Sometimes, I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. They start to talk about something they care about, something they very much want to do, perhaps need to do. But they can’t. It might be uncertainty or fear that holds them back. It might be they’re stuck in a prison they made themselves.
If only they could see what I see when I’m with them.
A dream deferred
My friend David had a dream. While he worked on technology projects for a group of lawyers in a big corporation, he thought about writing children’s stories. It was more than just a passing whim. He and his young daughter, Lily, would make up characters and adventures as they walked together. He treasured these moments and he wanted to capture them in writing. He described his early attempts this way:
Everyone, it seems, dreams of writing that one classic kids book; the one everybody reads to their children…
The first few lines were written on the train (much like I write these now), a world was forming in front of my eyes and soon it would be a best seller and life would be richer for it. Except, after about half a chapter I stopped…then forgot to get out the laptop one night. The next I had some documents to read for work…enthusiasm was replaced by procrastination.
Soon it was pushed to the back; an idea that seemed like a good one at the time, but probably left to somebody else to make good.
After that, David’s book project sat on his laptop, untouched. Five years went by.
“It’s so much easier to fail.”
If you were David’s friend, you would likely offer him encouragement and maybe some helpful suggestions. Now imagine that you’re David. What would you tell yourself? If you’re like me or like most of the people I coach, you would be much harder on yourself, a lack of progress leading to a spiral of self-criticism.
And yet too many of us wait for something to happen before we decide to shape our future. We wait to be discovered, wait till our work is good enough, or wait for when the time is right. Too often, we resign ourselves to Fate and then, when our our dreams don’t manifest themselves, we think like David that it’s “probably left to somebody else to make good.”
As David described it to me this week, “It’s so much easier to fail.”
The start of something big and wonderful
The start of something big and wonderful is, as it turns out, remarkably similar to the start of something small and unremarkable: a simple first effort. Just contemplating the journey or wishing for it won’t get you there.
Five years after shelving his book project, David joined a working out loud circle. With the help of their encouragement and what they practiced in their meetings, David took a step: he published the beginning of his story as a blog post called Once upon a time…, sharing his work for the first time and seeking to get feedback and build connections.
I feel if I chronicle the journey of writing it, share that with you, the audience, then this outlet might inspire me to this time see it through. I hope it’s fun getting there, and I hope you can join me along the way.
So, as part of this ritual I’ll post some words, perhaps from the book, perhaps from my scribblings I did and now still do for Lily. This week will be the latter, that original open about our friend the Tin Can Man. I hope you enjoy it.
Once upon a time in a tin can shed, Lived a tin can man with a tin can head. A tin can body wearing tin can clothes, With his tin can feet and his tin can toes.
A dream realized
I don’t know what David will do next. I do know it isn't easy for him to find the time to write, that life keeps getting in the way of his desire to persist and improve. When I talk to David and to people like him who have deferred their dreams, their frustrations are visible as they share the dissonance between their hopes and their actions.
I also see their potential and the path towards realizing those dreams. I see that most people already have everything they need to succeed. That the steps to changing your life are actually well understood. That much of it is about developing a network of relationships and a set of habits that change how you think about yourself, your work, and what’s possible.
I see that David already took a step towards something big and wonderful. I hope he sees it too.