The relationship between dreaming and success is a complicated one. On the one hand, without dreams, you are unlikely to seek new things for your life. On the other hand, being a dreamer can keep you in the world of one day. An optimist, but one who struggles to actually make their dreams a reality.
“If you can dream it, you can do it” — Walt Disney
The most successful and admirable people have vivid imaginations and are proud dreamers.
“I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid” — Bill Gates
All progress and evolution have come as a result of this process. It is said if you can’t see it you can’t do it. Dreaming gives us the ability to visualize something we haven’t yet physically seen, encouraging us to create it.
But when I was 19, I’d had enough of dreams.
For as long as I could remember, I was a big dreamer, and my dream was to be a pop star. I would watch ‘Top of the Pops’, every Friday, copying the routines, dreaming of when I would be on the other side of the screen.
We didn’t have much cash lying around and my parents themselves weren’t musical or particularly creative. They believed in education, so despite my pleas for dance class, I didn’t get access to extra-curricular lessons. It wasn’t until the choir teacher really impressed on them her opinion I had talent they decided to let me try piano.
Once my initial excitement had passed, I found piano kind of a chore. I couldn’t really be bothered to practice and the lessons took me out of my favorite classes at school. Hardly Chopin, I gave up after Grade 2. Despite my parent’s explanation that most pop stars played instruments and wrote their own songs, I determined not all did and I would be one of the ones who didn’t.
Through my teenage years, my dream evolved. I was to be an actress. I was cast as the lead role in the school plays, I was a Grade A Drama student. I had “potential.” At 18 I went through the Drama School Application process and it was horrible. It was an expensive process, once you factor in travel, accommodation and application costs. So to keep these down, I only applied to the top 5 schools.
My auditions were a shambles. Most of them I didn’t make it past the first round. At the most prestigious school, I could barely speak as they asked me fairly simple questions such as: ”Tell us about a play you’ve seen recently.” The clearest memory I have of the process was standing on the street afterward, bawling my eyes out, crying down the phone: “My heart is breaking.” It was.
Screw dreams; they’re too painful.
I’m now back in a good place with dreaming; I think it’s incredibly powerful and important if you want a rich life. But I also know there is a right way to dream, and that lies in dreaming about the thing and not the presentation of the thing.
When I used to dream about being a pop star, the thing I dreamt about wasn’t being in a studio for 24 hours going over and over the same riff until it just chimed right with the bass. To then decide actually maybe there was a more interesting rhythm for the bass to punctuate the melody.
When I dreamt about being an actress, in many ways I was actually dreaming about being the character in the film, on the edge of a cliff with my hair blowing in the breeze.
Sitting in a cold trailer alone, reading and reading and re-reading my lines wasn’t in there. Neither was pulling pints behind the bar I would be working at on the side of auditions, to pay for a small flat, desperate to make it into the cold trailer. There was nothing real in what I was dreaming. They would, therefore, stay where they were meant to be. As fantasies.
Actress, writer, and comedian Amy Poehler says the following:
“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”
Not only has she been to the Golden Globes, she has hosted the Golden Globes. How many people dream about that?! She didn’t get there by glamourizing the end goal, but instead by focusing on the creating and the work which would lead to her being there. This is where the power of dreams can be harnessed.
Rather than dreaming of hosting, you could instead daydream and visualize being in the writing room, working on a script with other writers and comics. Who are they? What do they look like? What do they do in their spare time?
This isn’t about making your dreams smaller; it’s about making them real. Making them digestible and bridging the gap between achieving them within the complexities of our world.
When your dreams start to exist in the real world, you can shift from fantasist to creator. When you strip away ideas of grandeur, you clear the way for actual achievements.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting your dreams to only ever exist in your mind. Fantasies are fun, and as is so beautifully described in The Alchemist, this is exactly where many people want them to stay:
“You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but you’re different from me, because you want to realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca… I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.”
But you may not be so easily satisfied. You don’t just want dreams, you want experiences, whether they’d be a disappointment or not.
So, see the dream. Then re-see it but this time closer, smaller. And chase that down, one small step at a time.