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You go to work. You come home. Life is fine. But maybe you once dreamed you'd be doing something else right now. You can't help occasionally thinking, What if...?

In fact, it's when life is moving along at a routine pace that regret -- for not having pursued a different line of work, for losing touch with a childhood aspiration -- occasionally sneaks up on us. "Many people start feeling regret not when things are going very badly in their lives, but when they feel like they're stuck in a rut," says Maryann Troiani, Psy.D., co-author of Spontaneous Optimism (Castlegate Publishers, 1998). "They may be content, but feel they're missing some extra energy."

If pursuing a dormant dream can make us happier, why don't we do it? "Many people are afraid of burning the candle at both ends, but so many people don't bother to ever light the candle," says Troiani. "People become scared of change, or the many things going on in their lives distract them."

Of course, if you want to give up your safe, corporate job to pursue life as a stand-up comedienne, you've got good reason to be scared: Pursuing a dream involves risk. But the perception that following your heart is a sure route to a lowly, hardscrabble existence is largely a myth. In fact, in her line of work, Troiani, who coaches people pursuing a new track in life, sees evidence pointing to the exact opposite: "People who are willing to pursue a dream tend to be much more productive, their attitudes are much more optimistic, and they have better health, better career success and more prosperity."

So, where do you begin? Here's a dream manual:

Start with small, gradual moves instead of a major overhaul. For instance, if you’ve mulled over going back to school for an advanced degree but aren't ready to make a full commitment, next semester sign up for just one class.

Forget fear. "People associate change with a lot of pressure and stress, and that makes them anxious," says Troiani. Look at it from a different angle: How can a change really benefit me? Will it boost your competency? Self-esteem?

Break free of excuses. What really sounds like valid, convincing reasons for keeping the status quo -- "It's too late," or "I have no time" -- are the "agony anchors" that hold you back. And self-pity is never empowering.

Enlist your close ones' support. So many women assume that they can't pursue a dream because others depend on them. Why sell your loved ones short? Instead of presuming your family couldn't cope, says Troiani, give them a chance by explaining why this dream is so important to you. Their willingness to make sacrifices for you may surprise you.

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