We Pace Within The Bars of Our Own Imagination

Have you ever heard somebody say, “I wish I could <do something or other>”, with a wistful look in their eye?  And you want to grab and shake them and say, “you CAN.  Do it NOW!”  And it is just so obvious to you that what they wish for is right there in front of them, ready to be seized if only they would have the gumption to reach for it.  Well, guess what: a lot of the time, you are that person.

We are the biggest buzzkill and the harshest critic standing between us and our dreams.  We shrink back from the echoes of old failures, from carping and doubting voices that ring inside our heads.  “I’m not the type who starts a company.”  “I’m not a natural leader.”  “I’m not creative.”  “I’m not a good writer, or an artist, or an athlete.”  We fence ourselves in behind these imaginary barriers, looking wistfully at the banquet of delights that we think is permanently locked away from our reach.

So What do You Want?  Really Want?

A fun way to start breaking through is to do a little fantasizing.  Try finishing these sentences:

  • “Of course it isn’t practical, but I’ve always wanted to …”
  • “I don’t do it any more, but when I was a kid I always loved to …”
  • “The times in my life when I was most exhilarated and at my best, I was …”
  • “In my dream job, I …”
  • “In the life that I daydream about, ….”

Get something down that you can look at.  Maybe write a journal entry on paper or on a computer, mindmap on a white board (with an encouraging friend, if that works for you), or draw on a big piece of paper, or collage a poster full of pictures.  Find some cool images on the Internet.  Whatever gets your juices flowing.

We’re not trying to be practical here, we’re trying to dream a little.  Always wanted to be an astronaut and explore other galaxies? You are five feet tall and walk with a cane, but fantasize about being an NFL running back or an Olympic athlete?  It’s all good.

After you’ve had a shot at this, and you sit back and take a look, you might suspect that some of your fantasies are a lot more fun in your imagination than they really would be in practice.  That’s probably true.  There is a reason that the phrase “it reads better than it lives” comes up a lot in adventure tales.  But you’ll never know until you try something, whether you will really like it.  And you may stumble across some related activity that is even better.  I backpacked quite a bit when I was in school, living out some fantasies that I had when I was a kid.  I discovered that backpacking is fun, but what I absolutely loved was rock climbing.  And I did quite a lot of it, in some amazingly beautiful places, and had adventures that I still often think about.

It takes a bit of work to figure out what will make you happier and more fulfilled.  You don’t have to – there are intelligent and highly paid people working hard to take care of that for you.  Their siren song is everywhere – how great your life will be if you have a fancier car, a bigger house, more fashionable clothes, and glamorous vacations.  There is overwhelming evidence that these things won’t make you happier, but perhaps you are the exception.  Run, hamster, run .. maybe you will get there, if only you can make that wheel spin a little faster!

Life Isn’t All or Nothing

One of the traps that I see people fall into all the time is being much too black or white about their dreams.  “I want to be an Olympic downhill skier, but I’m 40 so obviously that’s not going to happen.  So instead, I’ll have beer and chips on the couch.”  Uh huh.  Or, somebody is working full time and is a parent so they decide that their dream to be an artist is hopeless.  But you don’t have to be a full-time artist in order to make art.  If you are fascinated by outer space, you can study astrophysics, go to lectures, paint scenes set on other worlds, go to space camp, build your own telescope, and visit observatories.

If you love something, then weaving aspects of it into your life can be richly fulfilling, even if you can’t do it all the time or do it to the level that you fantasize about.  After all, even an Olympian only gets to compete in the games for a couple of days every four years.

Just Take a Step

Now you come to the crucial all-important step that so many people leave out.  They have dreams, but they don’t turn vision into action.  A grand goal like “become an artist” or “write a book” is great, but you can’t sit down on Monday afternoon at 2pm and become an artist.  You have to turn those ideas into concrete actions you can do right now.

To become an artist, maybe you need to research art classes at a local school or get an instruction book on some techniques you want to learn.  If you want to start a company, attend a local get-together of entrepreneurs or read a book about it.  I like to think about this as “just take a step”.  Write down everything you can think of that you know exactly how to do and can get done in less than an hour.  A big goal may seem impossibly daunting if you think of it as a whole, but surely you can spare an hour?  And then, after you’ve spent one hour, pick the next thing and spend another one.

Magic of Starting

There is a wonderful quote, which is commonly attributed to Goethe.  Sadly, that’s not exactly true.  But it’s great anyway, even if it has a mixed ancestry, and I have repeatedly found it to be true: “Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”


  1. Jean Gabarra says:

    Great post Oliver – applicable in so many aspects of life. I shared on my Facebook page.

  2. David Bradley says:

    This is so timely for me right now. What a great post!

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