), Cherie Carter-Scott writes, “If you give others the power to dictate your path, you are merely a passive participant in your own life. There are two choices: being the driver or the passenger. Which one will it be?”

Tips to Help You Dare to Dream
Trust your desire. Understand that “it came to you for a reason,” explains Ross. And no one else is equipped to fulfill your dream. Johnson agrees: “When you don’t listen to that inner voice, you’re settling.”

Protect your dream. Maintain a healthy distance from toxic people, warns Ross. “In its early stages, the dream is very vulnerable.” Thus, it is important to remain as optimistic as possible.

Stay the course. Ross says you should ask yourself, “Who will be let down if I don’t follow through?” The only person you should be concerned about letting down is you. Build an arsenal of supporters to help you stay focused and block out the pessimists.

Develop thick skin. Don’t argue with critics. Johnson says he used their words to bring out his competitive streak. The hits are worthwhile if you’re pursuing something you believe in, Ross says.

Fuel the flame. Say yes to your dream and find new