When I was a child an elderly neighbor shared her life-long dream. Lottie Borges had always wanted to get behind the wheel of a semi, start it up, and drive. I got a glimpse of the yearning that couldn’t be hidden by her apron and heavy orthopedic shoes. Years later when I heard she’d died I was sorry that the feeling of power and competence she longed to experience driving an 18 wheeler had never come to pass.
Each one of us has dreams. Sometimes they’re suppressed for so long that it’s not easy to remember them or the spark of vitality they once roused in us. We forget because we’re busy funneling our efforts into accomplishing what what our families need, what the boss wants, what amusements can fill the moments we have left over. We set aside the goals we once held dear. They are not gone, just dormant.
Our culture emphasizes personal effort. It’s assumed that failure to achieve our aims lies entirely with the individual. But that’s not how wishes usually come true. They happen in the context of relationships. When we talk about our goals with people dear to us we infuse our ideas with energy. It’s a way of activating a network of people who, along with us, envision our dreams taking place. That network may help bring about the exact circumstances necessary to achieve the goal. Perhaps if my former neighbor had shared her wish with someone other than a child she might have found a truck driver who’d have gotten a kick out of letting her take his rig for a run around a backlot.
A few years ago I got together with a group of friends and on the spur of the moment we decided to write down our long-held wishes. We laughed, wondering if old fantasies (such as running away with a teen idol) should be included. But the challenge was compelling, so we started writing. When my friends shared their goals I saw sides to them they rarely revealed. Here are some of their wishes:
- I will get a lead role in community theater.
- I will travel to Ethiopia.
- I will master class 5 white water rafting.
- I will record my parent’s reminiscences.
- I will have a graphic novel published.
- I will get a master’s degree in library science.
- I will become a foster parent.
- I will take a class in conflict resolution.
- I will paint wall-sized murals.
- I will build a clay oven in the back yard.
- I will finish the quilt my grandmother started.
- I will learn to speak Russian.
- I will be elected to city council.
We realized that we should meet occasionally to support each other’s dreams. By discussing what we are doing to reach our goals and how we can help each other, we’re more likely to turn intention into reality.
If you’re interested in our wish granting process, here’s the method we’re using.
1. Get together with at least one other person with whom you have a mutually supportive relationship.
2. Brainstorm. Call up the longings you had as a child, the grand plans you envisioned as a young adult, the places your mind wanders when you daydream.
3. Write down those yearnings. Word them concretely. It is easier to check off a goal such as “Complete a pottery class” than a vague listing such as “Try making pottery.” Instead of vowing to “appreciate people more,” expect yourself to “Write letters to six people telling them why you appreciate them.” Include a range of possibilities— creative, professional, interpersonal, physical, and inspirational. Make some challenging, some just for fun.
4. Make the list as long as possible. Shoot for 50 or 100. Pushing yourself to write so many goals forces you to look inward, uncovering deep desires that you may have buried.
Such a list will take some time, but you may find that long-suppressed dreams ease back into your consciousness only after you’ve written down goals that seem silly or impossible.
5. Put stars by at least five of the most important dreams. Remember your list isn’t a set curriculum. It can change as your goals evolve. Keeping this list is a reminder that you are in charge of your life’s direction.
6. Talk about what steps you need to take to accomplish them and how can you support each other in these steps. Often it’s helpful to plan on baby steps, starting small and recognizing there may be tumbles as you work your way up to bigger steps.
7. Write yourself a note to be opened three months from now. Or write an email using Future Me timed to arrive in three months. This note should be in present tense and action oriented, “I am saving $50 a week towards my trip” or “I am practicing Russian each evening and looking for a native speaker to build my language skills.” This is a great way to promote progress. Then write another message to yourself, to be opened in another few months.
8. Keep the wishes shared by others alive through encouragement but also through your belief that the goal will be reached. Continue to pay attention to circumstances that may be helpful to others as you work toward your dreams together.
Something happens when goals are written down. When we make a conscious decision to guide our lives in the direction of our dreams, possibilities begin to open. And when we share that process with others, we have the delight of helping them make their wishes come true.
By the way, the wish lists written with my friends are already adorned with check marks.