In our teens most of us stopped imagining a life of stardom, athletic achievement, or adventure when we decided others were more intelligent or talented or simply had opportunities denied us.
Later, after landing our first real job, the cold weight of responsibility slowly crushed visions of incredible business or personal success.
Today, when old longings occasionally resurface, out of self preservation we push those thoughts back to where we assume they belong.
And we settle.
Settling is tragic because we need our dreams -- the bigger and bolder the better. Dreams provide hope and inspiration and, ultimately, a sense of who we truly are as individuals.
Here are five ways to get your dreams back:
- Sleep in your teenage bed. When you were young you were naive and unsophisticated -- and you dreamed your best dreams. Experience makes us wiser but unfortunately also colors and shapes our dreams, chipping away at the edges until they become more reasonable and attainable and therefore less inspiring. What did the innocent "you" dream of? Those were your purest dreams. What you most wanted then is likely what you still want now -- if you grant yourself the freedom of hope.
- Find inspiration close to home. Read the story of a business superstar and their incredible success can seem a foregone conclusion; you already know the ending. A story about a notorious failure results in a life that reads as a cautionary tale. In real time, reality is much messier. Certain success is anything but; inevitable failure is more likely due to simple miscalculation or a momentary lack of judgment rather than the dark hand of fate. The lens of celebrity or notoriety creates caricatures out of real persons. To get inspired, talk to the immigrant business owner who literally started with nothing and built a life of opportunity for his family. Talk to the entrepreneur who took the Ramen Noodle path to success. Talk to the CEO who started at the bottom and through hard work and persistence became a leader. Real people illustrate the power of dreams better than any "How I Made It" biography.
- Avoid dream managers. Dreams are incredibly personal, yet we often allow them to be framed and reworked by others. Say you dream of starting a business or embarking on a new career; share your ideas and the, "Yes, but..." chorus inevitably chimes in to explain, in excruciating detail, how failure is the only realistic outcome. Avoid people who only say, "That will never work." Surround yourself with people who say, "Hmm... That may not work... but if you also do this I bet you could..." Helpful advice adds; it never takes away.
- Forget traditional success. Think of the word "success" and you probably imagine good grades, a college degree, a solid career, a nice house and a 401(k).... Success often seems like a canned program with predefined outcomes, not an individually defined path. Picture what would make you happy regardless of whether others would consider you "successful." Ironically enough we love stories of those who avoid the beaten path yet we hesitate to walk our own unbeaten paths. What does success mean to you? Your definition is the only worthwhile definition.
- Write your epitaph today. A somewhat morbid -- yet very powerful -- way to break through the clutter is to write your epitaph. What will you want others to say when you're gone? That you spent 30 years in the same job or that you took a chance and backed your own abilities? That you tried to help others? That you taught your children how to conform or how to live their own lives? Imagine a life you want to look back on. Those are your real dreams.
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