“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now, put the foundations under them. (Henry David Thoreau)
In recent weeks many of the quotes have been about determination and sticking to a person’s vision for success. Mostly they have been about setting concrete goals, managing time and making good decisions to help bring the goals to life.
In todays’ quote, Thoreau takes things to another level. He starts with the very concrete idea of moving confidently toward ones dreams, and finding “success unexpected in common hours.” Then, the second sentence comes along and exhorts to dream big, to build castles in the sky and then put foundations under them.
Setting and meeting objectives, especially at work, often becomes an exercise of making incremental improvements and changes. I will look at how well I did last year, and try to improve by some amount for the new year. Whether that is 10%, 20% or more, it is typically a step above the previous year, mostly achieved by doing the same things only better. Never do I sit and ponder a dream for success that takes me to a place never before imagined. That is mostly because I live in the limited world of my corporate job. The most ambitious projects I work on are still just moving the company forward on a path that is already firmly set.
At home it becomes the same thing. My “dreams” end up involving me moving forward on a path that is no different than the paths of my neighbors. We work hard, improve our homes, and take care of our families. We save and invest our resources so that we can reach a vision of retirement, where we can continue to do the fun things in life, without enduring the drudgery of the work week.
These are all admirable goals, and activities. They make for a comfortable, happy existence where family, friends and neighbors get along well, and where people enjoy their golden years with a sense of security. No one, though, would confuse any of this with building castles in the air.
To reach something that is truly game changing, I must first dream what the new game will look like. I must see myself doing something, or being somewhere that is completely outside of my current existence. I must build the castle, furnish it, embellish it, and make it my own. That is how dreams work. No one starts out their vision of a dream by imagining how the basement will be dug.
Once that dream is fixed in the mind and heart, then Thoreau tells us to get to work laying the foundations. Because I have first seen the biggest possible picture, I will not limit myself by laying a minimal, incremental foundation. I won’t short-change my sky-dwelling castle, but will make sure that it has what it needs to be sturdy and strong.
Some years back I went to a talk given by a motivational speaker. One of the things that he suggested for reaching the stars was to keep a notebook of things I want to do in life. He suggested that the list be long, and include many things which I would have no idea how to accomplish. He showed us his notebook, his second as I recall, and how it had many lines crossed off, and many more to go. He told of adventures and accomplishments he’d had that he never would have achieved had he not dared to dream. And not just to dream big, but to dream bigger than life, then go make it happen.
Just about a year ago I wrote a blog post called “Things I really want to do…”. It was my attempt to write a list of things that would be fun to do, that I wasn’t really sure how to achieve. Reading them back I see that most are incremental changes to things I already do. Some of the increments are quite large, but few of the goals are truly big, and none are sky castles.
So, today is about dreaming big. All of my recent thoughts on success have been about bringing some earth-bound dream to reality. I wonder what I would dream, if I allowed myself to truly let the sky be the limit? How would that list from this time last year look if I truly allowed myself to shed the shackles of my current existence?