Things are going to be different this year . . . I wish I knew how.
Oh, I know my plans. I see my dreams. I have a vision. But we all know how much control I have over the world.
You too? I suspected as much.
What I Didn’t See Coming
There are dozens of year’s end articles about pop culture publicity events: who did, said, wrote, acted, danced or exposed what. I had no idea they were about to happen and it wouldn’t have mattered if I did.
Closer to reality, there were a lot of personal events last year that I didn’t anticipate either. I didn’t plan on moving back to middle Tennessee. I missed seeing the three hospital visits my family had. The job I now have wasn’t even available then. I had no idea what house I’d call home. The list goes on.
I’m sure you had a few surprises last year. The point is, we can’t see what’s coming and I, for one, am glad. I would have focused on every bad moment. I would have worried myself loony. I almost did without the pressures of foresight. Worry is easy. It’s also useless.
Good Surprises Happened
I would never have noticed that a lot of great surprises happened. I met people I didn’t know. One of my daughters is about to have a baby. The other just got engaged. I was clueless and I’m pretty sure they had no idea either.
I wasn’t on my schedule. It didn’t appear on my list of goals. No grand strategy or self-help book is responsible. They are simply blessings of God.
I have a bit of a confession to make. I’m not normally into confessions as a rule, especially not in blogs, but this time I’m making an exception. Just don’t expect any blubbering in my tea. Coffee is much better for blubbering.
So here it is. We live in difficult times. There. I’ve said it. I’m glad that’s over with.
I could make a list but the thing about difficult times is that everyone has a list. The only thing interesting about my list of difficulties is that it began the very day, no, the very instant that I decided to go for my Big Dream. You know the one, the dream that lurks in the back of your imagination and just won’t go away.
“Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it.” ― George Lucas
The Big Bust
There’s something about a big dream that seems to provoke problems. History is filled with such stories. Here’s 26 of them. They’re easy to find because no one gets by without problems.
And while it’s nice to know that legendary people survived in spite of their problems, what about when you don’t feel so legendary yourself. The fact is that reading about Henry Ford’s or Einstein’s problems doesn’t really cheer me up because I don’t think of myself in that crowd.
What about plain old me? How am I supposed to get a dream accomplished when the world seems bent on stamping out the dreams of regular people in order to accomplish some great, historic dream that we would never dream for ourselves.
“There is no success without hardship.” Sophocles
No Small Dreams
The tendency would be to put your big dream on hold until better times, when dreams don’t seem so far away and you feel more in control.
Or maybe you might want to scale back your dreams to smaller sizes.
But as we’ve already seen in Dream Big vs Dream Small, there are no small dreams because dreams have a way of growing to their proper size, one step at a time. Other people can catch your dream and then it’s bigger than you.
If you’re not dreaming, you’re dying. ~ Rick Warren
Dreaming Against The Wind
Difficult times demand dreams more than any other. Dreams that help you get through. Dreams are what you have when you have nothing else.
Dreams are a very vivid kind of hope. They are faith in visual form. The substance of things believed.
Prisoners and holocaust victims dreamed of tea parties and feasts long before scientific studies showed such vivid dreaming actually reduces hunger. It was a way of visiting a future that contained food.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Often our difficulties arise because of someone else’s competing dream, people who see you as a small piece of their dream instead of having a dream of your own.
So difficult times call for turning up and clarifying your dream rather than putting it off or dreaming smaller.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” ~ Steve Jobs
Difficulties Inspire Dreams
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol out of desperation to pay mounting bills. Alexander Graham Bell’s mother and wife were deaf which led to the creation of the telephone. My greatest lessons came, not during great vacations, but during great problems.
The old saw,”What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” is often true. In fact there was a Study Done In 2010 that found it to be correct in many cases, if you put a lot of stock in studies done by young psychologists itching to get published, which I don’t.
But they also found that it’s not guaranteed.
It’s a struggle to dream in tough times, but it is essential. Your dreams may have to change with the circumstances. When my wife, Suzie, was struggling with multiple cancers, we didn’t dream of big houses, international travel or new cars anymore.
For a while the future disappeared altogether. We were drowning in problems. We dreamed of survival.
But then, in the darkest days, a dream reappeared in the back of my mind. It was a promise that I’d made to Suzie and never found the time to fulfill. Now I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to fulfill it.
It hurt like crazy. I thought dreams were supposed to be happy, pleasant things but this one burned in my heart like a hot coal. I swore to myself that if we got even half a chance I’d make it happen somehow.
“Nothing happens unless first a dream.” Carl Sandburg
Did I make it happen? Yes, I was fortunate to get the chance. What was my dream? It’s too long a story for today. Just insert any one of your dreams here. I’ll get to it sometime.
The point is that dreaming is important, that dreaming in hard times isn’t easy but it is never needed more. My hard-learned lesson is this:
When times get tough, whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C. S. Lewis
It all started with a determined dog. Our beagles, Dep (AKA Deputy Dog) and Mike (no idea where this came from) wanted to do what they were born to do – chase rabbits.
Our house on Sunny Lane Drive (Yes, Lane Drive) backed up to a huge meadow that stretched the size of ten football fields to a distant creek and woods beyond.
To the neighborhood kids this endless sea of grass became a football field, baseball diamond, battlefield, pirate island and blank canvas for endless imaginary adventures.
It Smelled Like Adventure
To our dogs it was a rabbit paradise so close they could smell it. They excelled in plotting escapes and we often came home from school to the sound of distant baying and an empty yard.
This led to an ongoing battle of wits and fence experiments by my dad. One of these was a five-foot-tall roll of two inch redwood pickets, wired together and pointed at the top. It smelled like adventure.
Dad, ever the instigator, gave the leftover piece to my brother and I and he soon discovered a way to pull out the wooden slats. They made enviable pirate swords and Roman spears and quickly became the weapons of choice in any pre-revolutionary imaginary battles.
But they were rough cut and few things annoy a pirate or gladiator like having to stop a battle and get his mother to tweeze splinters out of a manly hand. Eventually we came to see the advantages of games with splinter-less guns or death rays and the fence slats were stacked and forgotten.
Until One Day
I don’t remember what boredom or book inspired me to try and build something out of the discarded wood. Dad gave us access to his hand tools and I began nailing the rough redwood slats together to see what I could make.
Starting with three, then two then one, I found I could make a fifteen foot tall flagpole that was fairly sturdy. But there were three more slats left. After some thinking, an idea sparked and an image popped into my head.
I Had A Vision
The three pieces could fit into the bottom of the flagpole and suddenly I had a yardarm, a crosspiece for a sail. I had it finished in no time and couldn’t believe how sturdy it was. I wondered if it would hold a sail?
By this time my obviously indulgent Mom was home and I excitedly talked her out of a bed sheet. Folded into a triangle, it just fit. I couldn’t believe that I now had a fifteen foot tall mast and sail!
I was out of slats. I had no boat and was landlocked in my backyard. The nearest water was a muddy creek across the field. I was done.
But I had this great, amazing thing. Would it really hold wind? Inspired, I experimented.
With a long rope to the top of the mast and another rope to the end of the yardarm, I found that I could stand the mast, hold it up with one rope and adjust the angle with the other.
If only I had some wind. But sadly the house and trees of the backyard blocked the breeze. The sheet just sagged.
Curiosity drove me. The back field was high grass at that point. I ran for the front yard and discovered a slight downdraft from gathering clouds. Could it work?
It would be a public spectacle. People driving by and my friends could see my crazy experiment. If it feel apart, ridicule was likely.
But this thing was the biggest, most beautiful thing I’d ever made. I had to try.
The sun went behind a cloud and it looked like rain. So, I drafted, cajoled, nagged my big brother into helping me carry it through the gate and around the house.
I found my spot. I gauged the wind and hauled to. The mast rose into the gathering wind from the storm clouds. The wind filled the sail. It billowed – then quickly pulled me flat!
The force was staggering. But it worked!
I gathered myself and tried again. I’d have to lean back farther and wrap the rope around my forearms. I lifted . . .
Music played. Crowds roared. Fireworks blazed. The sail swelled and I held it up. The ropes popped tight and the sheet snapped in the wind.
My backyard scraps became a ship driven before the storm on tossing seas. I adjusted the angle and felt the force change. I was actually controlling it.
It was quite a spectacle for our little street. Cars slowed. Mouths gaped. Kids pointed. But no one, no one laughed.
The mast never gave way. The ropes held. The sheet didn’t slip. I sailed my private schooner into the afternoon. I joined the ranks of sailing men with salt in my veins. As ship’s captain, no one outranked me.
Until my Mommy called. It was starting to rain. She wanted us safe from lightning. She wanted her sheet. Landlubbers never understand.
Dreams must be given safe harbor.
They must be nurtured and encouraged. Newborn dreams are easily crushed.
You need the tools to experiment.
I could make a sailboat out of scraps but I needed hammer, nails and a borrowed bed sheet.
You need the courage to try.
Moving a dream into reality makes it public. Failure is a real possibility.
Dreaming isn’t for wimps.
I’d like to say I bought my own boat and sailed to the Caribbean. I have friends who have raced and used their sailboats as a tax write-off and second home. My musical pursuits took me indoors and farther from the coast.
I never, ever forgot the day I became a sailor. The salt gets in your blood.
Big dreams are the obvious, common, go-to recommendation. There are several reasons.
A dream must be big enough to inspire you. It must be big enough to attract you and make you want to try.
Big dreams are easy to get excited about. Big dream speeches draw crowds and YouTube views. We all know big dreams that have come true. We know that, together, groups have started small and changed the world.
From Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech to Kennedy’s moon speech to Churchill’s finest hour speech, big ideas have brought people together and to their feet throughout history.
The Hidden Flaw
Here’s the problem – big dreams have a built in excuse. The dream is so huge that no one, including yourself, can really believe it. And no one will blame you if it doesn’t work out. It was just too big, you see.
You can always tell yourself that you were just ahead of your time.
But that kind of thinking short circuits the power of a dream. If you don’t think it’s really possible then it’s just a fairy tale, a nice story for children, a fantasy, as life-changing as Comic-Con.
There are ways around this problem but first, let’s consider the flip side . . .
It’s easy to believe small dreams can be reached. They don’t take as much effort, don’t require crowds or national movements. They’re cheaper.
Sure, they’re a little less exciting but you might be able to get them done in a weekend, or a week, or a month. Of course, you won’t go down in history . . .
Or Will You?
Rosa Parks didn’t set out to change the world. She just got fed up with the injustice of it all and ran across a really horrible bus driver. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she didn’t have time for lunch and her blood sugar was low. Maybe someone else had pushed her to the limit before she stepped on that bus.
But whatever the series of events, that day was different. She decided that here, now, in this moment, no matter the cost, she wasn’t moving.
Rosa Parks did not dream of a nation where one day people would, “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” She had a smaller dream. She dreamed of sitting down on a bus and not having to move until she got home.
So, on that day, she made her stand. And she got arrested. But she survived.
From all experience, that should have been the end of it. She wasn’t the first to refuse to give up her bus seat and be arrested. And yet . . .
Small Dreams Grow
The funny thing about small dreams is that they grow. I certainly didn’t dream of a thirty year career in the music business when I first picked up a guitar. I dreamed of learning a G chord. And then an A chord.
Neither did Rosa Parks dream of being the spark that started a movement that changed the world. The Wright brothers didn’t dream of flying when they learned to ride a bicycle. John F. Kennedy didn’t dream of sending a man to the moon when he joined the Navy.
So how do you get from a dream that’s simply too big to a big dream you can believe in? Dream the biggest dream you can believe is possible. Then make it happen.
After that it will be too small a dream and you’ll have to dream bigger. By then you’ll be a bigger person and be able to handle it. Or maybe someone else will be bigger than you.
Dreams Begat Dreams
Rosa Parks believed at the time that, even if nothing else came of it, it was still worth it to refuse to give up her Montgomery, Alabama bus seat because of the color of her skin. She would keep a little of her dignity. She would stand against injustice. She–would–do–SOMETHING!
Maybe she would fail. No, probably she would fail. But she did it anyway, in the hopes that someday someone wouldn’t fail.
It would be a story for her children. It would be a legacy of courage. It would be her testimony before God. Here, on this day, she made her stand by sitting. It was just the right thing to do.
Dreams That Work
But on that day, something was different. Rosa Parks was more than she seemed. She was such a good woman, so hard working, so giving, that she was known across the community. People loved her.
“Rosa Parks was one of those rare people of whom everyone agreed that she gave more than she got.” ~ Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, Taylor Branch
“She was the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, attended the Methodist church, and helped oversee a youth organization at the Lutheran church near her home. She spent some weekends volunteering at a shelter, others with a botanical club, and on Wednesday nights often joined a group of women who knit blankets for a local hospital. She volunteered dressmaking services to poor families and provided last-minute gown alterations for wealthy white debutantes. She was so deeply enmeshed in the community, in fact, that her husband complained that she ate more often at potlucks than at home.” ~ Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
The Right Dreamer
Not only was it the right dream but Rosa Parks was the right dreamer. It was outrageous that someone as good-hearted as Rosa was arrested. It was obvious.
People who would not stand up for themselves would stand up for her. And so, that small dream, by that small person, in that troubled time time, became the dream of others.
You can’t know that your dream will change the world. But you can be sure that your dreams will change you.
Changing the world isn’t really the point of dreams anyway. Some dreams are small and personal-sized just for you. They are compass headings to your potential. They are markers along the path. Guideposts.
Dreams matter in your life. And you matter in our lives. So make them good dreams. And be the best dreamer you can be.
Because once you’ve found a dream that catches in the sails of your imagination, once you hear the creak of the ropes and feel the deck surge beneath your feet, once that smile creeps into the corner of your mouth and you turn your face to the wind, nothing will ever be quite the same.
Photo Credits: Rosa Park’s Bus, National Trust For Historic Preservation Sailing St. Patrick – Jason Pratt via Compfightcc