Dreams come from the inherent ability to play the music that is you. If you passionately want to do something, you will.
Once upon a time, I fell in love, got married, bought a home, fathered a child and lost my job—not all on the same day, of course. Eager to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, I began searching the help wanted section of my newspaper and saw an ad for a book titled The Lazy Man's Way to Riches. The ad made the book sound appealing, so I put a check in the mail.
When the book arrived, my enthusiasm fizzled to disappointment. It was an odd mix of philosophy and direct-mail advertising. So I went back to the help-wanted ads. Later that evening my wife walked into our office with the book in one hand and her glasses in the other.
"Did you buy this?" she asked.
In our 12 years of wedded bliss, she'd taken her glasses off for only two reasons: to clean them or to express her disappointment in me. Her happy eyes were hazel and honey. Her angry eyes were dark and dangerous. And when she was really agitated, they were fiery and ferocious. But that evening, standing in our office, her eyes were sparkling with excitement. I could hear it in her voice too.
"I found some really big questions in this little book."
Seeing the perplexed look come over my face, she said, "You haven't read it, have you?"
I hiked my shoulders. "It looked like some kind of positive thinking aimed at success in business, so I—."
She shook her head. "It's about positive actions, things we can do to be successful in life. And it begins by encouraging us to answer some very important questions."
"What kind of questions?"
She put her glasses back on her face, opened the book and read three sentences.
"What do your dreams look like? What really matters to you? Is that what you really want to do with your life?"
She was right. They were important questions, and made me sorry I had set the book aside before discovering what it was really about. I'd been asked lots of questions...
But nobody had ever asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I'd been told but never asked.
That evening we put those questions to work by sharing our dreams. My son wanted to be a veterinarian so he could work with animals. He loved animals and had already demonstrated an almost magical influence on them. My wife wanted to attend night school so she could become a paralegal. I wanted to finish my degree so I could teach as well as write about electronic equipment.
The excitement of that evening faded, but not the insights we'd discovered by answering those questions. Life is not what happens to you while you're dreaming of something else. Life is what you make happen with your dreams. And we made ours happen.
Forty years went by. We were senior citizens. We had given the best years of our lives to the business and busyness of changing diapers, paying bills, forging careers, raising children and bringing home the bacon. Now we could indulge ourselves by sleeping in, lying around the pool, drinking mint juleps and soaking up the sun.
But we kept remembering the big question in that little book: Is this what you really want to do with your life?
No, instead of slacking off, we used our golden years to re-invent ourselves, to explore things we had put off or passed by in our youth, to touch others with our compassion and know-how, to work and play with unfinished business.
We soon discovered, however, that life can't surprise you with unexpected pleasures and uninvited challenges if you restrict yourself to only what you can dream. So we kept our dreams alive and real. We made ourselves available to opportunity, and when it knocked, we opened the door. And that has made all the difference.
Dreams matter, and they are easier to find and follow if you give up your need for approval and your fear of failure.