“The limitations you are willing to accept determine the boundaries of your existence.” ~ Erwin McManus, Wide Awake
As I reflect on what I learned a few years ago in Erwins’ book Wide Awake, I am challenged, prodded and provoked to live and think differently.
I wonder this:
- “Am I living too safely?”
- “Am I leading too plainly?”
- “Am I willing to dream again—bigger, better, bolder?”
Remember: Great leaders are born out of great dreams.
I Have a Dream
Some of those “great dreams” emerge from a creative idea. Jeff Bezos, in 1992, was a SVP for the New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw when he dreamt of building a company that would sell books on the Internet. Ever heard of Amazon?
Some dreams do that.
MADD as Hell
Not infrequently dreams are birthed in the midst of great tragedies. On May 3, 1980, Candy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver in Fair Oaks, California.
Angered by the relatively light sentence the driver received for his recklessness, she launched Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) which raises awareness of the damage wrought when driving under the influence of alcohol.
McManus says “a dream needs a person to bring it to life.”
An isolated dream will only fester in the heart of one person and eventually die; and sometimes it takes the dreamer with it.
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Living the Dream
Dying dreams are as contagious as living ones. How many of us have buried dreams only to realize that we have placed a bit of ourselves in the ground? A dream must be shared, embodied and empowered for it to be life-giving.
Dreams are intensely communal.
McManus provocatively says:
How long you live does not reflect how well you live. The real question is, were you alive when you died?
I love that question! And I fear it.
- What if my dream fails?
- What if no one else is inspired by my burning desire to live the dream?
- What if my dream is just an illusion, a momentary fit of grandiosity and self-indulgence?
Becoming a Dreamer
We need to focus our energy and rekindle the fires
McManus notes the word focus comes from the Latin word for “hearth” or “fireplace” and thus means “the burning center.” What is the burning center of my life? To find it I must carve away distractions, cut off the peripheral could-do for the more central must-do. But the “do” must be centered in the “be” – what I am becoming.
Before I have a dream am I becoming a dreamer?
That takes some time and effort. Focus seems like a luxury only a well-subsidized artist can afford—someone who’s paid to paint one portrait, not run around frantically splashing paint on every blank canvas, hoping for a quick a sale.
Can we make the changes needed to be real dreamers? Are we willing to make a focused effort?
Build the Core with Focus
McManus tells the story of therapy he received for a back injury – to work on his stomach. It seemed odd but he soon understood that “core training” was key to a healthy back. POW’s learned to do it so they’d remain strong enough for a potential escape, but not look so strong in the arms that they’d pose a threat.
We need to work on our “core” – core beliefs, practices and convictions; core mission, vision and strategy. FOCUS! But it is not easy or glamorous, so I settle for superficial solutions and neglect the core.
“I think a lot of us choose the opposite path,” McManus chides. “We do the tanning booth and the Botox and the collagen so we can look healthy on the outside, but we are really weak at the center.”
Admittedly, I am weaker at the center than I’d care to admit. And, as a result, my team is not as strong. Because core training is best when we do it together, like Navy Seals prepping for the mission of their lives.
So What’s a Leader to Do?
There are no quick steps. But here are some routines that will help leaders dream with focus and persistence.
1) Shore up Relationships at Home (or friends)
My wife and daughter come first (my son’s out of the house now). Centered relationships will let you dream freely, knowing you are caring for the fires at home before you try to save the world.
2) Spend Some Money
Dreaming has a cost. I suggest 1-2 conferences or gatherings and books. I am in the process of ordering about 30-40 leadership resources for the coming months. This is a mix of biography, provocative thinkers, life shapers and students of culture, and personal growth materials. I need to hear other voices as I recalibrate my own.
3) Do a Dreamers Inventory
What inspired you before? What are the roadblocks now? What gets you up in the morning and keeps you up at night? What can you do that others cannot do? What must be done? I live in these questions.
4) Get Around Other Dreamers
Hanging out with I’m-building-the-dream-right-now-and-it-is-a-wild-ride kinds of people will light your fire and keep it burning. You know the type – upstart business leaders, creative teachers, provocative activists, church planters, artists without boundaries. (ESPECIALLY if they are not in your field!!!). I am doing it this week.
5) Pull the Trigger
At some point you simply must act. I was recalling in my journal all the things I started in the last few years, some large, some small. Many “failed” or fizzled, or took an unexpected turn. Yes, I was frustrated, angry, disappointed, lost momentum, and almost threw in the towel. Actually, I did– but I picked up some new towels. I am not where I want to be – but I am moving!
The real question is, “Were you alive when you died?”
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