The Three Don’ts of Dream Management
Many people don’t like to hear it, but if one’s dreams are to have any chance of coming true they have to be managed.
We call the life we’d like to live our “dream” because it is born like those that come in our sleep, in the fields of fantasy where all things are possible. The idea of “managing” one’s dreams seems absurd, distasteful, offensive even; the word smacks of white boards, business suits, and corporate cubicles.
But dreamers who don’t want to manage their dream don’t take their dream seriously. Their dream isn’t navigational, a star thrown into the night to steer by, but infantile, a pacifier to suck themselves to sleep.
Serious dreamers follow three basic rules of dream management.
Rule #1: Don’t Dream a Stupid Dream
Some people are truly Olympic-level dreamers. They have the extraordinary power of imagining that they can be anything. But the idea that we can be anything is absurd; dreams that ignore reality are stupid.
My brother was a great football player as a kid, the star quarterback of our Pop Warner team. But he only grew to be 5' 10" tall, too small to play even high school football. After beginning his career — even at 30 years old! — he could say to himself, in all seriousness: “Maybe I’ll try out for the NFL!”
So the first rule — don’t dream a stupid dream — requires a dose of self criticism, a fair evaluation of one’s talents, limits, and resources. One has to see oneself through the sights of a high-powered rifle and ask: what am I really capable of?
It’s a tricky question, requiring one to strike a balance between the ruthless objectivity of an auditor, who counts only what’s already in the bank, and the mystic insight of a fortune teller who sees the possibilities hidden in the present. One must measure the distance of the dream against the energy of the dreamer; one must count the intellectual, artistic, or physical demands of the dream against the dreamer’s powers.
It’s a fine calculation.
Rule #2 Don’t Neglect the Foundation or the Tower of Your Castle in the Air
Many people whose dreams have not come true are unhappy.
Half of them are angry at the romantic morons who encouraged them to pursue a dream which foundered on the rocks of reality. The other half are resentful at the cynical realists who urged them to abandon their dream without ever giving it a shot.
The bankrupt entrepreneur kicks himself for having risked his 401K on a business dream that failed. The English teacher who always wanted to be an actress resents the mother who convinced her to go into teaching. These dissatisfied dreamers are two sides of the same coin.
“If you have built castles in the air,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Thoreau’s words apply both to the poets, who have spent most of their lives only building airy towers, and to the pragmatists, who are too preoccupied with foundations to consider tower design. The poets quail before the work of turning a dream into reality. The pragmatists are caught like a deer in headlights, blinded by the truth that we don’t live on bread alone.
I used to think they were so different: poetry and prudence, the pragmatists and the dreamers, air and stone.
But they’re not.
You can build from the bottom up, trying to lift the stubborn world to the height of your dreams; or you can go top down, pressing your cloudy vision into the weight of the stony real. In the end, they’re just two paths to one Escher-like castle where the towers are foundations and the foundations towers.
Rule #3: Don’t Mistake the Myth for Reality
Every dream comes wrapped in a package of myth. Think of the artist starving in his garret studio creating masterpieces that will sell for millions of dollars, or the computer programmer revved up on Red Bull and pizza launching a billion dollar company from his parents’ garage.
The myth surrounds the dream with a romantic aura that seduces and inspires us, and for that reason alone it deserves our gratitude.
But we would be fools to believe it.
In the end, the myth is the dream’s dress, its accouterments, the paraphernalia or regalia of the dream — not its heart, not its substance.
Two of my best friends are big dreamers.
One always dreamed of being a novelist. He has written five novels. Not one has yet been published, but he continues honing his craft, quietly gathering publications in small literary journals.
The other friend, one of thirteen children, always dreamed of inheriting his father’s farm. To the surprise of his siblings, he did. But he has little real interest in farming, and the gargantuan task of tending the property now hangs like a millstone around his neck.
The dream of the unpublished novelist appears to have never come true, yet he has won the heart of his dream; the dream of the family farmer appears to have come true, yet the heart of the dream escapes him.
Managing Little Dreams with the Big Dream
Choosing a smart dream, tending to both its foundation and its tower, and seeing past the myths that make it glow are only the start. A dream must be managed on a daily basis, tended to during what little time we can carve out of our busy days.
After all, it’s easy to fantasize about becoming an editor for a prestigious magazine, writing a successful novel, or acting in a Broadway play; it’s another thing to do it, especially when you have to pay bills, work out, find love, have fun, and do laundry at the same time.
In other words, many of us have one Big Dream, but to make the Big Dream come true, we often have to sacrifice a lot of little dreams. And many of us are not willing to do that, for despite what the Dream Sellers say, we all know dreamers who gave up friendship, health, and family and still never lived their Dream.
So, many of us whittle the Big Dream down to a manageable size. And that’s fine. That too is part of managing the dream.