It Starts With a Dream
April 3, 2023
What is a dream? According to Oxford Languages, the world’s leading dictionary publisher, it is “a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.” Many would associate a dream with fantasy, wishful thinking, or childish whims. Yet take the word aspiration. Oxford says it’s “a hope or ambition of achieving something.” And that ambition is a “strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.” I think Oxford is onto something here.
Let’s explore some of these things that Oxford is telling us about dreams. But first, let me ask you this, how many of you knew with certainty and every fiber of your being as a young child what you were meant to do, and because you believed it so deeply you were able to pursue that path no matter what obstacles stood in your way? And how many of you weren’t sure of your abilities or didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life so you explored different options as you learned new skills and as new opportunities presented themselves? Maybe you have even switched career paths a time or two as an adult. For anyone who falls into the latter category, myself included, we may have put aside a dream or the hint of a dream we had in our childhood.
The word dream can have a fanciful or flighty connotation. As children we may have become discouraged or dissuaded from pursuing a particular path when we shared our hopes or ambitions. Adults who didn’t understand something unfamiliar to them or didn’t know how to encourage us on our desired path may have said it was a “silly notion,” that we’d “grow out of it,” or said it “wasn’t practical” and told us that we “wouldn’t be able to make a living from it.” If you’re a woman anywhere near my age, which is 61, it’s most likely you grew up in the era where women were caught in between being encouraged to get married and have a family or were generally guided toward more female-oriented careers such as a secretary, teacher, or nurse. Other, more male-dominated careers were just beginning to open to women when I entered college. And how to make a living as a fine artist was still a bit of a mystery and certainly not taught. No matter what your background or story is, it’s not too late to follow that glimmer of a dream you once had. Dreams have purpose, but are just a starting point.
First, give yourself permission to dream. If that is difficult for you, then begin with asking yourself why it’s difficult for you. What are the stories you may have been told by others or have told yourself that are holding you back? Write down anything that comes to mind. It may take a while and you may need to peel back layers, like that of an onion, until you can get to the core. Once you begin to understand even some of the thoughts (you don’t have to have all the answers) that have held you back, tell yourself that you are worthy of dreaming and achieving your dream. Ask yourself what is it that you long to achieve? It’s not too late to ask this question and to get serious about accomplishing what you desire. I never allowed myself to fully do this until I was in my late 50s. There are many examples of people who didn’t begin a first painting, a first novel, a first whatever until after 60, 70, 80, or even 90 years old. Give it some thought every day. Write a word or a few sentences down in a notebook and date your entries. It doesn’t have to start out deep. Just start with what comes from your heart, from your inner child. Then continue to explore that and anything else that comes to mind. Nothing is off limits at this point. And small or large, the size of your dream doesn’t matter. Remember, no one but YOU needs to see this. As you’re inspired, write more details about it. You may find your dreams changing course as you continue to dive deeper into what it is you truly aspire to do or become. That’s okay, it’s part of the cultivating process. Dreams may look different as we grow into them, but their essence will remain.
Allowing yourself to dream is just the beginning to give you the vision and general direction to head in. In order to be achieved, dreams need to turn into a vision. And to reference Oxford once again, a vision is “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” Use your vision to begin narrowing the path and finding the steps you need to take to make your dream a reality. Take small steps daily and create habits that will have a cumulative effect of growth towards your goal. In addition to doing the “hard work” with the “determination” that is needed to achieve your ambitions, find a support system from a community or even just one other person, that will be encouraging yet candid and hold you accountable. But as I said with my title, it starts with a dream. Give yourself permission to dream, then see where it takes you.
“The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” -Kalpana Chawla