January 19, 2009

What’s Your Dream?

Today Americans are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, so I am — not surprisingly — thinking about dreams. I’m not talking about dreams of paying off the credit card and taking a vacation dream. I’m talking about long-term visions for yourself. What would you be doing and where would you be living if money were no object? If experience, education and those pesky credit card bills weren’t standing in your way?

There is no doubt that a large part of our career decision-making is affected by the nitty-gritty reality of life. Eating is obviously a necessity. So is putting a roof over your head and gassing up the car. Unless you have a sweet trust fund, you can’t fritter your life away just chasing dreams. On the other hand, if you spend your whole life only doing what you “should” do — even if that means doing a job that commands a high salary — you won’t be happy either.

Dreams fester inside of us when we ignore them. When you are 25 years old, you might think that you can be happy putting away your paintbrushes and learning bookkeeping instead. Experience tells me, though, that those brushes will nag at you as the years go on. You may be thinking: Even if they are, so what? It’s not like watercolors are going to pay the bills. That might well be true. But then what is an aspiring painter (or whatever your dream is) to do?

One solution is to honor your dreams, rather than to discount them. If you are currently looking for a job, I wonder how much time you have spent reflecting on the type of job you are looking for? Lots of people set goals for their job search, but do they give enough thought to what underlies those goals? If your goals contradict your dreams, you might be seeking a finish line that will, ultimately, make you unhappy.

Take a few minutes — today! — to really and truly reflect on your dreams. What makes you feel alive? Don’t edit yourself, just reflect. After a few minutes, write down some of your thoughts. Let that piece of paper sit for a while and then come back to it later today or tomorrow. Without deleting any of your dreams, start brainstorming for ways in which you can turn your dreams into career goals.

The person who put away her paintbrushes may not be able to command a million dollar painting commission, but she probably could land a job teaching art at a local community college or at an elementary school.

The person who dreams of exotic travel may not be able to sustain a five-star trip around the world, but he probably could explore ancient Chinese lands during vacation time from his job teaching English in Hong Kong.

The thing about following your dreams is that it will probably lead you to places you never could have imagined. I wonder if Barack Obama ever dreamed of being president when he was working as a community organizer in Chicago’s inner city? I wonder if Martin Luther King, Jr. ever dreamed that 40 years after his assassination an African American would be inaugurated president of the United States?

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Here’s to following our dreams a little bit more in 2009!

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