One Way to Be Sure Your Dream Is Too Small

Dreams are personal. They come to us suddenly, as if from nowhere, and because of this, we keep them close — too close.

After a while, we begin to feel like the dream is ours.

And this is our first mistake.

Dreamer
Photo Credit: i k o via Compfight cc

We forget where the dream came from, or that it came to us at all, and it begins to feel more like a good idea than a dream, a really good idea we came up with all on our own.

How I started having an affair… with my dream

When your spouse asks you to come to bed or a colleague asks you how that book is coming and all you hear is “I hate your dream,” you’re in trouble.

This happened to me while I was chasing my dream of becoming a writer while holding down a full-time job and trying to manage the rest of life’s responsibilities.

I got up early, stayed up late, and spent a lot of quality time with my dream.

I began to get attached.

After we had seem some successes and failures together, my dream and I got close. Too close. We were constant companions; nothing could separate us. And whenever anyone came between us, I would get defensive, even angry:

“What do you mean, ‘How’s my book going?’ I told you before: I’m not spending work time on it.”

“Why do you keep pestering me to come to bed? Can’t you see I’m working? Don’t you want me to succeed?”

It got ugly.

Or rather, I got ugly.

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon an important epiphany, quite by accident, that I realized a dream isn’t really about you.

You are a caretaker of a dream, but it belongs to us all. It’s a gift you give the world; your job is to simply bring it into existence.

When you know your dream is too small

Here’s the deal: If your dream doesn’t have room for other people, it’s too small. If it ends up being all about you, it’s not a dream at all; it’s a distraction. And we don’t need any more of those, thank you very much.

 
What we need is more generous people doing work that matters, that makes the world a better place. And taking action with our dreams is how we begin that process, as long as we realize those dreams aren’t complete until they make room for other people.

When I started an online course to teach writers and bloggers, I thought the purpose was to help people and make a little money so my wife could stay home to raise our son.

But when one class of students helped raise enough money to build an entrepreneur center in Africa and provide electricity for an entire village for a year, I knew it was bigger than me, bigger than all of us.

I’m still learning this

When I meet people who tell me my eBook or talk I gave at a conference helped them own their identity as a writer, entrepreneur, or artist, I realize my words aren’t just for my own benefit.

Our dreams are gifts we need to share.

When someone tells me about a single line in a book or blog post I wrote that changed their life and what they’ve done about it, I’m amazed. This thing that I started, this dream that felt so close to me, hasn’t really been about me at all.

Sure, I needed to step up and share my message. But even those words, “my message,” feel a little disingenuous.

If a dream is about other people, then the dreamer’s job isn’t to dream, but to lead. It’s to call people together and say, “Hey, let’s talk about this,” or, “Hey this is broken — let’s fix it.”

Give your dream away

I’ve learned that if you have a dream, the best thing you can do is learn to give it away.

To not make your biggest supporters your worst enemies, invite people to join you, and build a team that’s committed to the vision.

Maybe that’s easier said than done, but it’s still important to try. Otherwise — and I’m convinced of this — our dream will never have the impact it was meant to have.

Not if we keep it to ourselves and never share, not if we don’t realize it was never about us in the first place.

Speaking of dreams and community, we just celebrated our one-year anniversary at Tribe Writers. I asked some students to share lessons they learned from the experience here.

Is your dream too small? How do you know? Share in the comments.