The bad news is, not all our dreams are achievable.
The good news is, that doesn’t mean our dreams are worthless.
When we’re growing up, many of us are told that we can do or be anything we want. Our future potential is presented to us as unlimited. We can be astronauts, presidents, movie stars, or anything else we want to be, or so we’re told.
As we grow, we begin to realize that our potential may have been oversold.
Not many of us are going to be world leaders.
Not many of us are going to be high-level athletes.
Not many of us will walk on the moon.
When we grow up and realize that we’ve been oversold on our potential to do and be things that statistically very few human beings are even capable of doing and being, the temptation is to throw our expectations and attitudes into complete reverse: we think that if we can’t do or be exactly what we dreamt about, that dreams and fantasies and aspirations are basically worthless at best, and recipes for bitter disappointment at worst.
I don’t believe that’s the case. I think that’s sending the baby out the window with the bathwater.
Why do we have dreams, aspirations, and fantasies in the first place?
When I was a kid, I had two big professional dreams: to be a political leader (specifically, president of the United States); and to be a rock star (specifically, of the skill and success of Billy Joel).
Comparably few people grow up to be political leaders and/or rock stars. In addition, 41-year-old me knows a few things that 12-year-old me didn’t: I would probably hate being either president or a rock star.
Even so: what did those fantasies and aspirations say about me? That I vowed life as necessarily incomplete if I didn’t get to deliver an inaugural address, or bring a stadium to its feet to cheer my virtuosic piano playing?
Those fantasies and aspirations of mine spoke to something more basic: I wanted to have an impact.
I wanted to give people hope on the one hand; and I wanted to give people the tools to change how they feel on the other hand.
I’d dare say that, in the life that I actually went on to lead— as opposed to the life I fantasized about leading— I’ve found ways to do both of those things that are arguably more effective than if I’d actually become a politician or a rock star.
Our dreams speak to what’s important to us.
Our dreams point the way to what’s vital to us.
Far from being worthless, our fantasies and dreams tell us things about what we need to actually do and achieve in the real world in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled.
In that respect, our childhood dreams and fantasies can still be useful to us, even as adults.
What do your childhood goals, dreams, and fantasies say about who you are and what you need?
Think back to what you wanted to be when you grew up. Maybe you actually got a chance to do some or all of that; maybe you didn’t.
But take a look at what those goals, dreams, and fantasies actually SAY about you as a person.
Why did you want to be those things?
What values do those aspirations imply?
What needs are important to you, based on what you imagined as a child?
And, even more importantly: going forward in your life, are there ways you can manage to use those childhood dreams as a compass, pointing you to what’s fundamentally important to your happiness and fulfillment?
Even if impractical or logistically impossible, our dreams and fantasies are vitally important.
They are a blueprint to who we are, psychologically and emotionally and spiritually.
Consult that blueprint. Don’t crumple it and throw it away just because that specific building probably won’t get built.
I’m ridiculously glad I’m neither president nor a rock star.
If I was, you wouldn’t be reading these words.
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