“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupery
At the conclusion of a long and intense 3-day strategy session with my company’s leadership team, I was looking for some final words of wisdom to leave them with before the holidays. Then the famous title from Shimon Peres’ epic book “No Room for Small Dreams” popped to mind and I had my words of wisdom: the necessity to dream big.
It’s a favorite topic of mine. Like the late Peres, I believe that if you dream small, you will likely reach your dreams. Yup, the small ones.
So, why not dream big, right? Why disappoint ourselves? Why not stretch beyond what we think possible for all of us?
I bring this up today because we are on the cusp of a new decade, and it occurs to me that we could all use more imagination, more hope for a better future. As a society, we seem to be living between two opposing perspectives. On the one hand, we have so much progress. Technology and rising economic tides are allowing more people to live longer, safer, healthier lives than ever. On the other hand, the news is filled with polarization and conflict. The ambivalence between truth and lies obscures our sense-making. And the darker angels of our nature seem ever too present. The best anyone can offer is a sort of sustainable, future-less present, which is a somber place to be. It’s a place where things get done, for sure, where new products get made, where new digital solutions become faster and more efficient, where the environment and human rights get defended, but not a place where things deeper inside of us get transformed for the better
You see, the dreams that matter are not just the province of children, orators, and poets. They are not just about inventing new stuff. Rather, they bring about a critical change in perspective.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech was not about having a strategic plan or realistic goals for organizing an event. No, it was very much about dreams for a better perspective. Dreams that, one day, the world would be better, and that people would come together differently than they were in the still segregated America of 1963.
Human beings have always dreamed big. Ancient humans did not look at the moon and think it was merely pretty. They thought, “I want to reach that someday!” And, lo and behold, millenniums later, we did. Similarly, children in this country do not say, “I would like to become the Undersecretary for Feed Corn Trade Policies,” as noble and as necessary as that job may be. No, they think, “Someday, I am going to be the president of the United States!” And, indeed, some of them go on to be just that. But the real dreams in these ambitions is to see ourselves as spacefarers and free people. That’s the bigger move because it requires us to come together differently.
Seeing ourselves this way can be a challenge. Most of us learn to keep dreams private, lest we be laughed at or, worse, fail. Over time, we stop dreaming big altogether and settle for smaller, more achievable goals, figuring they are safer. We put brakes on our dreams without even realizing it. We settle. But there are ways to get beyond this in our day-to-day lives.
For more than a decade, I have been an ardent devotee of personal vision- and goal-setting, habit formation and the daily tracking of my results. And it has been the most effective, growth-filled and fulfilling decade of my life.
Having a solid process for a high-performance life works, and it feels great. I am not alone in this. Many of the world’s successful people have gotten there by establishing highly effective life practices. The professions of business coaching, personal life coaching and psychotherapy are filled with similar processes. The intentional mind is an amazing thing. It is a Swiss Army knife of tools with which we can be more effective and to upgrade our lives. Most of these tools are essentially free to use. It only takes time and a willingness to break thoughtless daily routines and replace them with purposeful habits and a way to keep track.
If I were to start this next decade as I have the past few years, it would start with a careful inventory of my accomplishments and my shortcomings. I would reflect and rate myself. I would write about the incremental improvements I hope to kick off in 2020. I would think about 1-year goals, 3-5-year visions, and 10-year mastery plans. It is a process that has not let me down.
But now I think I need to add a new section to my process that would include dreams. What could a better world look like? How could we come together differently? What perspectives would be needed to rise above a future-less present? What could be even better than sustainability?
I offer this thought as we embark on this new decade: Let’s dream a little bit more. Let’s layer dreams on top of our great habits and plans. Let’s build a better future that is not just incrementally improved over last year but that points us to a flourishing future. Let’s really go for it.
Maybe it is time for the little bit of hope that only dreams can offer.
Onward and upward!