These days we hear a lot of talk about “chasing your dreams.” And since you’re a reader of Zech Newman’s blog, chances are that you have an entrepreneurial spirit and are pursing some big goals in life.
But as leaders and entrepreneurs, sometimes we get caught up in the excitement of pursing dreams and we don’t take enough time to evaluate the dreams themselves. The danger is that we could spend months, years, or perhaps our whole lives chasing dreams we’ll regret.
As Stephen Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”
So how do you know if you’re chasing the right dream? Here are five criteria to help you know for sure:
- Your dream is realistic.
As dreamers and possibility thinkers, we like to believe that anything is possible. While that’s a nice sentiment, it doesn’t align with reality. The truth is that you can’t be anyone you want to be, and you can’t do anything you want to do. Life has limitations.
When I say that your dream must be realistic, I simply mean that it must be possible. I can dream that I’ll be an NBA star someday, but as a 40-year-old guy who needs to lose about 30 lbs., it’s definitely not within the realm of possibility.
However, if I say, “I want to build a business that supports my family within three years,” that’s possible.
Make sure your dream is something you can actually accomplish (even if it might take a while).
- Your dream is aligned with your gifts and passions.
Any dream worth chasing will require years of hard work and effort. If it doesn’t resonate with the core of your being, you will probably quit before you accomplish anything worthwhile.
This past year, I made the critical mistake of buying into a networking marketing businesses focused on health products. I saw it as a way to pay off debt and move us toward our financial goals more quickly.
But I didn’t take into account the fact that success in network marketing requires skills and gifts I didn’t possess. I loved the products (and still use them), but I wasn’t truly passionate about the company. I realized I had made a mistake and got out of that particular business.
(I’m not suggesting that network marketing is bad; on the contrary, it’s a great business if you are passionate about your products, want to truly help people, and can develop skills in that type of selling.)
What are you passionate about? What is your personality? What are your talents and gifts? If those are all in alignment with your dream, you have a much better chance of success.
- Your dream is ultimately about others.
This may sound like a paradox, but your dream is not really about you. It’s ultimately about the people you serve in the process of achieving your dream.
In other words, your dream is not an end in itself. It’s the means to a greater end, and that end is serving others, improving their lives, and making the world a better place.
Your dream might be to become a best-selling author. But it’s not really about the books. It’s about the lives you can impact through your words.
Your dream might be to own a chain of restaurants. But it’s not really about the food; it’s about offering great value to your customers and providing an atmosphere where people can relax and strengthen their relationships. It’s also about being financially secure and having the means to help others more.
Your dream might be to live in a certain place. But it’s not really about the place itself; it’s about the peace and happiness that place brings to you and your family. It’s also about how you can offer your best to the world when you live in a place that brings you joy.
You see, your life is not ultimately about you, it’s about serving God and others. Your dream has to fit within that context. Think about your dream and make sure it’s something God can use to bless others.
- Your dream is too big for you to accomplish alone.
Is your dream something you can achieve by yourself, with no help from others? If so, it’s not a very worthwhile dream.
Any worthy dream will require help from friends, family, coaches, books, and other sources of encouragement and inspiration. Whether you are building a business or writing a book, the truth is that you simply cannot achieve it through your own effort.
This means that at times, you’ll have to swallow your pride and admit you need help. But this is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and wisdom. The best leaders know their limitations and are quick to ask for help.
When you ask for help, it’s not just a matter of another person giving and you receiving. It’s a mutual exchange where both people are blessed. If you never give others the chance to help you, you are robbing them of the opportunity to serve, grow, and give.
- Your dream is supported by your family.
This is the most important piece of the puzzle. If your family doesn’t support your dream, you need to reconsider your direction. You first priority is to be a husband and father. Everything else comes in at a distant second.
I have been married for 18 years. In that time, I have learned that my wife has an uncanny intuition about things (as most women do). I constantly rely on her wisdom and judgment before accepting any kind of substantial opportunity or commitment.
If your family doesn’t support your dream, it may not be the right time. You definitely don’t want to chase a dream that will cause friction within your marriage or family.
Other times we are chasing the right dream, but we’re doing it in the wrong way. This is where we must rely on our wives for feedback about our schedules and commitments.
When we chase our dreams, we take our families along for the ride. It’s important to stop every once in a while to make sure everyone is on board.
Bottom line: Chasing a dream is exciting, but we can’t let our emotions get in the way of good judgment. Take a few moments to think through each of the points above and evaluate whether you’re chasing the right dream.
Post by: Kent Sanders writes about doing creative work that matters at kentsanders.net. He is also the author of 30 Days of Evernote for Churches and Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri. You can connect with him on Twitter @kentsanders.
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