It’s been over thirty years since Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel traveled the country conducting interviews for his book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. In it is an insightful quote from Nora Watson who says, “I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit.”
The same can be said of dreams. So many of my clients have jobs that are too small for their dreams. Take Jerry, a 50-year-old airline employee who writes to tell me he “dreads going to work.” His real life’s pleasure, he says, is carpentry. “Whether it’s building a house, cabinets or whatever, I get lost in the project. I can sit for hours and watch [the popular PBS television show] This Old House.”
So what’s stopping him? Jerry explained the problem this way: “So many people are trapped in jobs they only tolerate. I guess the fear of failure is our biggest problem. I know it is mine.” I could practically hear the sigh on the other end of the modem as Jerry signed off with a wistful, “Wish I could get the courage to make the change.”
My advice to Jerry was this:
1) Get Perspective
As career challenges go, Jerry needed to know that he was actually pretty lucky. Most people don’t have a clue as to their true calling. “Yet here you are,” I wrote, “letting something as natural – and manageable – as fear stand between you and vocational heaven.”
If this wasn’t enough to shift Jerry’s thinking, I reminded him of what he should really be afraid of: the prospect of spending the next 15 years doing something he dreads.
2) Get Beyond the Obvious
Sure, Jerry could always become a carpenter. Or, he could think outside the box by experimenting with some creative ways to dabble in his passion.
For example, he might start out by teaching a carpentry class through an adult learning center or writing a how-to column for the local newspaper. Neither of these ideas would require Jerry to quit his airline job. At least not right away. Both, though, have the potential of jumpstarting some creative thinking about all the different ways there are to satisfy a calling.
3) Stop Wishing and Start Dreaming
Before Jerry could make any kind of change, he’d first have to get to the heart of his problem – the clue to which lay in his own parting words. “The real reason you’re stuck,” I said, “isn’t fear. It’s that you have been wishing when you should be dreaming.” What’s the difference?
Wishing is passive. We wish for things over which we are powerless. We wish we’d win the lottery. We wish we were taller or thinner. We wish the waiter would hurry up. Many wishes are tinged with regrets about past decisions. We wish we’d ordered the fish instead of the chicken. That we’d taken the other job. That we hadn’t let the love of our lives get away.
Dreaming, though, is different. A dream is active. It’s positive. And it speaks to the future. But that’s not all. Unlike “wishful thinking” – which has everything to do with hopelessness and the supposed impracticality of achieving a goal – “dreamful thinking” speaks to exciting prospect of a goal realized. Dreamful thinking invites possibilities into our life.
Still not convinced? Close your eyes and imagine the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he thunders the words, “I have a wish!” Not exactly inspiring is it? That’s because unlike a wish, you can see a dream. And as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement reminds us, when others share a common vision of a dream, the motivation it inspires is contagious.
If Jerry really wanted to pursue his love of carpentry, he’d have to first stop wishing and start dreaming. “Fear is natural,” I told him, “it goes with the change territory. That’s why you need to fortify yourself. Let your dream of doing what you love be the “soul fuel” that propels you to act despite your fears. Once you take those first bold steps on behalf of your dream, the courage will come.”
4) Think Big
There are dreams and then there are Big Dreams. I closed by tossing out a Big Dream idea. Why didn’t he approach his local television station about producing a weekly home improvement spot? To satisfy that ever-important local angle, offer to feature improvements made to local viewers’ homes.
I even jokingly suggested Jerry turn his age to his advantage by calling the segment This ‘Old’ Carpenter. “Hey, if you’re going to think big,” I told him, “then think big. Who knows, you may eventually land a spot as the featured carpentry expert on the Today Show!”
Reach for the Stars
Apparently, something I said worked. A week later Jerry wrote to say he was totally pumped about the prospect being an on-air carpentry guru. He’d even set up a potential collaboration between himself and an old friend with a passion for video production. (I told you dreams were contagious!)
This time Jerry closed on an upbeat note: “I’m ready to start following my dreams,” adding, “I sure want to go out of this world doing something I truly enjoy!”
So, what’s your Big Dream? Maybe all you really know for sure is that you’re ready for a change. That’s a start. Now you need to take the goal, “make a change,” and bump it up a few notches by dreaming big!
- If you have multiple interests, picture being able to earn a living enjoying them all.
- If you like the idea of working at home, imagine doing it on an island or maybe working only nine months a year.
- If you’re just making ends meet in an unfulfilling job, imagine doing something you love and doubling your income at the same time.
You may not get everything you want, but two things are certain:
1) It takes not one ounce of energy more to dream big than it does to settle, and you’ve got a lot more to gain by shooting high than by shooting low.
2) Carl Sandburg once said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” So reach for the stars and catch hold of a Big Dream. Then, one day at a time, honor your dream with action.