As a person who dreamed of a life free of the shackles of corporate employment and big city living, and then made it happen, I’m passionate about the power of a dream. I like to ‘dream big’ and I raised my son encouraging him to do the same. “Dream big,” I’d write in his birthday cards. I wanted him to know that anything was possible for him. He just needed to dream it to see that he could create it.
But my own definition of what a ‘big dream’ is has shifted significantly over the nearly thirty years since my son came into this world. Without realizing the negative weight of expectation I was creating for him, I used to equate a ‘big dream’ with income, status, scope, and intellectual application.
What I Learned from my Son
My son has grown up, and I have grown up too. In large part, he is the one who showed me the downside of my ‘dream big’ philosophy.
A few years ago, he quit his management job and traded it for a manual labour job. He knew the management gig was not healthy for him: always being on call meant he never felt he could take a break. And sitting behind a desk meant he was gaining weight. And none of that was any good for his anxiety disorder.
Taking a manual labour job, for less pay, meant he bought back his down-time. He leaves his work at work. And he solved his physical activity problem, promptly dropping pounds.
It was hard for him to tell me what he’d done. He thought I’d disapprove. He thought that I’d be less proud of him if he worked with his hands and his back instead of his head. That was a horrible realization for me: that I’d created a scenario where my son was reluctant to share with me his major life decisions. It was the impetus for a major shift in my ‘dream big’ philosophy.
Here are the components of my – more mature – ‘dream big’ philosophy.
Have the Balls to Carve Your Own Path
We are social creatures: we collect, act, and think in packs. We are influenced by one another, and this can be a good or a bad thing. When you have the balls to carve your own path, you create opportunities that wouldn’t exist if you stayed with the pack. My son carved his individual path even though he thought I would think less of him. I respect that this took balls.
Don’t Let Convention Constrain You
History is littered with discarded convention. Women no longer wear Victorian-style dresses, except on Downton Abbey. Women vote! Cohabitation doesn’t always follow marriage; it is often the other way around. Today’s conventions are perhaps less visible because we accept them as part of us. Part of the way it is. Big or small, today’s conventions may constrain you. Recognize them. And then break free.
Pay attention to what makes you tick. Separate the expectations of parents, friends, partners and role models from the things that make you feel alive. If they are one and the same, awesome. But often they are not. My son knew he was not doing well, emotionally or physically, in a management job that society respects. And he knew what he needed in his life to thrive. You cannot dream big if you don’t know which fuel ignites your fire of personal passion.
When you honour yourself, you take the knowledge of what makes you tick and you take action on that knowledge.
Life is for living, not following. My son helped to teach me that.