Do you remember the last time you had a big, hairy audacious dream? It’s been a while for me! Maybe it was part of “growing up”. Maybe it just started getting too painful; after all, who wants to fail one more time? (Plus, it can become downright embarrassing when our dreams don’t become reality – and everyone else knows we’ve failed.)
My life has gone something like this. I imagine that most people have a similar experience. When we were kids, we possessed an incredible ability to dream. Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll hear some amazing things. Most of the time, you’ll hear their parents say encouraging words like, “Tommy, you can do anything you set your mind to!” Some kids aren’t that lucky; their parents belittle them and hurl abusive words every chance they get.
And then it happens. At some point in our adolescence, we realize that certain dreams aren’t achievable by everyone. We can believe as much as we want, but belief won’t make a difference in certain circumstances. (e.g. If you want to be President of the United States, you’ve got to be a natural-born citizen!) It’s during this stage of development that we learn to temper our dreams with a bit of realism.
The problem is this: if we begin tempering our dreams with too much realism, we can slowly stop dreaming altogether. For me, this process began in my 20s. One of the dreams of my adolescence was to sing professionally. This dream didn’t seem completely absurd – I could “carry a tune in a bucket.” Maybe it was luck or maybe it was coincidence, but one day, when I was 21 years old and living in Nashville, I picked up one of those free newspapers. Inside, was a tiny ad that said something like this: “Professional vocalist needed for the U.S. Air Force’s premier country / classic rock band.”
I remember flying home from the audition in Washington, D.C., praying and thanking God for allowing me to live my dream; I had gotten the job! There was only one problem: I was very ill-prepared. My dream quickly turned into a nightmare, as I realized that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Furthermore, I was locked into a 4-year contract! I spiraled into the deepest depression I have ever experienced in my life. But I learned an important lesson. Sometimes, when we realize a dream, we realize that it wasn’t as “dreamy” as we thought it would be! Don’t get me wrong. It was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But I also wouldn’t want to go through it again.
I finally got the hang of the job. I was able to travel all over the world and visit places I had never even heard of. I even performed at the White House on a couple occasions. But I realized pretty quickly, that being a musician wasn’t really my thing. I didn’t enjoy listening to a song over and over again, memorizing lyrics, and then having to remember those lyrics in stressful situations, acting like I was having a good time, when I wasn’t. It was too much “rote”, and not enough creative.
That experience was a rude awakening for me. I had always been so optimistic; I had dreamed BIG dreams. But now, one of my dreams had come to fruition and I figured out it wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it would be. At the end of my 4-year enlistment, I had a decision to make. Would I re-enlist? After all, I would be able to retire at the age of 42 if I just stuck it out for an additional 16 years.
I decided to leave the military and pursue another dream: running my own successful business. But something inside had died a little bit. Now, I knew that dreams don’t always turn out to be everything you thought they would. For the past 5 years, I have tried and failed and tried and failed again to accomplish my new dream. Over the past couple years, my ability to dream started to slowly die. I stopped exercising it and it atrophied.
We all have a decision to make: Will we stop dreaming?
Maybe you’re like me. Perhaps you’ve worked hard and accomplished one of your dreams, only to find out that your dream wasn’t very “dreamy”. Perhaps you’ve constantly faced people who have told you that you’re worthless – that you couldn’t accomplish anything, even if you tried. Or, maybe you have tried. You’ve put in all on the line, only to fail again and again. That was me. Up until about 1 month ago. I decided that I WILL NOT give up on my dreams. In fact, I actually spent the past couple weeks proactively dreaming again. What kind of life do I want to live? Where do I want to go? What do I want to have? What do I want to accomplish?
I came across this illustration in a book I read recently. The book encouraged me to remember that we all have the capacity to achieve extraordinary things within the next 3-5 years, if we are willing to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices. It was an amazing revelation: I’m only 20% done with with my “working years”. Do I really want to resign to apathy at this early point in the game? Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the dreams that have re-energized me. I will not give up on my dreams. I will not stop dreaming. I hope you won’t either!