I have been asking myself this question a lot in the past two years. It started, because I wasn’t having much fun at work. In fact, I was having a lousy time. My workday seemed like an endless parade of requests I could never fulfill and meetings with staff and customers who were angry at me. My nights were no better. I couldn’t sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, problems from the day would start running through my head. Then, before I knew it, the alarm would go off. I would “wake-up” seemingly more tired than when I lay down. I would drag my body out of bed, and start all over again.
Time off didn’t help either. In order to be away from the office, I needed to start preparing days in advance. Then, once I returned I’d have to work longer hours just to catch up. The net result was that I’d put the same amount of time and effort into my job in fewer days. It wasn’t worth the effort.
Things are significantly better now. What changed? Well, I was able to get some help at work. But more importantly, I took some time to figure out what I could change, in myself. I think that made the most difference.
One of the things that set me on my way was a book by Matthew Kelly and Patrick Lencioni entitled The Dream Manager. This book is a parable about a company drained of life. The employees are disengaged, and turnover is high. They need to do something. The company’s leaders discover that helping people achieve their dreams allows them to turn the company around.
“Dreams drive us!”, says Simon, one of the characters in the book. Another agrees, stating they are what get us out of bed in the morning and encourage us to make something of the day. And, that proved to be true of me, too.
At the end of the book, Matthew and Patrick suggest creating a Dream Book–in essence, a journal where you write down all of your dreams. They suggest putting one dream on each page. Write the dream, describe it in as much detail as you need, and write the date you entered it. Then, regularly page through your dream book and see if there are any steps you can take, today, to move toward any of those dreams–no matter how small those steps might be. Finally, as you achieve those dreams, enter the date you achieved them. As the authors note, this can be a very powerful tool.
I have been keeping a dream book for almost two years now, and the results have been a steady improvement in my life outlook. Things are not perfect, but I have achieved many of my dreams. For example, two years ago, I wrote in my dream book that I wanted to run a 5K race in under 30 minutes. As I wrote that dream, I couldn’t ever remember running that far, and certainly not in less than 30 minutes. However, I needed to be in better shape, and wanted to challenge myself in a public way in the hope it would motivate me to keep at it. Last June (2009), I ran my very first 5K in just under 26 minutes. I cannot tell you how powerful I felt for months afterward. Nothing could stop me! Since that race, I have run several other 5Ks. This summer I ran a 10K. Next year I plan to run a half-marathon!
“So what?”, you might be thinking, “I have no desire to run one mile, let alone 3.1!” The important thing about this isn’t the dream itself. Rather, it is that I have proven, repeatedly, that I have the power to dream something and then steadily move myself toward making it a reality. How liberating! If I can do that, what are my limits? Further, my dream book experiment has enabled me to stop dwelling on the parts of my job I didn’t like and focus on how my work can move me toward my dreams. I firmly believe the same can be true for you.
At this point, I should probably add a word of caution. Very few things in my dream book can be accomplished quickly. Many may never be accomplished. The same will likely be true for you. Dreams are supposed to be a journey. There are likely to be a few steps forward and a few backward. Failure and distraction are always options, and can be discouraging. However, the trick is to emotionally prepare for those setbacks in advance. As long as you are making noticeable progress toward your dreams over time, you are being successful.
The 5K is an excellent example. The first time I ran it just about killed me, and I had only run a half mile. Then, for the next couple of days I was sore. It would have been easy to quit, but I suspected that would happen, and worked through it. Part way through my training, I hurt my knee and had to stop running for a few weeks. I didn’t plan for that, but took things a day at a time. Starting again, was difficult, but with steady work, I was soon back on track. Yesterday, almost eighteen months later, I ran four miles and felt great! The steps from then to now have been gradual, but I celebrate each little bit of progress and that keeps me going. As the saying goes… “Slow and steady wins the race.”
So, back to the question… What do you dream about?
Go buy a journal. Make it as fancy as you think you can afford. Write down as many of your dreams as you can. Then, pick a couple that seem the easiest and start whittling away at them. Before you know it, you will have accomplished them. Then pick another, and another. Before too long, you will be addicted to achieving your dreams!
Post Script: If you would like more information on Matthew Kelly and Patrick Lencioni’s book, you can find it in several different formats at Amazon.com. The book itself is a very quick read and offers several interesting thoughts about how you might be able to help yourself, but also people who work with and for you.