News and AnalysisPodcast

Dreams and Reforms, Refining my Life

Dreams and Reforms, Refining my Life

This episode looks at the challenging work of organizing our passions and talents as part of succeeding in life and realizing our dreams


Podcast transcript here

Good morning, I’m doing a piece this morning that has a mildly curious title. It’s called Dreams and Reforms, Refining my Life. These do not ordinarily go together as a string of words, so I’ll try to explain them. 

By dreams. I mean, that which I’m most would love to have in my life. These are my dreams, my deepest desires. I’ll talk about that in a moment. Reforms are what arise as we gradually come to see our limitations or shortcomings, our bad habits, those things that we don’t like about ourselves, especially along the lines of moral character, things which we would like to reform which we’d like to improve, which we’d like to put behind us. These are two types of aspirations, dreams and reforms. 

The second part of the title is Refining my Life. That has to do with coming to terms with, and getting an ever clearer grasp of how to manage these two ever present elements that pull us forward, that activate the serious parts of our day, activate our efforts to make more of our days serious. When I say serious, I don’t mean not having fun. I don’t mean not being playful. What I mean is that our days are purposeful, that we have awareness, and we’re not forgetful about the core of our lives. That’s what I mean by serious. You can be playful, laughing and rolling on the floor. To me, that’s not evidence of not being serious. Evidence of not being serious is to get to the end of your day, and have utterly lost track of anything you’re trying to do in your life, anything you’re trying to control, anything you’re trying to improve, anything you’re systematically trying to pursue. That’s what I’m referring to, as not serious. 

On the matter of dreams, those things we deeply desire, those things that we dedicate our entire lives to, those things that I can easily imagine that 5,10, 20, 50 years from now, I’ll still be pursuing. Those are my dreams. Those are my desires. Those are the things that vaguely sit as a certain kind of image in my mind. Say if you’re a great athlete, maybe your dream is to win a Super Bowl ring, or your dream is to gain that extra eighth of an inch that would make you a world record holder as a pole vaulter, either in a category or the best ever. These would be the dreams of an athlete. Maybe you are a chess player, if you’re a writer, even if your profession doesn’t have these kinds of classic, glorious categories like being a best seller or writing the book that changes the world. Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz is something that endures through a long period of time. I believe that as we travel through the course of our life, we have an abundance of things we would love to do. They usually correspond to tastes and talents and preferences. They usually correspond to a talent. You begin to see what you were born as, what you were born to be. And then the dreams tend to attach themselves to, or coalesce around capacities that we’re good at, that are natural for us, and can house a dream and actually begin to bring it to realization. 

Before I go further, I’d just like to point out that dreams are what makes life what I called earlier, the serious part of life. They are what can define our days, they are what can give us purpose.These are what we always want to get back to and get back to work on even if we have a common work-a-day job. That’s the situation for most people. Life gives us as it gives us. That’s not a concern. We can even convert those particular hours to the pursuit of our dreams. I suspend direct work on the things I’m dreaming to be by putting in these hours to get the money and the wherewithal to pursue my dreams. I save my money. I’m frugal. Thn I buy the guitar I have been looking at in the window for half a year, because my dream is to be a great musician, a great performer, a great guitarist. At the end of the work day, even though I’m tired I could veg out and eat too much and lie around and watch idle crap on TV for a couple hours, but instead I practice and practice and practice despite being tired. This is the pursuit of dreams. I don’t have to be a professional golfer and just golf all the time in order to become the best golfer in the world. Some people have to work, some people have to pump gas and wash dishes. It doesn’t make it any less a pursuit of my dreams. We are organizing our lives around our dreams. 

The thing about most people, maybe all people, is that we don’t have a single, solitary talent. We have many. A lot of them are not particularly defined in classical categories. You might be a person who, with a single word can bring peace to a roomful of people struggling. Is there a job like this? Can I get hired by IBM or Mitsubishi to be the guy that just happens to have this skill that with a single word I can get everybody to kind of settle down and get back into minimal harmony and shared labor. So we have an abundance of talents. Nobody’s just a single solitary thing. One of the ways of not getting our dreams accomplished in pursuit is not being able to pick the one or ones to which we have to limit ourselves. For everything we pick, we have to reject others. It involves rejection. That’s just the burden of material reality that is constrained by time and space. 

For time spent playing the guitar, I’m not out with an easel by the riverside painting. I might be a very good painter. I have to pick one or the other. I don’t have to. But one of the difficulties or challenges in life is whittling down those things. I can’t do everything, I simply can’t do everything. 

Another thing is that I may like something better. I may love it when I’m performing. And people are looking up at me and flirting with me and thinking I’m the greatest. But the fact of the matter is, eventually I come to recognize that I’m not that good. I’m okay. I’m good enough to be in a band and be flirted with or be admired, or think people think I’m so great. But I know I’m not that great. I myself know the limits of my capacity, no matter how many hours a day I spend practicing. So this is that part of the title that I talked about refining. There’s two things that I have to do. One is to come to terms with things I love and like and are pretty good. I’d be making the wrong decision to dedicate myself abundantly to such things. And the other thing is that there may be a lot of things that I’m extremely good at. And there’s no way to know which one, I might be the best writer in the world. But I also might be the best lyricist in the world, I might be the best composer of country music or symphonies, who knows what it will be. So with just whittling down or refining, one is recognizing where, no matter how much I love something, I  can never be that great. And then the other is leaving behind something that I might be that great, but life is delimited. Material life is delimited.

The other thing is that we must identify dreams both as external, and internal. One also should dedicate oneself to internal aspirations. These are qualities of character. Just as much as I could become a masterful guitarist or speaker, we equally as much should have internal aspirations in which I’m seeking to attain mastery over things that exists in the realm of moral life and spiritual life and relational life, qualities of my being not only talents of my being. Dreams need to be both external and internal, then they need to be honed and refined. This is a difficult process. It is difficult to decide, to pick one at the expense of another. And it’s difficult to admit that I’m only Okay, at something I really love to do. These are challenging parts of the process of life. But they’re very worthwhile,and the earlier and the quicker we can get to that work the better. It just takes focused attention and energy. The more seriously we can concentrate on this, the sooner we can get to the type of dedication and commitment in which we actually have the possibility of attaining or getting a good part of the way towards realizing our dreams, the better.

There’s more to say on and being committed in a life and death fashion, and being unwavering in one’s pursuit of things. And I’m not talking about being a frowning miserable preachy, rigid, regimented soul. You can be dedicated and look like the most free person in the world. What they have is that they have come to life and death commitment to dreams that have been refined and identified. 

Thank you very much for listening. I’ll talk to you again soon.