Dreams to Action: Balancing Possibilities and Planning

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I was traveling over the holidays, visiting family and friends. As I return to life and work, I think about what I want to change and what should stay the same. It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the possibilities of the things that I could do and try. Anything is possible, after all. Or almost anything is possible. Well, at least, it feels like anything is possible.

I have a pattern of dreaming and exploring possibility. When I am free from the constraints of the day to day it is easy to imagine everything that I could pursue and accomplish. I have huge dreams in these times. Then I come back to earth, carrying my big and beautiful dreams on my shoulders. The gravity of the day-to-day work and the reality of how many thousands of hours a dream takes to become actualized make those dreams feel overwhelming. Don’t misread me here: dreaming matters— exploring possibilities is so important. But here’s what I’ve discovered:

I need a rhythm of exploring possibilities, and then committing to one specific pursuit.

When you try to carry all your dreams every day and keep them in the realm of possibility, it can be very overwhelming. You can’t accomplish all of them at once. You can accomplish some of them. And maybe all of them will come about in some form eventually, but you cannot both keep possibilities open and commit to certain paths. To say yes to one dream requires you to say no to another.

Every yes to something is a no to something else. Every commitment to something is a departure from something else. If you attempt to say yes to all your dreams and desires, you will be spread too thin to accomplish any of them.

A yes to all of your dreams results in a no to all of them as well.

Dreaming and imagining possibilities needs to have a counterpoint of choosing, planning, and executing. For years, I resisted this. I’m much more of a dreamer than a planner or executor, but over time I have learned it’s importance. I used to really resist choosing a path to pursue. I didn’t want to have to let go of anything. It was too hard to let go of the possibility. It can be a painful process.

What I’ve learned is that there are cycles of seasons. There are Spring and Summer- when things grow bountifully and anything can happen. And there is Fall and Winter, when some things have to die. But as you let go and say no to some options, you are creating space for new things to take root and grow.

There is no life without death and there no dawn without dusk.

What I’m left with is the need to dream and explore possibilities — to put everything on the table — and then to choose which of those possibilities are going to be where you put your time, energy, and life. Finally, you remove the others and focus on only what you have chosen. If you cannot commit to it, then you have to let it go. It’s sobering. And it can is hard. But it is also very good and rewarding.

As you do this it takes your dreams and hopes from being something on the horizon of wishful thinking, and makes it something actionable today. It creates space for you to focus on what you can do right now with what you have in order to move toward that goal.

This is where it gets dangerous. It’s easy to dream, but it’s risky to take action on those dreams. The temptation is to say that “someday” I will do this, or when all the right situations arise I’ll start.

The truth is, you can start right now. There’s always something that you can do to move from dreams to action.

Dreams without action are fun but they don’t create change or impact. Go start now.

In the comments, what’s your experience with choosing and pursuing specific dreams? Where does the process work for you and where do you struggle? Or just tell us where this takes you. Click here to comment.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 6 Comments On This Post.

  1. I feel like this is so important to the “making meaning conversation.” It reminds me of the difference Pressfield highlights between being an amateur (just a dreamer) and going pro (taking action and staying the course, even through the winter).

  2. Bill Swan

    Thanks for continuing to write, encourage and create. I just shared this link with my boss as this is one of the big things we are currently trying to balance not just personally, but at an organizational level. I’ve actually been sharing your blog with several people at work, and they’re enjoying it. Keep it up man. I’m proud of you!

    • Thanks for reading and sharing, Bill! It’s really good to have you as a part of this. I appreciate the encouragement!

  3. Dan, great post! It was what I needed to hear today and helped me find some focus.

    I too am good a dreaming and not-as-good at planning. Which dreams do we want to try to bring into the world? is a good question I think. I’m trying to bless the dreamer in me while trying to get better at the latter.

    This especially resonated, “Every yes to something is a no to something else. Every commitment to something is a departure from something else. If you attempt to say yes to all your dreams and desires, you will be spread too thin to accomplish any of them.”

    • I’m totally with you— dreaming is easier than scheming. Thanks Ryan!

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