There is a lot of talk about dreams at this time of year. Understandably so, as we enter a new year and the future stretches out ahead of us.
The problem is that I Began-uary often turns into I'm Fedup-uary as the grey skies of January cloud out the hopes and dreams of the new year.
So it seemed like a good time to revisit a series I wrote last year called Dreaming by Design. None of it is theory. Every step a reflection of mine and Sarah’s learning journey over the last two years.
I’m not against dreaming but a dream without a plan tends to be fantasy. The encouragement to dream should always provoke the question: how do you go about turning your dream into a reality? An important question because dreams are realised mostly by design not accident.
I decided to have a go at answering this question. The answer turned into a series of posts snappily entitled “how to turn your dream into reality tool kit version 0.9”.
If you struggle with its simplicity it’s because its simplicity is its power. Simple means there’s no complexity to hide behind.
Step 1: PICK UP THE PEN
Write down three things:
- Your core values.
- Your personal vision statement.
- Your personal mission statement.
These are important because:
- If you don’t know where you are going all roads will lead there.
- If you don’t know who you are you won’t know who to say yes to and who to say no to.
- In the absence of a map you need a compass.
Step 2: ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS (which will help you with Step 1!)
Ask yourself four things:
- What am I good at?
- What do I enjoy?
- What am I passionate about?
- Where do I find favour?
The answers to these questions are almost always linked, if not the same.
They are important for three reasons:
1. They help you to triangulate your position on the journey between living the life you feel you have to live (most likely the one you are living now) and the life you want to live.
2. If you’re dreaming about something you are not good at, you don’t enjoy and you don’t have favour for that’s not a dream that’s a nightmare.
3. They are clues to who you are, who you want to be and what you might choose to do that you would never want to retire from.
Step 3: RE-IMAGE YOUR FUTURE
Take all the ingredients you’ve collected from steps 1 and 2 and add imagination. Imagine what you would look like and what your future would look if you folded your values, your vision and mission, what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what you’re passionate about and where you find favour into your life and wrapped yourself around them.
Step 3 is the step at which most of us get stuck because it’s the point at which:
- dreaming by design stops being a science and becomes an art as well as a science.
- we need our hearts as well as our heads and both sides of our brain.
- fear and it’s politically correct ally common sense kick in and kick out our imagination (more on this pair later).
The power of your imagination in the process of realising your dreams is hard to exaggerate. The best way I can explain it is to say this.
Everything that exists in the real world today was first the product of someone’s imagination. In other words for anything to be created, including your dream, it has first to be imagined.
At the end of Step 3 you will have re-imaged yourself and your future and be able to see it and describe it.
Step 3.1: BE AFRAID
I’ve come to see that “What would you do if you were not afraid?” is an unhelpful question because of course we are afraid! Especially when we are contemplating reshaping our lives in pursuit of our dreams!
So a crucial step in the pursuit of our dreams is the processing of fear.
Strictly speaking fear doesn’t shut down our imagination, we do. Why? Because when we allow ourselves to imagine we start to imagine the worst. That scares us and we shut down our imagination.
In the pursuit of our dreams we realised one of the most powerful ways to deal with fear is to process it.
Allow your imagination to run wild with the worst that could happen and then ask yourself how bad that would be. Sounds scary and somewhat counter intuitive. But for most of us most of the time we’ll discover the worst case scenario is not that bad or scary and that one of the ways to disarm fear is to force it to be specific.
I guess that’s my way of saying what Jeffers said far more eloquently - face your fears and do it any way.
If by the way the worst is that bad. Then do what all good project managers do and have a contingency plan in the event the dream turns into a nightmare. Plan for the best but be prepared for the worst. You are never in a mess if you have a plan!
Remember if you don’t process your fear at this stage then you will more than likely not allow yourself to imagine and lack of imagination is the reason most of us don’t dream.
Step 3.2 BE AFRAID OF THE RIGHT THINGS
In the pursuit of our dreams we have to navigate fear. There’s no way around it. There’s only through it.
The Bible talks about two types of fear. The fear of man and the fear of God. The point being to ensure in the pursuit of your dreams you’re afraid of the right things.
The fear of man shows up in many ways some of them subtle - for example what’s expected of me and what other people think of me can be a big deal. Many a son or daughter’s dream has been crushed by the heavy weight of a parent’s expectation or disapproval.
To dream is to liberate ourselves from the expectations and opinions of others and ironically our expectations and opinions of ourselves.
By way of contrast the fear of the Lord is not being scared of God. I like to think of it as a breath-taking appreciation of his goodness, His greatness and His glory which breathes life into us to dream.
To dream is to release ourselves into the goodness, greatness and glory of God who wants to do more with us and through us than we can even imagine.
If you’re reading this and you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian then I’m hoping this mini step may go some way to re-imaging God for you as you pursue your dreams.
Step 3.3: WISDOM MAKES SENSE
In the pursuit of our dreams we also have to navigate the concept of common sense which in my experience isn’t actually all that common!
Wisdom is a far better guide than common sense or “conventional wisdom” which could be summed up as what most people would think is OK and is border line the fear of man!
Ironically the Bible says the beginning of wisdom is fear, the fear of God which in my last step I defined as the breath-taking appreciation of His goodness, greatness and glory. So the first thing I can say about wisdom is it flows in response to who God is not in reaction to what we are contemplating doing.
Biblical wisdom also contains excellence, creativity and beauty as well as the idea of enriching knowledge and understanding with experience. Wisdom manifests itself in good design, good decision making and skilful implementation. It isn’t swayed by popular opinion and is prepared to take risks because it understands failure is part of the process not the end of the story.
Wisdom is an essential key to dreaming by design because:
- It releases the goodness, greatness and glory of God to fuel our dreams.
- It extends the palette to include the multi-colours of excellence, creativity and beauty into what might otherwise be our sketchy plan drawings.
- It asks the right question: Is this right? As opposed to: Is this safe?
Step 4: PEOPLE, PLATFORMS AND PODCASTS
We were not meant to make it on our own and we shouldn’t try. If this statement is true then it most definitely applies to dreaming by design. I certainly needed help and continue to need help to dream and to live out that dream.
Have two or three people in your life, who know you, love you and who you trust more than yourself and share your dreams with them (your dreams are not meant for everyone.) I call these people your personal board. Ask them to help you build your plan and critique it. Most of the time we know who they are we just never get around to asking them.
There is safety, creativity and accountability in numbers. Whilst they can be helpful, platforms and podcasts can leave us living in la la land. We need to have people in our lives helping us, championing and challenging us. Helping us to turn theory into practice, hearing into doing, fantasy into reality and learning into life.
I suspect most of us have far more platforms and podcasts than we do people up close and personal in our lives. This risks leaving us fired up but floundering.
By all means go to that conference, listen to that podcast but whatever else you do find your two or three! Dreams are designed in life not the laboratory and realised in the real world not the conference centre or cyber space.
Step 5: TIME AND MONEY
In order to design your dreams you will need to carve out time and money.
This isn’t easy to do as the gravitational pull of the demands of the life you are living today is immense. Pursuing your dreams will require you to be highly intentional with both your time and your money in order to achieve escape-velocity from planet here and now.
Two simple but not easy steps that we often need help with:
Allocate time to invest in building towards your future and then ruthlessly protect it against the demands of the present.
Build a financial plan that supports your journey. Very few dreams pay the bills on day one and some never pay the bills at all. In which case you will need to work out how to manage what you have to do alongside what you want to do.
Dreams cost nothing, making them real is expensive. If you don’t carve out the time and the money to support your journey your dreams will remain fantasy and you will become frustrated.
Dream or no dream being intentional with your time and money is a good way to live!
Step 6: REVIEW THE RESULTS
However good the plan, it’s important to review the results. Regularly take time out to check how much progress you’ve made towards your goals.
Your goals need to be specific enough to be measurable and your assessment needs to be honest enough to allow you to celebrate and challenge yourself. And update the plan if it’s not working!
It takes courage to create specific goals because they don’t leave us any wriggle room when it comes to determining success or failure. It takes courage to celebrate and challenge ourselves because in the process we have to overcome false humility and poor self-image.
There is no such thing as overnight success. The journey of a thousand miles begins and continues with single steps. The goal, progress not perfection. The point of reviewing your plan is to chart and manage that progress making every milestone an altar.
Step 7: START SOMEWHERE
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog, but your enjoyment is not my goal. My goal is that you would, as my daughter once encouraged me to do, start somewhere.
If Began-uary is not going to be followed by Fedup-ruary the difference will be a plan. And a plan can be and often is as simple as one step in the right direction.
So step 7 ends with a question: what are you going to do?