For a few weeks now, we’ve been talking on the blog about the value of big dreams. Big dreams are amazing. They fill you with energy. They give you purpose. Big dreams point you in the direction you want your life to go.
But dreams alone are not enough.
You can have dreams and ambitions to spare and still find yourself struggling to make them come true. Or worse, you may find that you have tried to bring a dream to life, only to see it die on the vine.
There are many reasons why dreams don’t always come true, but today I’m going to write about four major pitfalls that can kill big dreams. If you recognize any of these four tendencies in yourself, then you have a much greater chance of keeping the dream alive.
1. Never starting
Imagine you have plans drawn up to construct a beautiful mansion. A good, solid foundation has been laid, but you never build the house. The plans just don’t seem good enough to you. There’s always more that you want to include–more ideas, more features, a better design.
Years pass. Still nothing. The foundation, once strong and secure, is now starting to crack and weather. And soon, there is nothing left upon which to build…even if you were ever ready to finally begin.
Your big dreams are not the destination. They are the starting point, the roadmap. Your dreams are the foundation for something bigger–a life that can only be built by you. But until you start to build upon that foundation, your dreams are nothing more than potential greatness waiting to happen.
Do you get paralyzed and never begin? Many of us fall into the Perfectionist’s Trap, and spend too long revising and “improving” our plans without ever starting them.
It’s also tempting to allow our worst fears to play out in our heads–fear of criticism, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of picking the wrong thing. If our big dreams always stay locked in our heads, then we never have to be afraid of someone else finding fault in it.
But those dreams can only become real when we start living into them, albeit imperfectly.
Imagine the same mansion from the first example. But this time, you build the house before laying the foundation or even drawing up proper plans.
How well could that house weather a strong storm? Could it endure and stand the test of time?
Are you the kind of person that springs into action before making proper plans? For some of us, the excitement and energy of a big dream can make us impatient.
Others are simply not content with the rough, incomplete stages in the middle of a big project–they want to jump right to the perfect end-state that exists in their minds. They suffer from the same Perfectionist’s Trap, but instead of being paralyzed, they have leaped too soon and unwisely.
When I was a kid, I played a game called Oregon Trail. In that game, 19th century pioneers dream of a new life and set out across North America for the West. Can you imagine playing that game, enduring hardship, braving the wilderness, risking disease and death…only to lose heart and settle in Nebraska?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Nebraska, but you have to admit that if your dream was to reach the Oregon Territory, you’ve stopped a bit short of the goal!
And we often do the same with our dreams, setting out towards a destination and then stopping well before we reach it. For some, the risks are too great. They settle with something slightly better than where they started, for fear of losing everything if they press their luck any further.
Others simply feel that they don’t deserve better than what they’ve settled on. Or they don’t realize just how much better their lives can be if they continue pursuing that big dream.
Just like a trail blazed by pioneers, the journey towards living your dreams is going to be filled with roadblocks, setbacks and failures. You will hear some form of the word “no” about a million times. To reach your ultimate destination, you have to see each “no” as a “not yet”, a temporary obstacle to overcome or work around. If every “no” feels like a “never” to you, it can ultimately wear you down and make the risks of continuing on seem too great.
And there are few things sadder than a journey half-completed.
When I was a child, I was good at a lot of things–I suspect you were too.
And I was interested in so much: student council, sports, academics, artistic pursuits, community service, singing, writing–the list goes on.
It felt like the whole world was laid out before me, like anything was possible. And it was.
Anything was possible–just not everything.
Reaching a really big dream requires focus to hone a good skill into a great one. It requires saying no to many things in order to work towards the One Thing that will help bring that dream into being. It requires setting aside the many things you are good at doing, and investing in One Thing that you could be potentially great at doing.
It can be really scary to go all-in on one thing, even if it is your dream. Sometimes we over-commit because we feel like we need an insurance plan. We’re afraid of failing at the thing we love, so we create a backup plan…and then we worry about failing at that, so we commit to a second or third backup plan.
What if you could set aside everything else for a season, so you could focus on that One Thing that could help you reach your biggest dream for yourself? What if you knew that all those other interests and gifts would be waiting for you to take them up after that season had passed?
Awareness is the key to avoid falling into a pit
Awareness is only the first step in steering clear each of these pitfalls, so that you can avoid sending your dream to an early demise. In future posts, we’ll talk about ways to develop smart skills and grow into your dreams.
Until then, I have a question for you:
Which of these four pitfalls do you struggle with?
Send me an email (see our contacts page for details) and tell me your story. I’d love to read what you have to share.