Friday, June 10, 2011

The Importance of Having Big Dreams and Setting Big Goals

I have two dreams that will be extremely difficult to realize in my lifetime.  The first is owning an NFL franchise.  Right now, the going rate for even a shitty team is somewhere around $750 million.  Needless to say, I’m a bit short of that at the moment.  

My other big dream is either more or less “realistic,” depending on who you ask: I want to walk on another planet.  It doesn’t even have to be Mars—the moon would be just fine.  I guess I should’ve said “celestial body” instead of “planet,” but you get the idea.  I just think it would be just about the coolest thing possible to be standing on something so alien, whether you could see the Earth or not, and know that you were pushing the boundaries of human exploration.  Of course, people probably used to feel the same way about flying; now it’s such a chore, if you’d bring someone from the 19th century to modern times, they’d probably be angry at how much we bitch about flying.  Think about that the next time you look out the window at 35,000 feet.

At any rate, I tell you these things to shed some light on some of my latent psychoses to illustrate a point: it’s important to have some dreams that are so big, they’re unlikely to ever come to fruition.  If nothing else, these dreams not only set objective markers for you to shoot for, but they also can help put things into perspective.  For example, accumulating piles and piles of cash on its own isn’t something that really drives me in my day-to-day life, but it’s a necessary prerequisite to owning an NFL franchise.  Having NFL ownership as a “big goal” of mine lets me live with the peace that I don’t need much money to live off of in life, and if I’m going to try to make a lot of money in an endeavor, it better be a lot of money to justify the corresponding time expense.  Otherwise, I’m just better off doing what I want to be doing.

Additionally, these dreams make you reassess the direction your life is going from time-to-time.  I hate to say it, but I was unlikely to accomplish either of these goals as a lawyer.  Like I said above, you can get “rich” as a lawyer, but unless it buys me a football team or a spaceship, all of the accompanying stuff isn’t worth the corresponding time expense.  I suppose I can think of some hare-brained “Jurassic Park”-esque scenario that sees a lawyer going to Mars for liability purposes, only to be eaten by a Martian, bare-assed on the shitter, but wouldn’t it be easier to focus on an easier, slightly less messy way of reaching my goals? 

Did my inability to reach these dreams as a lawyer have anything to do with my decision to quit being one?  Actually, to some extent, it probably did.  Granted, there were many, many other reasons for my decision, but probably somewhere in the back of my head, I did think that if I continued on the path I was on, the chances for realizing these big dreams went from .001% to zero, and I don’t know if I was willing to accept that with so much of my life in front of me.  I don’t know if being a writer and entrepreneur will bring me any closer to achieving these dreams, but I know that if I stayed on my previous path, I was neither interested nor driven enough to make those dreams a reality.

Also, on the off-chance that you do set some “intermediate” goals for yourself and accomplish all of those, having even bigger dreams helps you have something to aim for if you “make it.”  Imagine if you’ve started up a successful company and are bringing in $1 million a year, or you’ve sold a best-selling book, or have risen to the top of your profession.  I imagine a common sentiment is “is that it?  What’s next?”  You have to be very driven and goal-oriented to reach those primary goals in the first place, so accomplishing what you set out to accomplish, though gratifying, will probably only tide you over temporarily.  If you have something else on the horizon, no matter how crazy, it at least gives you a heading to use when steering the ship.

Finally, even if you come up short of your big dreams, you can still figure out ways to come close to them and make a better life for yourself.  For example, even if I don't ever own an NFL team, it would still be pretty cool to be an NFL GM, so that could be one way to get close to my dream without coming up with $1 billion.  Part of the inspiration for this post is Randy Pausch’s excellent “last lecture” he gave to students at Carnegie Mellon as he was dying of cancer.  It’s on YouTube if you have an hour-and-fifteen minutes to kill (it’s well worth it), and incredibly inspirational.  Randy had a number of dreams that were just as “crazy” as mine, but he found ways to accomplish many of them, and for the ones he didn’t actually accomplish, he found ways to come close to making them happen.  In the process, he led a much richer, more fulfilling life than most people, to the point where the greatest regret on his death bed was that he wouldn’t have more time to spend with the ones that he loved.  Isn’t that something that we should all strive for, cancer or not?

“But D.J., people will think I’m a lunatic if I tell them my crazy goals—what are you, nuts?”  Listen, pal, just because I’m crazy enough to put this stuff out there for the world to see doesn’t mean that you have to, too.  The important thing is that you are honest with yourself when it comes to what you truly would accomplish in life with limitless resources, and try to make those dreams a reality within the framework of the game we call “life.”  No, not by Hasbro.  You know what I mean.  Smart ass. 

Action Item: Think of at least two “big dreams” that you have for your life if everything goes perfectly.  Write them down.  Set a calendar reminder for a year from now referencing however you wrote them down.  Look back on the past year and write down the ways that you are closer to your goals, and whether or not you think there’s any way you can either make a change in your life to make those goals a reality.  Repeat every year to ensure you’re pursuing the right things.

Anybody comfortable sharing their big, “crazy” dreams?  Let me know in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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