I recently failed at my attempt to have an important and reasonably intense conversation with my six-year old son, for whom deeply focusing on ice cream, cookies and video games is apparently far easier and more satisfying than the confusing concepts I tried to get him to understand. In the spirit of the day, I wanted to talk about his dreams. Not just the ones he has when he sleeps and not just the run of the mill what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up-dreams, but the big dreams. The can-you-imagine-your-possibilities-dreams. I’m always blown away by the things he says (or by what most kids say for that matter) and was looking forward to having him rock my world. On this day, however, a big conversation with dad wasn’t meant to be. I let him off the hook by accepting his standard answer of “I want to be a Tae Kwon Do Sensei and a rock star.” (That said I do keep encouraging him to name his band Sensei. His band mates could all wear gi and have black belts. His first album could be called “Rock and Roll Dojo!” “Dude, it would kick ass,” I tell him. He responds, “That’s a bad word, Daddy.” Right. Talk to the hand.)
I was having this conversation with my son (or tried to) because I was coming off a discouraging day and talking about his dreams always picks me up. I love hearing about his thoughts and aspirations. It’s exciting to listen to him, eyes wide opened, arms flailing wildly, as he tells me about his future plans with so much expression and life on his face. Unbridled hope with hardly any life experiences to dash it. Anything is possible in a six-year old’s world. It’s not that I’m living vicariously through his dreams, but I am admittedly trying to channel some of that not-yet-lost innocence.
I was coming off a meeting with a potential client that didn’t go particularly well. The work was exciting. The capabilities and experiences lined up perfectly. But, the personalities simply weren’t a good fit. I didn’t think we’d be able to work together effectively. It was tremendously disappointing, as I had high hopes.
On its own, that meeting wouldn’t have meant much. Unfortunately, it immediately followed a series of conference calls that left me equally off balance. And those calls were preceded by weeks of frustration. What was happening? I felt like I wasn’t even speaking English. I was in a slump. I wasn’t connecting. If I were a Major League Baseball player, I’d have one hit in my last 50 at bats. It felt that bad. I was questioning everything. I felt like dreams were slipping through my fingers.
The result of this slump left me deflated and feeling a little sorry for myself. I was jealous of those who weren’t experiencing the same challenges I was. Worse still, I was starting to feel envious of my friends who were getting promotions, starting new projects and experiencing success. Happy Facebook posts were aggravating. LinkedIn updates made me insane. I was having Twitter rage and on the verge of hosting a major party, with my old friends judgment, doubt, self-consciousness and fear all too willing to attend. And the problem with those guys is that they always seem to overstay their welcome. And none of them have your best interests at heart. They eat all of your food, empty your liquor cabinet and leave you a mess.
It’s been almost 49 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. It was timely, I needed to get fired up, so I watched it. While I wouldn’t dare compare Dr. King’s dreams to my own, or those of my friends, all dreams should be honored. Whether these dreams are as simple as wanting to live in New York, or as grand as wanting to raise millions of dollars for philanthropy, they are all important. They are important to both the dreamer and those impacted by the dream – directly or indirectly, immediately or otherwise. And they’re uplifting. All of them. It’s impossible for me not to feel inspired by anybody talking about their dreams.
So, instead of having that pity party, I surrounded myself in dreams. I went to see a friend’s band play. I make no secret about my love for live music and the spiritual lift I get watching musicians perform. Seeing a friend on stage, however, is altogether different. Better. Watching him laughing, smiling and continuing to feed his musical dreams was more inspirational than I could imagine.
I also had lunch with another friend who is about to embark on an exciting life journey. After more than a decade as an executive working on one of the biggest brands in the history of pop culture, she is ready to give flight to her dreams. Is she scared? Of course she is, but she also knows that she’s even more scared of the prospect of staying exactly where she was for another 10 years. The fear that comes from taking action is like “healthy fat.” It’s the fear that keeps you from reaching your potential that is the bad fat. And just like bad fat, it kills you by stopping your heart.
And to top it all off, my mom found an old, old address book of mine. In addition to having my final transcript from UC Davis (turns out I didn’t do so well!), it contained the names of some long, lost friends. I flipped through the pages and found two in particular, immediately turned to Facebook and LinkedIn and sent out messages. I received a response from one almost immediately. He told me that after 14 years at his last company, he moved to New York to “pursue his next dream.”
I Iove to see my friends succeed and dream. It’s taken me a long time to learn to be a cheerleader and not be spiteful of other’s successes. It’s why, after the series of disappointments, the feelings I was having were so particularly discouraging. That’s not me. My friends work their asses off for what they’ve achieved. They’ve earned it and I’m happy for them. I’m not jealous of them. I’m grateful that they include me in their successes. In their dreams. Watching my friend pound away on the keyboards shined a big bright spotlight on this. What was even better was watching the joy his music brought to all the other people in the bar.
All of this reminded me that it’s oftentimes easy to lose track of what success really means (to me). It’s not about fat new contracts, money or those easily identifiable physical trappings (cars, house, toys, etc.). I have some of those things and I still ended up trying to siphon some inspiration from a six-year old. Instead, I think success is really about who we are. And living our lives in a way we can be proud. A life filled with hope, gratitude, authenticity, friends, love and passion.
For me, living successfully…is a dream.