There’s a difference between dreams and goals, I think.
There are an awful lot of inspirational Facebook posts that make the shared rounds, telling you to be one with your dreams or to stare lovingly into their eyes or to visualize whirled peas or something. The word “dream” in and of itself sounds so nebulous and floaty. Probably because dreams are nebulous and floaty. They happen when we’re asleep, or, if awake, when we’re “supposed” to be doing something else. They’re simultaneously written off and embraced.
Sometimes I think we’re meant to have them and keep them in little gilt cages as pets, but only if those cages are put on top of a pedestal where we stare longingly at them with goo-goo eyes covered in rose glass.
And then there are goals. Goals are universally good. Few people will pshaw at you and tell you to have fewer goals. Businesses have mission statements. Universities have majors. Careers have raises (or should).
The distinction between the two, for me at least, is action. Sure, sometimes dreams come true out of the blue. More often, they stay on their pedestals, locked in their cages, both tantalizingly and frustratingly out of reach. If we ever want to stage a dream cage jail break, the dreams we love the most have to be forged into goals and pursued with a relentless combination of sweat, tears, blood, and dumb luck.
It’s the luck we can’t predict. That’s the lightning strike that puts a talent scout in the audience at your open mic night the day you happen to nail the bit you’ve been annoying your neighbors with for three weeks. That’s what gets a brand new author a major six figure deal on their first book twelve queries out of the gate and on the eighth publisher to look at the book. (Anyone who thinks that’s not a minuscule number of rejections has clearly won the lightning strike lottery.) It’s the audition that actor gets on day seven in LA that leads to steady work and a ten year leading role on TV.
We can’t count on being any of those people. For most of us in creative fields, we never will get that shock of serendipity.
It’s easy to have dreams. As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Maybe I could have done; I don’t know. What I do know is that I decided it I didn’t want it that badly.
Time, Time, Time. Time is What Turns Kittens Into Cats.
As I’m approaching my 30th birthday this year, I have a lot of dreams. Perhaps more importantly, I have carefully chosen a few to cement into goals. I left a good job (that made me miserable) to wait tables and write. It so far has gotten me to a two book deal for a book I loved writing.
But that took four years.
Four years of writing books that may never see the light of day. Four years of doing a job that didn’t require my debt-laden degree in history to obtain. Four years of rejection and false starts.
Still, one of my big dreams — that became a concrete life goal — is happening. Thinking of it as a goal I achieved makes me have a bigger sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t just four years coming; it was more than ten. Or twenty. At least six of “I want this.” Four of “I want this more than I want [insert financial stability or travel or a house or a job that uses my degree here].”
For me, the question is still, “How much do you want it?”
Enough to keep at a job that allows flexibility at the expense of benefits, a steady salary, and (occasionally) your dignity?
Enough to come home from a physically demanding job and hit the gym?
Enough to pour free time into more work?
Enough to pick up extra shifts to pay for networking and exposure opportunities?
Enough to put off a house and a family and a second car?
Enough to put up with people who ask when you’re going to get a real job?
Enough? How much do you want it? Do you want it enough?
I already know my answers. Your questions will undoubtably be different. As the earth warms for a return to spring, my frozen motivation is thawing into resolve. I know what I want. I want it enough to go after it.
The Alchemy of Dreams
That sounds a lot more high-fallutin’ than I meant it to. Jeez, Emmie, knock off the self-help guru crap.
But honestly, there are things you can do to start forging your dreams into attainable goals.
It’s not as simple as:
1. Have dream.
2. Speak dream into the ether.
There’s no magic formula to make your goals pop that achievement, and there’s no lightning rod for dumb luck. (Though if you discover one, will you send it my way?)
What you can do is figure out what your dream is really made of. Break it down into bricks and figure out how close you are to understanding how to put them back together on your own. For writers, that looks a lot like this:
Dream of going to space like I did as a kid? The goal aspect of that looks very different. There are mental and physical landmarks to attain if you ever want to strap yourself in on a ship launching at a point outside our Earth’s atmosphere. Want to win an Oscar someday? You better take some acting classes and learn the ropes of auditions and agents and unions and all the other myriad things that go into it.
Which brings us back to the question of this blog post.
How much do you want it? What are you willing to do, to give up, to change in order to get it?
What steps do you need to take, now and every day, if you want to realize that goal?
I want to hear from you. Which dreams of yours have made it through the forge and come out goals? What are you doing to make them happen?