The Difference Between Dreaming and Starting

I spent last year focused on one word: DREAM. It had been years since I’d given myself permission to pursue my passion.

Engine Start Picture
Photo credit: Norlando Pobre (Creative Commons)

As a result, I saw a lot of fruit, including the opportunity to publish a book (something I’ve wanted to do my whole life).

But this year, I’m focusing on another word: START. I only have so much time, and I want to spend it where it counts — on doing, not thinking about doing. Not dreaming. Starting.

Dreaming is waiting

The first girl I ever asked out was a cheerleader named Katie. It took me months to work up the gall. Finally, one night after school, I walked up to her and did it.

I had envisioned the conversation for months, practiced it for weeks. But when it finally happened, it was a completely different ballgame.

As it turns out, starting isn’t the same as dreaming. The two are quite different. Although the latter may lead to the former, dreaming can be overrated.

Why waste your time waiting? Do something better and far more productive. Start.

When I finally asked a girl out — something I had never done before — I felt a release. A euphoric high. A sense of empowerment. I liked it. I still get that same feeling every time I do something for the first time.

After she said yes, Katie walked away. Then, she turned around and said with a smile: “IT’S ABOUT TIME.” I’ve been hearing that phrase ringing in my ears ever since I started writing again.

What held me back for so long? In a word, fear. Maybe the same thing is preventing you from realizing your dream. If so, here’s an important lesson: the fear never goes away. Whether you start or not, it’s always there. Might as well have something to show for it.

It’s about time you began working on your dream.

Choosing to start is scary

All decisions are, actually.

The word “decide” shares the same Latin root with incise, meaning “to cut.” Which is appropriate, because deciding is the art of cutting off all other possibilities.

If we are going to start, we will need to decide.

This is a struggle for some of us, especially creatives. Creativity is the ability to see the theoretical, to imagine endless possibilities. But our creativity can cripple our ability to choose. It can paralyze us with fear or hesitation, causing us to delay the inevitable.

So, you’ve got dreams. Who cares? The world doesn’t need your dreams; it needs your action. It needs your life to matter. So do you.

How do you begin? Start.

This is not a dress rehearsal

This is life. The real deal. The main event. And there is no practice. Every day, you are participating, or not.

You were made to create something — to build a family, write a song, found an organization.

You weren’t born to simply follow orders. You were created to be creative — whether you’re an artist, plumber, or saleswoman. The legacy you leave hinges on your decision to start. To create something worth noticing.

If you wait, you fail. Every time you hesitate is a moment lost to the Resistance. Don’t stall; start.

I’m currently working on something having to do with how we make (or rather, don’t make) decisions. Here’s a line that applies:

If there is such a thing as ghosts, they are undoubtedly the spirits of decisions never made.

You only get one life. Don’t regret how you live it. Start something today — even if it means starting over.

(One final note: Starting includes finishing. You don’t really start until you decide to follow through. Otherwise, you’re just dreaming.)

What’s something you need to start this year? Share in the comments.

128 thoughts on “The Difference Between Dreaming and Starting

  1. Very well written, and very true. I often find myself sitting back in my chair, looking at the screen and thinking about what my work will be like when completed instead of actually putting effort into it. Thank you for this reminder that time wasted is time lost. 

      1. Yeah, I’m declaring the same. But I gotta base it on that premise. If I think I’ve got multiple chances to turn in my assignment I’m probably opting to play Call of Duty 15 hours a day!

        And if I come back better than before … Bonus!!!  😉

  2. I had a chance to read Michael’s ebook before it was released and it will be a good read for anyone wanting to start over.  I am glad you recommended it.  Michael is a good man and is practicing what he is writing.  

  3. To me, it’s all about the fear of failure. You didn’t stall on asking that girl out because the process was painful – it was the fear of rejection. Addressing that fear is, I believe, the most important step to really starting.
    For me, I have to constantly remind myself of my acceptance in Christ and how that allows me to selflessly throw myself into my work.

    1. yes, you’re right, Loren. I was afraid of being rejected. but I also had never done it before. after I did it, I was less afraid of rejection. and i asked out girls after that — some of whom rejected me. whenever it was over, it was always less painful than I thought it would be.

  4. This is very true. Dreaming is exhilarating. I love it! But once you dream, you need to set out an action plan. I’ve subscribed to a method used by Tony Robbins called OPA. Outcome. Purpose. Actions. Whether it’s a business idea, book idea, or project, I list out my detailed outcome, 7-10 reasons why I am doing it, and then list out every action step I can think of. Then I prioritise those actions. 

    After that process I have a purpose laid out that’s driving me, a clear vision, and immediate actionable tasks to move it forward. I wrote an article called How To Clarify Your Idea – From Vague To Focused and Actionable –  It might be helpful for people struggling with this to go through.

    Thanks again for another great article.


  5. The difference between dreaming and starting is more than merely “kicking it into gear.” I think it also includes overcoming a lot of fear. When you start you welcome the fear of failure, the fear of criticism, the fear of being locked-in, the fear of weaknesses being revealed, and even the fear of succeeding and being expected to do it again. Perhaps that is why so few people are starters and even fewer are finishers. Thanks for the mental challenge this morning!

  6. We were created with a purpose to fulfill.  You’re right: beginning to live the purpose is critical.  So is persevering.  But we won’t have to press on, if we never press ‘start. This year, I’m pressing into God to press on with what He’s already begun.

  7. What’s something I need to start this year?  The beautiful thing is that even if I tried to come up with an answer to that, I am sure I will end up running in a completely different direction.

     In 2010 I *planned*  to get a promotion with my company and ended up quitting that job, selling most everything I owned, and booking a one-way flight to China.  
    Once in China, I *planned* to write a novel–what else would I do when I didn’t speak the language and was living alone in a city of 9 million people?  Instead, I ended up writing something entirely different, telling a story I had spent the last 11 years *planning* to keep a secret.And 2011?  I don’t even remember what I was *planning* on doing, but I ended up with a job at a Psychiatric Hospital, which is the most enlightening, terrifying, and uplifting job I’ve ever had.So what do I plan to start this year?  Um… How about washing my face before I go to bed?  Likely, that will never happen, but I look forward to whatever else might.  

    1. hmmm I thought I was uploading a photo as my avatar… that’s a little mortifying to have floating down beneath my comment… 

  8. There are some girls you probably never would have been afraid to ask out, like Becky. Asking Becky out may have been easy. A guaranteed yes. The fear of asking Katie let you know that you were on the right track. Thanks for the encouragement to get started.

  9. Inspired and inspiring. Another benefit to ‘starting’ is that your starting encourages others to start as well. There are thousands of dreams out there that may come to be simply because one person ‘starts’ and others are inspired to do the same. Who knows where it could lead? Great post!

  10. Inspirational post…and so was Michael Perkins e-book. What’s something you need to start this year? I need to start living what I believe. That’s a tall order, but something I need to stop avoiding.

  11. This is outstanding. Am I the only one who smiled a little bit when she turned around and said, “It’s about time.”? 🙂

    I’m off to download “Starting Over” and share this article with my friends.


  12. This got me Jeff: “… because deciding is the art of cutting off all other possibilities. If we are going to start, we will need to decide.”
    Therein lies the rub. I like the way you framed that: “… the art of….” The ability to do this well, or do it at all, while being unaffected by the doors slamming shut behind you as you opt for, no, choose to follow a specific direction takes courage that I often lack. 

    And as I get older it seems that I struggle with choice even more. Time’s always limited. No one knows how long we each have here, of course. But as the time on the back-end becomes shorter than on the front, decisions that cut off other possibilities, and slam shut the doors that remain, carry more weight. Fighting the paralysis that accompanies that weight, that fear, takes increasing awareness, energy, acceptance, surrender and trust.

    1. it seems that stalling and knowledge sometimes go hand in hand. the more we know, the more reasons we have to wait. of course, knowledge isn’t the same as wisdom.

        1. the smarter you are, the more opportunities to stall. in other words, more information isn’t always better. we need wisdom, not just more knowledge.

  13.  The legacy you leave hinges on your decision to start. To create something worth noticing.
    That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?  Keith Jennings asked me the other day why do I write and am I writing for my son and his son and his son…I want to do something that impacts generations.

    And by the way…Thank you the link and shout out.  Really appreciate it.

  14. Excellent post, Jeff. The beginning of every year is big on dreaming, and perhaps even a little bit on starting. But it greatly lacks in finishing.

    I started something recently and I realized that there’s a huge amount of resistance right before making something public. That’s the moment you open yourself to criticism or lack of interest. That can be a tough part to get through.

    But you have to push through it, you have to start, you have to make a decision, live without regret, and make something happen.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jeff. A great read.

  15. What do I need to start this year?  I already started it by launching my website.  Now I need to continue to do the work cause the work doesn’t stop just because the site has been launched.  I like this part, “The world doesn’t need your dreams; it needs your action. It needs your life to matter. So do you.”.

    So true Jeff!

  16. Hey Jeff, just wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog lately. (Not a comparison—I didn’t read it until recently.) Keep up the good work! Thanks!

  17. As I ponder my “one word” for 2012, I feel like I’m on the same page as you, wanting to start/finish/DO a lot of different/big/effort-requiring things. Great post on shifting our dreams into action.

  18. Jeff,
    Starting is great, but you need to commit to that start.  In other words once you start commit enough time and energy to make your start meaningful.  Starting to start is not enough.  Do your best to finish or at least find out why you shouldn’t.

  19. Once again, a fantastic post Jeff! I’m in the same boat–I have NO idea why I waited so long to take the plunge into my writing. I feel like a completely different (and whole) person. If you let your passion for writing overpower your fears, there’s no telling where it will lead.

  20. I hear ya Jeff…I always thought of dreaming as “liking the idea of something.”  Sure, I like the idea of being a writer, but will I do the work to make that happen?  

    1. Adam – Instead of thinking of dreaming as “liking the idea of something”, I think of dreaming as imagining an idea of something, and not in the intransitive verb sense of the word.  Which meaning do you like better, and which is more to the point?

      1. I’m back.  I’ve been thinking about the difference between dreaming and imagining.  A dream doesn’t really latch onto anything concrete.  It’s more like floating in the air and looking at different things.  Looking…But imagining is not about floating; It’s as if the architect is standing still, looking at the prepared plans, or a model of a building, thinking…will these plans come together to make a building that will stand and serve its purpose?  So imagination means you’re almost there.  The plans are finished.  Now it’s time that the work began.  It’s time to start.

  21. Great post Jeff! I really enjoyed your take and depth on your one word for the year. I had the same intentions when I chose Move last year (and many others). This year I’m focused on Celebrate. Looking forward to reading more of your writing and seeing where your word takes you. 

  22. Many of us are stopped by looking at the mountain ahead instead of concentrating on the single step in front of us.  Starting includes ignoring the big goals and focusing on the immediate things we can do to advance a baby step from where we are.  Thanks for the insights!

  23. “Intentional” is my word of the season. “Start” and “Ship” are also driving me. I read this post today about 3:30 pm and followed through on a number of things…thank you Jeff.

  24. GREAT words, Jeff. If only we all lived like that, what a place the world would be. No more dress-rehearsals for me 🙂

  25. I love that story about you and Katie. I’m no romantic, but “It’s about time” got me a little 😉

    I know Andrew Caldwell linked you to my Starting Manifesto, but if you’d rather get straight to the core (and I wouldn’t blame you) the majority of the manifesto is based around the questions on the fourth page of this PDF by Paul Myers

    I wrote up my answers almost a year ago. Although not all of them have been realised just yet, a lot have, and of the ones that haven’t I’m a hell of a lot closer towards achieving them.


  26. I’m new to your blog Jeff and have signed up for your free writing course. This post is awesome, I especially relate to; “But our creativity can cripple our ability to choose. It can paralyze us with fear or hesitation, causing us to delay the inevitable.” This is soooo true, and I never thought of it before today. Thanks!

  27. Lovely post, Jeff.

    My word for 2012 – actually two words — are “at last.” After 9 years of taking care of a husband with Alzheimer’s, who died early in 2011, I’m going to spend the month of March in San Miguel de Allende – to find out if I like it enough to move there. 

    Of course, I’ll continue my writing blog, since I love doing it.

  28. Starts can seem so “anti-dream” oriented. As if, starting totally slashes any chance of attaining a dream, because you “dreamed” it to be so much better. Dreaming is great. But, as you said, it gets you nowhere. At. All. It’s the “…” of life. It implies, but never actuates. Starting is almost always like culture shock: you go for a while, then you reach some mountain peak high, only to tumble down to some ever dark abyss of a low, and then you level out… and suddenly you are living in a new world totally different than where you were before or where you dreamed you would be. A place where the two connect. 

    Great post. Always food for thought. Thanks. 

  29. This reminds me of Michael Hyatt’s video link that he shared in December about trying vs. doing. “I tried but…” I even dusted that thought off today when talking to a young man, a good friend of my son. He said, “I’m trying to [insert thought].” I replied, “Forget trying. You either do or don’t do.”

    Good word, Jeff.

  30. Thanks Jeff! 

    Awesome thoughts. 

    “Dreaming” can actually become an excuse for a lazy creative 🙂 

    Yet to actually matter, be useful and do the world (and ourselves) a little good, we must DO.

    My one sure thing for the year when it comes to writing – write at least three ebooks, including a “manifesto”.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  31. I’ve been dreaming for the past couple of years, and I’ve just decided to start actually doing something with my life sometime late last year. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m writing. Getting back to what I loved back when I was a kid.

  32. Your first girl (even a cheerleader) asking out and she said yes. Some guys have all the luck! 🙂

    It’s indeed scary to start if you do not know the outcome. Took me lots of time to give my blog the attention it needs (posting regulary and creating decent content). Now that I have started to do so I feel liberated, I can do this! 

    The fear stays, will I be able to keep this up? By each start of writing a post the smile comes back on my face, I can do this.

    With other words, dreaming makes you stand stationary, having to look at the same scenery over and over again. Starting and believing in oneself makes that atleast you get to discover different places. 

  33. Jeff,  thanks. I have spent time trying to decide which book needs to be published and when and a bunch of other “welcome distractions”. I will publish by month’s end. Period. Thanks.

  34. This read is what I needed!  I have read a lot about dreams…even starting them.  But there is a part about being real and saying “You know what…this deciding thing sucks…why can’t I have 9 lives!”  But the truth is one life and I am trying to shake and bake in that…but running into 2012 seeing yet again opportunity and options!  Need to cut to start.  That hurts!  help me Jesus!  Thanks Jeff
    Tara Stephenson

  35. Your post really resonated with me. I feel like you and I have a connection. My word last year was “believe” and this year I picked “move”. Will be checking in with you to see where your journey takes you.

  36. Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream 
    Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream  
    i can make you mine, taste your lips of wine 
    Anytime night or day 
    Only trouble is, gee whiz 
    I’m dreamin’ my life away
    Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself from singing that. 

    Thanks for writing such an interesting topics, Jeff. A good reminder for myself  to start putting those dreams into real before the images start to get blurry and fading off – not to waste any more times. 

  37. Thanks Jeff
    I have startedworking on my dream. I know it’s a matter of time before I get to where I want to be.
    I’m encouraged.

  38. Recently I was REALLY low on cash and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills!! I’m so glad, I did this!! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – 9qhh

  39. I need to start blogging regularly,instead of sporatically. Perhaps writing little outlines might be the jolt to promote energy into my writing arm.

  40. I need to start writing my book. This is the year. I’ve been stalling… thinking that I don’t know where to begin but I know I do. Love this article.

  41. There is the essential note of existentialism swirling through this post. I like that very much. The post is interesting and inspiring as well. Jean Paule Sartre and other existentialist authors insisted on alarming everyone on the importance of doing something, no matter the greatness of the deed, and doing it now. Hope more and more people will follow.

  42. I started my book a year ago, got a lot done, but now I feel trapped in the world of freelance writing. I’m just trying to pay the bills with assignments for clients; most are nice but the difficult ones have me wasting my time with the hair pulling. It seems like I’m spending a lot of time begging for low-paying jobs and attention but all I really want is to write what I want to write.

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