If you want to prepare yourself for this work on choosing dreams, check out Part 1, and if you want to build focus areas for your dreams see Part 3 of this series on goal-setting for creatives and mystics.
If you’re a human you probably have a big stack of dreams.
If you’re a cat you might have, like, one major dream, and if you’re an octopus you probably have about the same size stack as the human.
Whatever you are, it’s hard to make dreams happen. If you’re of a peculiar bent, a specific kind of weirdo, maybe an ‘artist’ (they look mostly like humans, but smell like wood and tend to be more reclusive), you might need to organise yourself differently than the humans who write most ‘Goal-Setting Advice’. These are usually Businesshumans. I like Businesshumans a lot, but I do find that we don’t always speak the same language, and we often forget that. In this series of posts I’m talking through ways of making sure things you want to build and make and do are really happening, in real life, whilst also smelling like wood and being really very reclusive indeed.
In Part 1 we made an inventory of all the gifts and wonders we have to help us achieve our dreams – our ‘shields,’ ‘tools’ and ‘medicines.’ Today we’re going to work on unearthing and understanding our dreams, and then choose the best to chase.
(I’m using ‘goal’ and ‘dream’ interchangeably. The more you read about ‘goals’ the more you see the word means different things to different people. For this people, ‘goal’ is meant as ‘dream’, or a ‘big thing you really want to achieve.’)
So today, in honour of my dear friend Su and my Way of the Post-It, we’re going to once again make approx. 50000000 lists.
STEP 1: WHAT’S YOUR DREAM?
Write down your dreams. Absolutely all of them, go on. Mine started at ‘give a TED talk’ and ran to ‘get 300 more ear piercings.’
You’re not going to run out of paper, so don’t be shy. And be unrealistic, unabashed. No one is judging them, and we don’t have to act on them because we’ve put them down in Biro.
You might find this comes naturally and you know where you want to go. I also know there are humans who need to snuffle in the dirt longer to find their path.
If you struggle with an ‘I don’t know what I want‘, I found ‘Writing Out Your Perfect Day’ useful (even though I think the Law of Attraction is generally not worth your time, this exercise is enjoyable).
Keep in mind you’re not signing a contract to walk this path Forever. The maps we’ll build in Part 3 are deliberately forgiving of backtracking.
Your lists of shields, tools and medicines from Part 1 of my goal-setting series can be a good compass if you’d like directional clarification, too –
Shields tell us what physical resources we have to help us get to our dreams. From personal experience I can tell you it’s hard trying to write a book without somewhere to live. Not impossible, but a bit like swimming upstream. Ideally we can align our dreams and our physical environment, but sometimes we’re straight outta luck. We can still get there, but it’s tougher, and when choosing a goal we never want ‘too tough’. You get to choose what ‘too tough’ means, though, and in Part 3 we’ll chop big goals up into little ones to make them easier still.
Remember shields aren’t about quantity, but relevance – there are plenty of dreams you can achieve if you don’t have somewhere to live. My book-writing dreams weren’t aligned with my dreams of travelling alone, non-stop, for three years. It took some evaluation to see that, though, and prioritise accordingly.
Similarly, you might have certain things that lend themselves to helping achieve a dream. You might live by the sea and might have a dream to make comics about boats, or a dream of being a surfer, or a mer-person. I’d note that down.
Work with your shields when you have the chance. They should show you what you can do and what’s easiest to do, right now.
Tools are your unique blend of skills that you can use to both achieve dreams and figure out what dreams to chase. Often you’re good at what you have a passion for (often, not always), so your list of tools gives clues about what you might’ve been already chasing unconsciously. They can get us closer to our dreams too; if you’ve a background in counselling, a passion for cooking and a dream of building a business that helps vulnerable women, you might find the mix of these becomes useful.
You might also have a passion for perfume, and know a whole lot about tarantulas. Not all combinations will work gracefully, so don’t feel pressured to use every tool in your box for the sake of it. My (totally not autobiographical) series of books about a woman and her scent-sensitive pet spiders who harvest rare plant essences to create scents that set world peace in motion, are currently not very successful.
Medicines are your personal emotional health apothecary as you work towards your dreams. When faced with challenges, being conscious of what we can use to stay emotionally and mentally balanced makes it easier to keep on truckin’. Since we’re likely to be planning challenges, it’s worth taking the time to become aware of what coping methods we already use. Whatever yours are, medicines keep us Okay, but also open our eyes to how resourceful we are, encouraging us to be more ambitious with our dreams in the long run.
I, for instance, sat down to write this with a pot of coffee, my favourite blanket and a fear of professional and personal failure. The plan is the former two should help balance the latter, even if only enough to get this written. (If you’re reading this, they’ve succeeded and I’m onto something here.)
STEP 2: PICK SOME DREAMS AND PRIORITISE
Chasing many dreams at the same time spreads our energy too thin and makes it impossible to achieve anything meaningful. To fix this, we have to sacrifice smaller dreams to bigger ones.
Like my dreams of a nomadic life and my dreams of writing books, some goals conflict – you can’t have both at the same time. We have to recognise where this is happening, decide which one is more important, and nix accordingly. Don’t fret! They’re all still there, in the background. But ‘way off’ dreams can be dealt with later.
Keep the dreams that will give you the greatest amount of happiness (for the smallest amount of effort, ideally), and leave the rest.
STEP 3: ASKING ‘WHY THIS?’
Or ‘making sure we’re climbing our own ladder,’
One of my dreams is to get a PhD. My challenge, now I’ve recognised that I hold this ambition and I might want to pursue it, is to figure out why this is one of my dreams. Is it because I want to reach my intellectual potential, or because my father has a doctorate and surreptitiously taught me to highly-value intellectual prowess?
Borrowing dreams is commonplace, and devilishly hard to catch.
Are we taking on goals that are prized by our peers or family more than they are meaningful to us personally? Are our choices putting what our community values above what we value? Are we selecting a path sanctioned as ‘safe’ by our culture, when our real path might lie outside these ideals? Does fear come into it? Who am I doing this for?
There’s nothing wrong with any of these; bzillions of people have lived happy lives walking someone else’s path. There’s also nothing wrong with achieving things to make your family proud, or to gain social capital. A significant portion much of our time is put towards keeping a roof over our heads, feeding our children and nurturing our communities. The rest of the time, when we can and want to work towards chasing our dreams, it’s sensible to at least know we’re chasing our own.
It’s worth mentioning that very few people pick goals just to fit in, or to people-please. Humans are more complicated than that. My desire for a doctorate is genuinely my own, but (like so much else), a percentage of it retains the stamp of my parents, my upbringing and, let’s be honest, my neuroses. This isn’t definitively a bad thing, but I want to know as much as I can about why I am choosing things before I make any serious commitment to them.
(Note: One of the nastiest goals that really belongs to someone else (whose name begins with a ‘P’ and ends with an ‘atriarchy’) is ‘lose weight.’ Y’all know by now I talk about my eating disorder here and there (Inktober 2017 ), but Fit is a Feminist Issue talks about this much better than I ever would. They tackle why dieting, or New Years resolutions of ‘lose weight’ are bad goals. I recommend reading both if you ever thought about ‘lose weight’ goals.
‘10 Reasons Not to Focus on Your Weight in the New Year.’
And things you can focus on instead that will make you fitter, happier, and not come with a side of self loathing!)
Once you’re done you should have a cache of dreams that you’re ready to work towards, and if you’re decrepit like me, maybe a sore wrist. Give yourself a ‘well done’, maybe take a nap, and then let me know – ‘How was it for you?‘ Did you find any dreams weren’t what you expected, or any that come from other people? What have you chosen to concentrate on in the near-future?
You’ll need to have chosen dream/s for Part 3, where we’ll look at what to do with them next. We’ll make sure everything we work on in future leads to these dreams, and plan so we waste less time at our desks (/altars/gardens/couches), wondering ‘what should I do now?‘
Until next time, be gentle with yourselves!