Always remember there are only two kinds of people in this world, the realists and the dreamers. The realists know where they are going. The dreamers have already been there. – Robert Orben
We all know the feeling.
You woken up out of a deep sleep and scrambled to write it down. You’ve been moved to scribble it on a napkin in a middle of dinner. You’ve written a declaration in your journal or have a vision board in your office. It’s what drives you, almost to the point that you seem obsessed to the outside world.
It’s your creative dream. And it’s not getting any easier to reach it.
The stereotypical idea of the creative dream involves fame, financial success, and a larger platform from which to create. However, every artist dreams differently. Some desire greater influence, others desire validation from their peers. No matter what our life’s dream is, we must follow certain steps to ensure that we are constantly moving closer to it, instead of floating farther away. Breaking down the word “dream” is a great way to remember these five steps.
It all starts with D, defining the expectations you have of your dream.
Define your expectations
Leadership expert and author John Maxwell asserts, “You can not achieve a dream you do not own.” Before you can truly reach your dream, you must define everything about it and make sure you understand it more than anyone else. Often, creatives enjoy making grand statements and dreaming big without defining exactly what their dream means. However, if you neglect to put specific goals around your dream, you are actually avoiding the responsibility of following through, because you can’t truly aim for something if you refuse to define the target. Think through exactly what the dream means – who you will be, what it will feel like, the people that will with you, etc. The more clearly you define your dream, the more likely that you will take definite steps to achieve it.
Reveal your intentions
A dream can’t take root in your life if it remains hidden. We are all familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. That speech was given in front of hundreds of thousands of civil rights marchers in one of the biggest demonstrations in American history. His willingness to reveal his dream at a time that it seemed truly impossible paved the way for real change in the way a society treated its citizens. However, revealing your dream also opens you up to criticism, which you must be ready for. Joseph, the young man in the Bible who was well-known for his dreams, was mocked, beaten, and left for dead after revealing his vision. However, it was the act of revelation, despite his long journey through prisons and slavery, that actually propelled him toward seeing his dream come to pass. Had he never told anyone, none of the things he dreamed about would have ever happened. Never allow the fear of revelation to stop you from pursuing your dream publicly.
Engage your energies
No creative dream can become reality if you do not give all of your energy and emotion into it. Engaging in your dream means pushing when no one else is watching, taking daily steps toward it when you don’t feel the motivation, and investing time and resources into it even when you don’t see the signs of improvement. It’s very easy to get frustrated when you’re engaged in the process because the nature of the dream is to grow while you work on it. But a growing dream is not a bad thing. As you remain engaged, your dream expands. So don’t be surprised if the work load increases as your dream progresses. Experts in goal-setting say that any major plan will likely take twice as much time, require twice as much money, and involve twice as many people than you thought originally. So, engage your dream daily with the understanding that growth requires change, and that’s a good thing.
Accept the risk
You can’t dream of making a big impact as an artist without facing the possibility of failure. Your products might not sell, your creations may not be noticed, and your words may not be heard. In your dreaming process, you must acknowledge that, despite the famous quote made during the Apollo 13 mission, failure is indeed an option. You’ve heard it said that if your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s probably not big enough. (See our previous post on this topic.) The key to this step is not accepting defeat; rather, it’s accepting that your dream should make you happy even if you don’t reach it. Many of us think of the culmination of our dream as the moment that will define our artistic journey. However, who we become as human beings as we work to achieve our dream, and how we feel about ourselves at the end of the road, is more important than the actual achievement. Once again, we can look at Martin Luther King as an example. He never saw his dream come to pass, yet it is clear from the speech he gave the day before he was struck down, that he felt satisfaction and fulfillment.
“I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything.”
Accepting the risk that your dream may not come to pass is not a self-defeating statement. In fact, it’s the best way to maintain the proper perspective, and that will actually increase, not decrease, your motivation.
Measure your progress
Every parent knows the frustration of hearing their children ask “Are we there yet?” from the back seat on long road trips. In the same way, every artist and creative knows how it feels to wonder just how far away their dream is. A dream that truly challenges you will require consistent effort over a long time. In order to combat the frustration, you must break your dream down into measurable, achievable steps. This step reflects both step 1, defining your dream so that you know what it will take, and step 3, engaging in those steps daily to achieve it. Some creatives set up vision boards, make posters to mark major milestones, or journal about their progress. Whatever method you choose, make sure that you are constantly monitoring and making note of your progress. Whatever you measure matures. If you fail to keep records on your progress towards your dream, you risk losing hope in the way that Langston Hughes describes in his famous poem “Dreams”.
“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
Dream it, then do it
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote these words about those who neglect to follow through with their dreams; “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” Don’t allow your dream to be stolen and silenced by neglect. Take these steps consistently and apply them to you creative dream. As you develop ways to define your expectations, reveal your intentions, engage your energies, accept the risks, and measure your progress, you’ll find that the dream is less about reaching a certain goal, and more about becoming a better you and living a life that makes a difference.
That’s a dream worth living for.