Early on in his career, college football coaching legend Lou Holtz made a list of 107 things he wanted to accomplish in his life. Among them were to go white water rafting, see the pyramids, meet the Pope, have dinner at the White House with a sitting president and be on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It took Holtz and his wife 25 years but together they’ve accomplished 99 of those original goals.
My own dreams list includes attending a national political convention (okay I’m weird), witnessing the opening ceremony at the Olympics, spending at least a month on every continent, studying with a master antique book restorer, learning to water paint, taking swimming lessons, taking a year-long sabbatical and routinely having summers off.
A big dream that’s been on the front burner for about three years now has been finding a house with a view. I work at home so where I live is really important to me. I have this thing about wanting to live in the country. Not in the woods though. I need space. Rolling hills, fields, maybe some cows in the background (I love cows!). Think pastoral, bucolic, peaceful, private.
I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflecting on the evolution of this dream and what I’ve learned in the process. What I’ve discovered is that there are seven key lessons to realizing a dream.
Lesson #1: Listen to Your Inner Voices
My obsession with a view began five years ago when I started vacationing on a small peaceful lake in central New Hampshire. There’s nothing much to do there but sit out on the deck and gaze on the reflection of the mountains reflected in the lake and listen for the enchantingly eerie call of the loons.
Despite carting up dozens of books I found I rarely picked them up because it would mean taking my eyes off the view. I found it utterly mesmerizing. This little voice inside kept whispering, “Pay attention Valerie, pay attention.” Like most people I ignored these inner callings.
As the voice grew louder, it became clear that while everyone enjoys a view, I craved one. I needed the experience of having a view not for just one week out of the year but every day. I didn’t know quite how I was going to pull it off but I knew I had to listen.
Lesson #2: Put Your Dreams Out There
Few people reach their dreams alone. You never know who might help you get where you want to be. It could be a casual acquaintance, your dentist, a neighbor, a coworker… But one thing is for sure, if you keep your dreams to yourself, you’ll never find out.
Throughout the last presidential election, I shared my dream of one day attending a national political convention with anyone who would listen. One such person was a seminar attendee who happened to be very high up at NBC news. Realizing an opportunity when I saw one, I pitched myself as an over-qualified but very eager intern willing to do whatever needed to be done… from making coffee, to making copies to doing van runs to the airport. He handed me his business card and told me he’d see what he could do.
Despite my champion’s best efforts, he wasn’t able to get me in. While witnessing the democratic process in action didn’t pan out, deliberately putting my dream out there got me closer than ever before. And, hey there’s always 2008!
Lesson #3: Be Selective About Who You Talk to About Your Dream
While making your dreams known is the key to finding champions, teachers, and other supporters, you also need to mindful of where NOT to look.
Take my friend Carol. She’s a great person, but she’s a bit of a cynic. When I told Carol that I wanted a house with a view, her response was, “Wouldn’t we all?” While walking my dog along a roaring stream I realized how healing I find the sound of moving water. So I added a bubbling brook to my wish list, to which Carol replied, “Well, you can’t always get what you want.”
Carol is right of course. You can’t always get what you want. But does the risk of not reaching a goal mean you just throw up your hands in defeat? As opera diva Beverly Sills once reminds us, “You may be disappointed if we fail, but you are doomed if we don’t try.”
Anyone can develop a sense of optimism – even natural cynics. If you’re prone to negative thinking, read my article If You Think You Can’t Change Course – You’re Right available at ChangingCourse.com/articles/changecourse.htm
Lesson #4: Believe You Can
Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” As trite as this last lesson may sound, believing your dream is attainable is fundamental to its success.
I need to be inspired as much as the next person. One place both Barbara Winter and I both go to when we need a boost of inspiration are the Making Dreams Happen CDs of which we are both a part. Listening once again to one of Barbara Sher’s presentations reminded me of the powerful link between passion and belief.
Barbara was telling the group how deep down inside we all know what we want. “When someone says they don’t know what they want,” she says, “what they really mean is they don’t think that what they want is possible.” In other words, the reason most people never even attempt to go after their dream is because they don’t think they can.
I knew getting my dream house with a view wouldn’t be easy. First I’d have to do all the painting, repairing, and landscaping required to get my current house in shape to sell. Then I’d have to put the house on the market, which, since I planned to sell it myself meant taking photos, placing ads for open houses, and learning about all the legal hoops involved in selling real estate. I’d also need to spend countless hours scouring real estate listings, going to open houses and doing drive bys. I got so desperate at one point that I wrote to homeowners to see if they’d like to sell.
By far though I knew the most daunting task would be packing. You see I come from a long line of pack rats which meant confronting the monumental task of sorting through and packing 12 years of accumulated stuff, only to begin the unpacking all over again on the other end.
Between my travel schedule and my work commitments, I knew that achieving my dream would not be easy… but I always new it was possible. As Louisa May Alcott once wrote, “We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving… And we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.”
Lesson #5: Take the Long View
Every so often I get a call for a career consultation from someone who is having one of those “job from hell” days. The desire for immediate relief is understandable. After all when your job is toxic job you just want o-u-t, NOW!
Like these clients, you probably don’t want to hear this, but deep down you already know that making any real change takes time. At the same time you have to start somewhere. And the fact of the matter is that the next two years or five years or ten years are going to come and go as quickly as the last ones did – whether you do anything about your dream or not.
So where would you rather be when that time arrives – in the same place you are now or where you want to be? Yes, change takes time but it’s the small steps that will get you to that better future. Which leads us to our next lesson…
Lesson #6: Start Where You Are
The key to achieving any goal is to simply start. Start somewhere… anywhere. If you’re so up to your ears in debt, then start by making a plan to become debt free. If your life is so busy that you haven’t taken the time to even know what your dreams are, take some time this very week to find a quiet space and tune into your inner callings. If you need information about becoming an equine massage therapist, or bringing your product idea to market, or getting paid for your home design finesse – then get busy by finding and then learning from those who have already done it. The bottom line here – do what you can, but do something!
If you’re having trouble getting started, click here for six tips that can help ChangingCourse.com/articles/getstarted.htm
Lesson #7: Live in the Now
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Helen Hunt talked about how she got the career she always wanted. Although she wasn’t offering it as a tip, Hunt’s own experience of being grateful for what she had is informative. You see, for Hunt the four Emmys, the five Golden Globes, the Oscar and all of the rest were but icing on an already rich cake. Reflecting on her years as part of the Mad About You television show’s creative team, Hunt told Rose, “If none of these other things had happened and I’d had only that, I would have been a very, very lucky actress.” (To read all of Helen Hunt’s success tips go to ChangingCourse.com/articles/helenhunt.htm)
It would have been easy to focus on what I didn’t like about the house I already had – it was a busy street, the houses were too close together, one of my neighbors drove me up the wall. And yet, despite aggressively pursing my dream house, I never lost sight of what I already had.
On the most basic level, I had more than millions of people around the world – a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, heat, safety. It was also a warm, inviting, and aesthetically pleasing home. If I’d lived in that home for the rest of my life, I would have still been very lucky indeed.
The lesson here is to not focus so much on what lies ahead that you fail to appreciate past and present blessings. Taking stock of how rich your life is right now will make any future success all the sweeter.
A Room With a View
It took three years, but here I sit one month into my fabulous new home in the country. Perched on a hill, the house offers views on all four sides… cows in the east pasture, grand sunsets over the hills to the west, woods outside my office window to the north, and I was happy to report to Carol, a bubbling brook to my south.
“Well that’s nice for her,” you may be thinking, “but I don’t have that kind of money.” I understand what it’s like to be strapped. When I left my high paying corporate job eleven years ago my income dipped nearly in half. There have been times I’ve wondered how I’d pay the bills. Over time I’ve managed to build my income up to more than my previous salary. Still, I didn’t buy a “starter mansion” and I’m not a wealthy person.
Money, or the lack of money, is not necessarily a prerequisite to realizing a dream. True, if I hadn’t had the good fortune to have had a starter home to sell I could not have afforded the house I got. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have found another way to get my view.
For example, I could have found a lower priced fixer upper. Or, I could have rented. Even better, I probably could have lived rent free as a property caretaker. (For true tales of people living the caretaker life visit ChangingCourse.com/lifeinparadise.htm)
My new dream? Summers off! I can’t swing it this year, but I’m seriously looking at taking off for at least a portion of the summer of ‘06.
So what are your dreams? Which one is speaking to you loudest right now? Where can you find support for your dream? Who do you need to make a conscious effort not to share your dream with? What are you grateful for right now?
Whether it’s finding the cure for cancer, or improving the schools in your community, or finding your dream job, there may be many steps, but there is only one next action. What small step can you take not tomorrow, not next week, but literally this very day in the service of your dream?