Dreams vs. Reality

We’ve all got dreams, personal ones, and professional ones. Us business owners have got so many different visions, dreams, and ideas. But do you ever feel like your dreams and reality are at odds with one another? That they’re an ‘either/or’ thing rather than able to co-exist? Did you imagine your life or business would take you somewhere completely different to where you are right now? And if so, how does that make you feel?

On the other hand, does your business look – on paper at least – exactly as you imagined it and yet something doesn’t feel quite right?

Can dreams and reality co-exist?

The issue of striving for our dreams versus accepting our reality is a tricky one. Our society is packed full of contradictions. It tells us to pursue our dreams no matter what. Often presenting the have-it-all ‘celebrity’ lifestyle as an easy, overnight achievement and the pinnacle of what we should all be aiming for. This can make us feel like we’re lagging behind or missing out on some secret of success that everyone else is in on.

At the same time, there’s a sense that you mustn’t dream too big and many reasons why people end up ignoring their dreams. People often talk about dreams being for the young, as though you only have one opportunity to set a course in life and then it’s gone. But even children can have their dreams squashed before they’ve really formed.

Parents push their kids with their own beliefs (“Only the best athletes succeed but I think you’d make a great engineer”). Careers advisors can stop dreams in their tracks (“You have to get straight A’s to study medicine but you’re very good at English so maybe you should do that at university instead?). Even teachers can diminish dreams before they have a chance to take hold (“You’re not a natural artist” or “You’re too big to be a dancer”).

On the flipside, the saying goes that “you’re never too old to dream” but, practically speaking, dreams can be harder to achieve when you’re older. Especially if you have other people (think partner, kids, ageing parents, business partners) to consider.

Do you have your own dreams? Or are you living someone else’s?

The fact is that trying to live up to others people’s expectations extend to our dreams. Many of us end up feeling like we have to ‘give in’ to a reality we haven’t planned, or don’t really want. In doing so, we sacrifice our dreams. This is especially the case if you’re living your life based on what other people expect of you. A by-product of this is that we can end up taking on dreams that don’t truly belong to us. It can be hard to spot that we’re doing this. If you’ve always been told you should want something, it can become so deeply ingrained that it takes a long time to realise it isn’t necessarily what you really want.

It can be especially difficult within business, when your friends or family don’t necessarily understand it. Business can be quite a complex thing to get your head around. Different people have different impressions of what owning a business must be like. However, only you, as a business owner, know exactly what it’s like. So it can be tricky if people don’t understand your struggles, or if they are expecting certain things of you that they think will come from your business.

Then there’s the question of how much of your life and attention you should devote to your dreams. It’s a difficult balancing act. If you focus too much on your dreams, you can miss what’s happening in reality right now.  But, on the other hand, to live without dreams seems like half a life.

Everyone struggles…

I think most of us probably believe, especially when we’re younger, that life gets easier as we get older. When we look to our future selves, we see a reality carved out of realised dreams. However, the truth is that many of us struggle to balance our dreams with reality. We get further into adulthood and yet our dreams don’t always move closer.  Fortunately, this distance between dreams and reality doesn’t have to be permanent. It starts with accepting reality and making it your starting point

When people talk about accepting reality, it’s often with an implied message that we should surrender and let go of our dreams.  But I think this is the wrong outlook. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation or surrender. It doesn’t mean passively letting life push us, rudderless, from pillar to post. It’s not about quitting or lowering the bar on what we want from life.

Instead, accepting reality is about no longer fighting the things that you have no control over. It’s about examining your dreams and focusing on what you can do to make them happen, starting right now. Because, while you can’t change other people or live for their expectations, you can change yourself and ask things of your potential.

But how can we each achieve our dreams, and succeed in reality?

I think the key is to pinpoint what you have the power to change and then take action to make those changes.  For example, maybe your reality is that you have young children and you can only work on your business part-time right now. You can’t actively change this but you can develop ways to make the most of your work time (e.g. outsourcing, automation, planning, etc.) to move your business dreams forward in small steps.

If you lay the groundwork now, your business can grow alongside your children. And that’s OK. And, by accepting that your children won’t be this young forever, it becomes easier to celebrate where they are right now rather than wishing the time away.

Be honest about your dreams…

My first piece of advice is to take an honest look at your dreams. It can be tough but try to ask yourself why the life you dream of is so important to you? On your deathbed, do you think you’d regret not achieving a specific dream?

Are your dreams your own? Do you expect your life to look a certain way because other people have told you that’s what you should want? Or do your dreams reflect what you truly desire? As with living up to other people’s expectations, a lot of getting to the truth about this comes down to ‘gut’ feeling.

If, for example, you have everything you thought you ever wanted but you still don’t feel a sense of accomplishment, then maybe you’ve been striving from something that doesn’t come from within. Maybe you’re invested in a business you weren’t totally confident in, because you felt pressured by others. Not necessarily people you know personally, but also society, and the media. You may feel the thing you really care about isn’t good enough, or isn’t worth anything.

Or maybe you haven’t taken time to take stock and celebrate what you’ve achieved? If aspects of your dreams feel uncomfortable or at odds with whom you are then they may no longer serve you.

Equally, if your dreams light you up inside, if they make you feel passionate and excited, then they deserve to be heard. If your dreams are truly rooted inside of you then what can you do to make them your reality, one step at a time, while accepting the reality of where you are today?

Take control of your life…

Ultimately, accepting your reality while keeping your dreams alive comes down to taking control of what you can and letting go of what you can’t.  Make conscious decisions and take conscious action. Try framing everything within the question, “If I do this, will it take me closer to my dreams or further away from them?” Also ask yourself, “Is this something that I have the power to change? If so, what must I do to achieve a different outcome?”

Dreams play such an important role. They give us waypoints to navigate towards on this journey through life. They offer a route map. If we listen to our dreams and we follow them properly, they give us control over our journey. They make life something that happens for us, not to us.

Dreams and reality will both change…

But sometimes our destination will change or we’ll want to take a different route. This is why it’s important to revisit your dreams often. What you dreamed about as a child may not reflect the dreams you have now. On the other hand, maybe the core truth of your dreams has never changed.

Dancers, actors, writers and artists often talk about how they’ve only ever wanted to create or perform. But other dreams can change. I often speak to women whose dreams for their romantic relationships or how they parent have changed. Or who have new dreams for their careers or how they spend their spare time. It makes sense to me that as we learn and grow as people, our dreams can evolve with us.

As a business owner, visions change. Plans change, and dreams change. There’s simply no telling if the thing you wanted to do in the beginning of your journey, is going to be the same a few years down the line. This is why we need to learn to adapt to changes! You can read more about the importance of adaptability in my previous blog.

I also believe though that we can wish away our lives in the pursuit of dreams. This is why I’m a big fan of learning to live in the moment. If we can feel good about today, as clichéd as it may sound, it can only fuel a better tomorrow. Dreams and reality can co-exist. You just have to take charge of both.

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