Which Dreams Are The Real Ones?

IMG_2405“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

At 42 years of age, I can now say that I have been following my dreams for half of my life. Oh sure, when I was little, I wanted to play wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and be the lead singer for Loverboy. And then I wanted to play on the pro tennis tour. But really, I always knew I was going to be a doctor. Not because I dreamed about it, but because that is what I was told and what I believed. “You are smart. You should be a doctor.” Doctors were the only “rich people” we knew about as kids. They had money and status, so it was the best thing to become if you had the brains for it. I did, so that was what I was going to be when I grew up. It wasn’t a dream; it was a fact. It was my destiny. I never questioned it. Never thought twice about it.

Until I did. Yes, one day in my twenty-first year, as I was working my way through Pre-Med classes, I began to awaken to the idea that other options existed. It was a slow awakening, with each new day finding me feeling more like a stranger in my own skin. It struck me that I was living someone else’s life. I had taken on faith what everyone had told me all along, and I reflected it right back to them, to the point that I really believed it was my dream to be a doctor. Maybe you could say it was society’s dream. Maybe it was my parents’ dream. Maybe it was the dream of the compliant, uncontroversial son and citizen that I had always been. What I woke up to realize was that it wasn’t my dream at all. It was just my plan.

My twenty-first birthday was my last one spent as a full-time planner. After that, I started dreaming. On my twenty-second birthday, I was performing a monologue in an acting class in New York City, after which my Oscar-nominated teacher announced to the class that I was going to be a big star. I finally had a dream, and I was definitely living it! It wasn’t approved by anyone I knew—not my parents, not the culture that I came from, not my old, safe self—but it was completely me. I had taught myself to dream and convinced myself of the absolute necessity of following my dream if I was ever to feel alive and at peace with myself. Following my dreams was my way of being true to myself for the first time. And as frightening as it was, and as much as I felt alone and outcast, I had also never felt more free.

I never stopped dreaming of being an actor (or a big star). I just started dreaming of other things. Eventually, it felt more authentic to me to leave that life. I dreamed of seeing the world, of learning every skill or subject that caught my fancy, of becoming a professor, and of reconnecting with Tennis, my first love. It was a lot of dreaming, a lot of trying to stay true to what stirred my soul.

And then I had my first child. Suddenly, I had no more dreams for myself, but only for her. What I was doing mattered only insomuch as it made things better for her. That only increased when my son was born. My most passionate pursuit was spending every possible moment with them. If I had to be away from them, it was only so I could provide for them. A personal agenda—and dreams, as I knew them—seemed to no longer exist. I disappeared into my kids, and happily so.

A few years later, though, a part of me began to reawaken. Maybe it was the imminence of my 40th birthday, or maybe it was just time to reclaim myself, but suddenly I felt a bit of a panic about making something out of my life. I wanted to feel that stir of excitement in my soul again. I wanted to feel passionate about more than just my children. I wanted to dream. I began to learn more about living my purpose and following my Bliss. I was hooked!

As I searched my soul, the thing that kept coming to me was The Journal Project, something of an autobiography told through my daily journal entries. It spoke to me on many different levels. I was undaunted by the fact that it would take several years to complete. Something inside me knew that I needed to share my unique voice. It was my new dream. I plugged away at it in my very limited “spare time” for over a year, making slow but certain progress and feeling alive inside from feeding the beast.

It wasn’t long, though, before I became impatient to get my voice out there. I could see myself working on my project with great passion and purpose for years, but I wanted to help people immediately. A new dream was born, and it was named “Journal of You.” As instantly gratifying as Journal of You became, its unfortunate side effect was diminished time for The Journal Project, which was definitely still a big dream. I felt as though I was betraying it, and I began to feel torn. I eventually rationalized my dissonance away by determining to make a book out of these posts that would serve as a companion piece to The Journal Project. All of my writing would become part of the bigger dream. I liked that.

Meanwhile, all of this pursuit of my dreams was having a ripple effect across my life. I decided that my “day job” must become more fulfilling and fit into my life purpose and my dreams. To that end, I began my Life Coaching courses, determined to change lives more directly and deeply. It was wonderful and right up my alley, but the unfortunate side effect reappeared: I had to put The Journal Project on hold altogether to fit my course work in along with the blog posts and the rest of life. Bummer!

Then, as if I wasn’t busy and torn enough, I added my skin care consulting business to the mix. Admittedly, I have never harbored a skin care dream—though it actually fulfills me to help other people feel better about themselves–but rather the dream of one day being my own boss. This is where the hard line between a dream and a plan becomes a little murky. I definitely dream of one day becoming self-employed. It suits my personality perfectly. But self-employment is a concept. To get there, I need a plan. It has been clear to me from the start that this is where my skin care consulting fits in. It is the means to the end that is my dream of being self-employed.

Until this week, I didn’t realize that my Life Coaching business might also fit into the same category. I love coaching people. It excites me to partner with people in the pursuit of their dreams and to help them create their version of a more fulfilling life. Sounds kind of like a dream job, right? I thought so.

Then this week, I had a rare window of time after my kids went to sleep, and I spotted my notebooks and journal from The Journal Project gathering dust in the corner of my desk. It had been ages since I had last worked on it, those notebooks losing their spot in favor of homework assignments and other tasks. My soul and curiosity were stirred. I opened them up and read a few pages. Excitement brewed. I popped open my computer and started to type. I was transported back in time to the days when writing—specifically The Journal Project–was my dream du jour. Intoxicated by the work, I pounded away at the keys at a feverish pace. When bedtime came, my adrenaline was still pumping. It was a real treat. The next night, when I had a few minutes to spare, I ran down to my desk and sneaked a few more passages in, my heart beating like I was getting away with something. It lit me up inside. It was clearly the calling of my soul. My whole system was reinvigorated by it. In that moment, it was obvious to me what was, amongst all of these other pursuits, my real dream.

A couple of years ago, when my mind was coming back to life and reminding me of the need to pursue my passions, I subscribed to a blog by Mastin Kipp called “The Daily Love.” One day, as part of a promotion, he issued a video in which he was the subject of an interview. At the end, the interviewer asked him, “If you could leave your readers just one thing, what would it be?” He turned from the interviewer and looked directly into the camera and said something to the effect of, “SCREW PLAN B! Go all-in on Plan A! Life is too short to do anything but follow your Bliss. Live your dream!” Every hair on my body stood on end. He was speaking directly to me, and it resonated deeply. That memory returned to me this week after working on my Journal Project. Coincidence? I think not!

So, I suppose I have to admit that my skin care business—and yes, even my Life Coaching business—are in the Plan B category. They are just that: plans. They are ways to make enough money (while being self-employed) so I can spend more time writing. Writing is Plan A, also known as “my dream.” I understand that everything is not going to be given to me just because I am passionate about it. I also understand that I will have to earn the time by being more successful at my Plan Bs. Finally, I understand that I haven’t worked hard enough or long enough at my dream to make any demands upon the gods. My head understands all of that. My heart and soul, on the other hand, just don’t get it. It pains me deeply that I am not allowed to work full-time at Plan A. It is my calling, after all. Don’t The Fates understand? Can Destiny not see the injustice in denying me this? Apparently not. This is why artists have patrons. Because they cannot stomach denying themselves their passions and having to work at the tasks that everyone else does. Ah well. I understand that I must earn my way to my full-time dream job by slogging away at the Plan Bs for a while. My consolation is that I love my Plan Bs. Sure, they don’t stir the passions of my soul as much as writing does, but they are still meaningful and fulfilling in their own ways. Onward I go, dreaming every step of the way.

How about you? How have your dreams panned out? Open up your journal and uncover the depth of the dreams from the many phases of your life? What did you dream about when you were a little kid? Were you just pretending, or did you really believe you would become those things? At what age did you let them go? Was it gradually or instantly? How about your dreams from college or early adulthood? Were you making plans or dreams still at that age? If you were dreaming, how long did the dreams last? Do you still have the same dreams? How many have come true? If you know those dreams are still there but you squashed them in favor of more practical things, do you recall the moment when you decided to settle for less, or was it a slow and imperceptible slide? When was the last time you had a new dream? How did it make you feel? How passionately did you pursue it? How do you feel when you write about your old dreams and things you have settled for? It brings up a lot of shame and disappointment in me, which I am trying to use as motivation to stay focused and more true to myself going forward. How far off is your current career from your dream job? Is your job more of a plan or a dream? How acceptable is it to you to work your plan for a while to set yourself up for your dream? What percentage of people actually get to the dream part? Are you going to be one of them? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which dreams are you following?

Dare to be amazing,

William

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