I will admit it - messages like this always annoy me. They read like a challenge - like "you think that's BIG? Try harder!!" All of our real dreams are big - but "big" is a very, very relative term.

I have never been very good at “being realistic,” whatever that means.


As I examine #10 from the awesome article “15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently” it occurs to me that I actually don’t even know what it means to “dream big” because dreams and reality don’t seem different to me.

This of course also explains why I am often so easily frustrated. In my world, there is little lead time between the birth of a dream and my expectation of it manifesting right in front of me. Those who work with me become acquainted with a certain, shall we say, lack of patience on my part in relatively short order.

But this quality is also helpful in directing me towards those big things that actually require doing in my life, and I can tell which ones those are by the ones I cannot seem to help continuing to work on.

I have dropped many all-too-realistic dreams, such as going back to graduate school (five times and counting where I turned in an application, even received my funding in one case and still never went), while clinging with a death grip to incredibly impractical dreams such as starting the world’s first global online mentoring community.

I accomplished dream #2, by the way. It took me several years, but that was one dream I wasn’t going to let sneak away.

So “realistic” to me equals “that thing you keep trying to do.” And “dream” equals “that thing you are not yet certain you will keep trying to do.”

But I suppose for many people, there is a sharper divide between the two. For instance, nothing makes me sadder than the person who hears I have authored a book and mournfully confides, “I wanted to write a book.” I have never understood the past tense – they are clearly still breathing right in front of me, so to me, it is equally clear that they still can write a book too….IF they really mean that they want to do it, that is.

That is the part that can get very confusing. It got less confusing for me when I began to notice that some of the dreams I drop are the ones I think I should want but really don’t. If my own experience is any indication, it can take quite awhile to learn to tell one from the other.

But it is a lesson worth learning. I also believe we all “dream big” – albeit in strikingly different ways. Or, as Queen Latifah’s character in one of my favorite movies, “Last Holiday,” states when asked by the CEO of her former company what her dreams are, “Well, [my dreams are] nothing big by your standards, but I wanted to start a little restaurant. Bistro style. And a husband….and a family….”

So here I think the difference between being happy and being unhappy really lies in learning to distinguish the dream-dreams from the real-dreams, so to speak.

Asking ourselves, “Do I really want that thing?” and then, if still in doubt, challenging ourselves with, “Prove it!” can quickly separate out the things that we are unfairly using to make ourselves miserable from the things we will clearly be miserable without.

Today’s Takeaway: Are you torturing yourself with continual self-reminders of as-yet-unrealized dreams? Perhaps a self-challenge can help you break free of the inner emotional gridlock. Ask yourself first whose dream it is REALLY? Is it yours? Your parents’ dream for you? A dream you think you ‘should’ want given your skills or abilities? Next, if the dream still belongs to you, try to figure out what other dreams you have that may be incompatible with it. If you discover some, rank them in priority order. You can also step back and look at the bigger picture of your life and ask yourself if perhaps this dream you’ve been beating yourself up over is actually in progress RIGHT NOW – but it is such a big dream with so many steps that it just is taking more time to manifest.