On the wall above my desk is a framed quote by author, speaker and pastor John C. Maxwell: “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”
Familiar quotes like Maxwell’s sound nice. You probably have a favorite of your own, like Walt Disney’s, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Or Henry David Thoreau’s, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”
At a glance, phrases such as these remind us of possibilities. But in how many cases does a quote in a frame on an office wall actually translate to actions?
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in dreams and working toward dreams. I really believe, just as Maxwell does, that dreams don’t happen unless we work hard. But the thing is, life gets in the way.
It can be really hard to follow a big, audacious dream or goal when bills need to be paid, kids need to be carted around and work deadlines loom.
How do we make our big, scary dreams a reality while we still accomplish the other responsibilities in our lives? Very few of us have the luxury of hyper-focusing and getting it done.
I believe in order to accomplish our dreams, it is important to take Thoreau’s advice and “go confidently in the direction of our dreams.” But confidently rarely means quickly. We’ve got to make these goals happen in real life, at our real pace. I call this dreaming in motion.
Dreaming in motion means we work toward our dream while still managing the other aspects of our life. It also might mean we reach our dream destination much slower than someone who could dive right in. However, we can (and will) still get there if we are persistent.
It’s important to note, especially for those of us who are moving slower toward a goal than we’d like, just working toward our dream can bring us happiness. In his book “The Law of Happiness,” Dr. Henry Cloud writes, “The research says that not only the attainment of our goals but also the pursuit brings joy along the way.”
For those of you balancing myriad other responsibilities but not wanting to give up on the dream in your heart, I’d like to offer five steps — an acronym, actually — to help you work toward your dream, even if it means working at a slower pace.
D: Decide the dream belongs to you
Don’t laugh at the simplicity of this. How many of you have worked so hard to accomplish something — a goal or a dream or a wish — when it wasn’t really your dream in the first place?
As a tween, I learned the clarinet in band class because I cared more about what someone else thought than what I’d really enjoy. And as a teenager, I learned all the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s “Ten” just because a boy I wanted to impress liked that CD.
But this kid stuff is nothing compared to our adult choices. How many of us choose the wrong profession because we’re following someone else’s dream for us, not believing in what we’d really love to do? I started a business once in pursuit of a dream that was not my own. It makes me sad to think I used my extra resources for something other than a dream that was truly mine.
Is this dream really yours?
R: Remember your unique skills
I strongly believe we all have unique gifts and talents very specific to our purpose. Our talents lead to our gifts. Our gifts point us in the direction of our dreams. And our dreams fulfill part of our larger purpose.
Even if you feel inadequate, trust that you will find ways to learn what you need to know or meet who you need to meet to make your dreams happen.
Make a list of your current unique skills. In addition, what new things might you need to learn to make your dreams happen?
E : Engage in the dream
You cannot begin to work on a dream if you’ve never acknowledged it. Write your dream down. Make it real. Tell a friend or family member you trust about your dream and share with them your excitement.
Take it a step further and visualize your goal. Visualization is the process of making mental images of what it will be like when we accomplish our goal. No goal or dream is ever achieved unless it is first thought in your mind, felt in your heart and encouraged to succeed.
A: Act on the dream
Work backward to create an actionable plan. What are the big things that need to happen to make your dream or goal a reality? Now, what are some of the smaller things that you can do to accomplish even just one of those big things? Working toward these big things through tinier, smaller actions is how we dream in motion. And, over time, our small things become great things and we are so much closer to our end goal.
I married my husband during the tail-end of working on my bachelor’s degree. I’ll always remember my father-in-law’s advice toward a college education: “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.” He was right, and we did.
Your scary dream may seem like a big, all-encompassing elephant, so just take it one bite at a time.
M: Make time for the dream
I know you’re busy. You have a family and a job … and all that other stuff. But you cannot dream in motion without motion. You cannot make progress toward your dream unless you make time to accomplish it.
So schedule your motion. Actually look at your calendar and plan in a time every week you can take a bite of that elephant. Will you stay up late at night? Will you use a Saturday?
Because I’m making sure this Maxwell quote on my wall reminds us all, “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”