I recently gave a speech about life planning, talking about how it’s best to start that plan with being real about where you actually are now. One of the audience members objected, saying that she needed to imagine future goals as a motivator. As in carrot, not stick.
I understand. But it’s been my experience that when my clients begin with dreams, they tend to get stuck in fantasyland and have a hard time finding their way back to reality. It’s much more fun to be dreamy than pragmatic.
But to make a dream come true, you really do have to get real. Starry-eyed ideas skew decisions, and those almost always lead to disappointment.
What do I mean by being real? I have a client who hasn’t worked full-time for four years, is definitely short of cash, always planned to go back to work, has dramatically improved her golf score, can’t imagine working for anyone else again, and had a job that was so part-time it only provided her with lunch-with-the-girls-money. Her dream is to open her own business. What kind of business? She doesn’t know, and she doesn’t want to deal with settling on a choice right now. Her carrot is independence. Her reality is eventual destitution. As long as she dreams carrot dreams and avoids facing that she is short on capital, long on unrealistic expectations and devoid of details, she can’t even begin to head where she wants to go.
Then I came upon this Gloria Steinem quote that stopped me in my tracks: “Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I agree about the importance of imagination, but as beautiful as this sentiment is, a dream is a launching pad. It’s not a substitute for a plan with a clear starting place. Our leaps of imagination can give us hours, even months and years of pleasure, just in the visiting of them. Somehow, though, we have to move past the inertia that holds us back from taking the often mundane steps to reach our goal.
Later in the day of my speech I worked with the CEO of a flourishing company who declared that her dream was to reproduce her business successes in real estate the way she had in manufacturing. “What’s to stop me?” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. She had her carrot, and everything she needed to reach for it.
My next meeting was with a fundraiser for a non-profit. Her dream is to relocate to another area and get a new, more senior job in the same industry. But she doesn’t want to do the networking or travel or financial investment to make it happen. Her carrot is too small to be harvested any time soon.
I ended my day by dropping in on a feisty 91-year-old woman I’ve been visiting for a long time. She’s in one of those care centers that are really warehouses for the elderly, the last stop. Her dreams were much more quotidian. First, that someone would finally find her TV’s remote control. Her second dream was for a professional to wash, cut and style her hair, tame her eyebrows and do her makeup. Even at 91 she wants to look her best, if only for herself. I climbed under her motorized bed, used her cane for reach, and retrieved the remote. She kissed my hand in gratitude. Then I arranged for a stylist to make a house call to do her hair and makeup.
My own dream was that my visiting her would make a difference. I realized I had started munching on the orange stuff.
It was delicious.