I was discussing with my daughter some time back about dreams and it got me thinking that we always encourage our kids to dream big while encouraging them that they can achieve anything they want. However is that really good solid advice. I thought deeply about what do dreams signify and how can I explain to kids that you cannot achieve anything you want but you must think big while working towards your dreams. It also got me thinking that some of the adults have stopped dreaming so I really wanted to write this piece addressing what it takes to do your dreams.
The word dreams project an excitement that no other word can. Dreams are a vision for your future which pulls you to wake up every morning with a smile and look forward to each day with excitement. In my opinion get excited about your life first and then you can truly wake up with a smile. Just read this wonderful article from Larsen Jensen Positive Psychology Lessons from an Olympic Medalist and Navy SEAL. He says he woke up at 5 am and what separated him from others was he never hit the snooze button. That’s what a dream can do for you as it will get you up and running early. That is why it is important to find your why in life.
However I would like to caution that unrealistic pie in the sky dreams can result in disappointment and heartbreak. For example if I have a dream to be a tennis player it would be futile and not aligned to any of my talent. A dream while not always being realistic should at least be in your strength zone.
Sometimes we think that in order to be truly successful we need to do something big which is recognized by the whole wide world. The fact is such success is rare and most of us will achieve other types of success which may not make us household names. It is very critical to understand how success looks to us measured against our talent. Comparing with other icons is an unnecessary distraction. While they can be inspiring they shouldn’t be considered role models. You have to define the dream that works for you.
In order for you to succeed in your dreams I believe you need the following elements. I also like what John Maxwell said “While the dream is free the journey isn’t.” It takes hard work and perseverance to do your dream whatever it maybe.
Discipline – The first step is to be absolutely clear on what is your dream. You need to be disciplined to understand why you want to do your dream. In other words you should have such a burning yes that you say no to everything else. For example Federer is great in tennis but does it matter he knows 10 languages or he plays the piano. This is where focus helps. The problem is sometimes we look at peers or friends and see them so talented in multiple disciplines. However to me you can be successful only if you are disciplined on a few areas and focus only on that. If learning the piano is not going to get you anywhere I would rather spend the same time on improving my skills in getting better at what I do for a living. Of course this is a personal choice but to me the only way to achieve anything is to be mono-maniacally disciplined on the things that matter to you and your career. We cannot spread our energy in multiple directions. Even Angela Duckworth says grit is useful only if you are passionate about what you do. In other words if learning the piano makes you feel miserable it doesn’t make sense to grit it out endlessly. You should quit such activities. However if you have something you are good at and need to push further then in those circumstances you need to grit it out. Remember your willpower is limited so don’t waste it on things which don’t really matter.
Relentless – Once you decide what your dream is you need to be totally relentless in your pursuit of the dream. There is nothing that should stop you till you achieve what you want. Of course if you tried it for 5 years and still not making any progress then you should be flexible and take some new actions. You can change your direction but don’t change the destination you have decided. Michael Jordan tried baseball and it didn’t work out due to which he returned to his original love basketball. Not everyone can do everything no matter how talented they are but on the few things that you can do be absolutely relentless and go for it. You really need to burn your boats to achieve what you want. It doesn’t matter if you know 100 things all that matters is are you super good in what you do for a living. Focus on that and be relentless.
Enthusiasm – You need to be enthusiastic about your dream. Obviously you are going to encounter setbacks along the way and the only thing that will keep you going is your enthusiasm for your dream. Remember it is your dream and no one else can do it. So it is up to you to keep your spirits high no matter what the obstacles you encounter. It is not about acting enthusiastic. It is about being absolutely disciplined about what you want to do with your life and then mustering up the enthusiasm to keep the inner fire burning. J K Rowling is a great example on how to overcome failure. She said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might not have lived at all – in which case you fail by default.” The point is even if you do meet temporary failures your enthusiasm for your dream is what will keep you going. It is wise to remember what Mike Tyson famously said “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Action– There is no substitute for action. We all have dreams but the only way anything is achieved is through action. You can even have the highest IQ but still only if you take all the necessary action you can move towards your goals. The only way to achieve something big is to break it down into daily actions. So take daily action towards your most cherished dreams. I just love this quote “Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.” – Napoleon Hill
Mastery – You need to become absolutely competent in whatever you do for a living. Find out the experts in your field, read their books, read their blogs, listen to their podcasts, document what you have learned and share what you have learned. Every single thing you need to master has all the information associated with it available for you to take advantage. All you need to do is to take the time to learn the skill. Once you become a master you can do your dreams. Deliberate practice is the key. Two books which are great here are Talent is overrated by Geoff Colvin and Mastery by Robert Greene. The other one is Peak by Anders Ericsson and here is my review What it takes to be the Best in whatever you do. The point is every single master had put in hours of arduous practice over a long period of time. They persisted in spite of any resistance they had and once they did make it big people thought it was due to innate talent which it was not.
Most peak performers left the comfort zone and they spent more of their time in the learning zone. However they also didn’t spend time in the panic zone where they tried something impossible. It is the delicate balancing act of leaving the comfort zone and staying in the learning zone that will move us closer to mastery. Once in the learning zone there will be intense periods of boredom and only the true masters overcome that phase to reach heights others can only dream of. This is obviously not easy and that is why only the very best reach mastery in their fields.
I really like the way Stephen Covey expresses it in his book 8th Habit. He says the path to mediocrity straitjackets human potential and the path to greatness unleashes it. Irrespective of where we are in our careers we can always choose to shift our paths towards greatness and the pursuit of mastery is the best way to attain greatness.
Success – This is one of the most important steps of all. What does success really look to you? What will happen when you achieve your dreams? What is it that drives you to achieve your dreams? If achieving your dream results in family discontent is it worth it. You need to really evaluate what the cost of the dream is and really understand if the price is worth it in terms of effort. Success has to be personal and it is not determined by what others think of you. I have thought hard and long on this topic. You can check out my article on A to Z of Success which condenses everything you need on success. Check out my article A to Z of Success. It is important to remember what Jim Rohn said that are no new fundamentals. Beware of anyone who talks about new fundamentals. The fundamentals of success has not changed in years so lets not get sidetracked by some magic formula for success. There maybe a lot of success gurus but we will get satisfaction and fulfillment only when we decide on what success looks like to us.
A dream is wonderful to have but we have to really evaluate our dreams to see if it makes sense not only to us but to those who are close to us. As it is said a person with a dream will not be denied but only if they have the commitment to follow through. So I told my daughter to understand where she has passion and skill wherever that intersects go for that dream as it is something worth striving for. Be prepared for a long arduous journey in the pursuit of your dream and do change track if things are not working. Thanks for reading this post.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.