Why Are Our Dreams So Small?
I love asking young children what they want to be when they grow up! Regardless of who they are or what they are doing when they hear the question, the response is almost always the same. Their little eyes light up and they smile as they mention something big or wildly creative– president, astronaut, princess, robot builder– the list is alway fascinating. Oftentimes, a few years into the future, when I ask the question again, and the same children are now listing off a much more practical list of jobs. They don’t really mention what they want to be with hope in their eyes, but give a more subdued and rational response. While some of that can be explained by them growing up, I find that this seems to signal something beyond maturing. It seems as though, at some point, we all kind of stop dreaming and decide to only pursue what we think we can achieve. This sounds harmless, in theory, but thinking that way can be toxic and not in our best interest, especially when we grossly underestimate what we are capable of achieving.
When I set out to lose weight, my goal was to lose about 40 pounds. Sitting somewhere around 280 pounds, it’s obvious that this goal wasn’t set because I was 40 pounds from my ideal weight, but for a much different reason. I set my goal at 40 pounds because I didn’t believe I could lose more than that. In fact, I wasn’t even fully convinced I’d ever reach that goal, let alone be 130 pounds thinner and able to keep the weight off for 2 years. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was “one of those people” who could do something like that by myself… until I was.
When our oldest son was born more than 12 weeks premature and had to spend almost 100 days in the NICU, things looked terribly bleak. The doctors’ prognoses were not good. Multiple times, they told us he would not make it through the day. Additionally, they told us IF he did make it out of the hospital alive, his deficits would be so severe that he would not “know the difference between his parents and a wall” (yes, they actually said that!). Time after time, we found ourselves on the receiving end of horrible news with little to no chance of a positive outcome. In spite of this, I remember feeling a strong sense of hope and a fair amount of determination that this would not be his future, that somehow, this boy would be the one to prove everyone wrong and beat the odds. I still believed in him (and for him) when everything I saw and everything I heard pointed to certain failure.
Which leads me to my question… do you find that you have this amazing capacity to believe in those around you and root for them, against all odds, but when it comes to yourself, you’re not as convinced that you can make it? Do you find that your dreams and hopes shrink just a little bit more with the passing of time? Are you finding yourself deciding what you pursue based on what you think you can achieve rather than taking a chance and believing in yourself? Why do we dream so big for those around us and those we love, yet dream so small for ourselves?
I know you’re probably thinking that the examples I mentioned above is kind of a no-brainer, but I will admit that this happens in ways that are much more subtle. Like, when a friend starts a business or gets a scholarship, or a promotion, and you tell her that you had no doubt she would succeed, but you have your own desire to start a business or go back to school, or go after that promotion but you don’t because you don’t think it will work out for you. Our how about when you are single and you see your friend get married and are so happy for her, but you secretly think to yourself that there’s probably no one out there who will love you once they see all of who you really are, so you hide from any opportunity to meet someone or sabotage any possible relationship as as early as possible.
Are you finding yourself deciding what you pursue based on what you think you can achieve rather than taking a chance and believing in yourself? Why do we dream so big for those around us and those we love yet dream so small for ourselves?
I think back of how I spent most of my college years and my 20’s just doing what was expected, not rocking the boat, not taking many chances… all because I was too afraid to fail at something big so I decided to settle for safe and predictable. While those decisions didn’t really cause me any tangible harm, I know how much more I could have experienced if I’d been bold enough to take a risk. The great irony in all of this for my life is that, without me being aware of it, almost losing my first born child and then having a second special needs baby soon after– that unforeseen, gut-wrenchingly difficult, terrifying, isolating introduction into parenthood and the daily journey of parenting our kids has actually changed something inside of me. I had done everything right, and all the things I was afraid of (the struggle and challenges) still happened. Somehow, by the grace of God, we made it through and we are thriving, so maybe it’s ok to dream. I wasn’t afraid to dream big for my kids, in spite of all the challenges ahead, and those dreams have really carried us through difficult seasons without even a single thought about quitting and being “more realistic” about what’s possible. I allowed myself to decide that the impossible actually wasn’t, and that if it was, I would find that out the hard way. That mentality has slowly seeped more and more into my decisions, and particularly over the past couple of years, I’m finding myself moving from a mindset of fear or failure to a mindset of commitment to the right thing, even when it is the scary, high-stakes thing.
I’m so glad I didn’t quit my weight loss process, I’m so glad I’ve decided to step out and start and run successful businesses over the past decade, and I’m glad I’ve taken a chance on building friendships with people who at first seemed so different from me who are now near and dear to my heart and without whom I could not imagine life. I’m especially glad I decided to risk failure and start Haute Mess Life– to do the hard work of building a place for people who are looking to connect with others who understand their imperfections and want to share their successes. I’m so happy I decided for a few minutes, to think like a little girl, and with a smile on my face and a glimmer in my eyes say, ‘I’m in!”
Is there something you want to do but are afraid of even mentioning because you have forgotten it’s ok for you to dream for yourself too? Are you constantly beating back ideas and dreams because they seem too big? I’m sure you’ve spent plenty of time thinking of all the reasons it can’t work, but have you spent enough time thinking of how it could work? My challenge to you is this: find a quiet spot and give yourself a few minutes to imagine what life could be like if you didn’t fail at it. What would it look like and what would it mean if you actually succeeded at it? Write it down. Do you see the big picture a little differently?
Now let’s see where the road of impractical yet inspiring dreaming leads!
By Jackie Hauer