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PUT YOUR DREAM TO THE TEST
10 Questions That Will Help You See It and Seize It
By JOHN C. MAXWELL
Copyright © 2009
John C. Maxwell
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Ownership Question Is My Dream Really My Dream?
Whatever you think, be sure it is what you think; whatever you want, be sure that it is what you want; whatever you feel, be sure that it is what you feel. -T. S. Eliot
His father wanted him to become a policeman. After all, his father was the chief of police in the small town where he grew up. His mother had other ideas. She believed he should become a carpenter. She saw that he didn't have much interest or aptitude for academic subjects in school, and she wanted him to learn a practical trade. At her request, Arnold dutifully enrolled in a carpentry apprenticeship program while in high school, but his heart was never really in it.
WHOSE DREAM IS IT?
Many young people find themselves in this kind of situation when they are growing up. They don't know what they're good at. They don't know what they want to do. So they listen to their parents or friends and start in a direction for their lives that reflects someone else's desires and dreams, not their own. And that shouldn't be a surprise. Children first see themselves through the eyes of their parents and other role models. They have no other point of reference. Counseling expert Cecil G. Osborne, in The Art of Understanding Yourself, observes, "The young child has no clear picture of himself. He sees himself only in the mirror of his parents' evaluation of himself.... A child who is told repeatedly that he is a bad boy, or is lazy, or no good, or stupid, or shy, or clumsy, will tend to act out this picture which the parent or some other authority figure has given him." Many young people lose touch with their emerging identity-who they are and what they would really like to do-and they adopt the dreams and desires of someone else's heart because they wish to gain approval or because they don't know what else to do.
How many people attend law school because that is what their parents want? How many get married to please their mother? How many get a "real job" instead of pursuing a career in movies or the theater? Anytime you see people pursuing a midlife career change, you can almost be certain they had been living someone else's dream and lost their way. As disruptive as such a transition can be, they are more fortunate than the people who never discover and pursue their own dreams.
Even encouraging, positive, well-meaning parents can steer their children in a wrong direction. I know because I experienced it in a small way when I was seven years old. My parents were convinced that I possessed musical talent. They bought a piano and signed me up for lessons. For a couple of years, I enjoyed learning and practicing. I didn't have a passion for it, but I kept playing because it brought joy to my mom and dad.
My parents decided to broaden my musical horizons when I reached the fifth grade, and they bought me a trumpet. My teacher informed them that my mouth was not shaped correctly for that instrument, so they switched me to the clarinet. A famous clarinet player named Ted Lewis had come from my hometown, Circleville, Ohio, so friends started saying, "Maybe you can become the next Ted Lewis!"
Not likely. I didn't even have enough talent to make first chair in my elementary school band. I was the last clarinet!
At that age I really wanted to play basketball. I can still remember the pressure and heaviness of heart I felt when I finally sat down with my parents to tell them that I wanted to give up music to play sports. I can also remember the exhilaration I felt as they let go of their dream for me to become a great musician. It was with great joy that I packed away my clarinet for good and picked up a basketball.
Arnold wasn't sure of what he wanted to do, but he knew it wasn't law enforcement or carpentry. It wasn't for lack of trying to find his dream. He had ambition. In fact, one thing he did know was that he wanted to be the best in the world at whatever he chose. He loved athletics, but in his midteens, he still hadn't found the right sport. He had tried many: ice curling, boxing, running, and field events such as javelin and shot put. For five years, he played soccer but had no strong passion for it. Then one day his soccer coach asked members of the team to start lifting weights once a week to improve their conditioning. It was then that his dream began to take shape.
"I still remember that first visit to the bodybuilding gym," he recalls. "I had never seen anyone lifting weights before. Those guys were ... powerful looking, Herculean. And there it was before me-my life, the answer I'd been seeking. It clicked. It was something I suddenly just seemed to reach out and find, as if I'd been crossing a suspended bridge and finally stepped off onto solid ground."
At age fourteen, Arnold Schwarzenegger had found his passion in a gymnasium. His dream came just a few months later when he spotted a magazine in a store window. On its cover was the image of a bodybuilder playing the role of Hercules in a movie. Arnold remembers what happened next:
I scraped up the pfennigs [Austrian pennies] that I had left and bought that magazine. It turned out that Hercules was an English guy [named Reg Park] who'd won the Mr. Universe title in bodybuilding and parlayed that into a movie career-then took the money and built a gym empire. Bingo! I had my role model! If he could do it, I could do it! I'd win Mr. Universe. I'd become a movie star. I'd get rich. One, two, three-bing, bang, boom! I found my passion. I got my goal.
Not everyone understood Arnold's dream-certainly not his parents or the friends he grew up with. His father hoped it would be a passing phase.
"Well, Arnold, what do you want to do?" he would ask.
"Dad, I'm going to be a professional bodybuilder. I'm going to make it my life," Arnold would explain.
"I can see you're serious, but how do you plan to apply it?"
No one understood Arnold's choice, his dedication, and his vision.
"I could not have chosen a less popular sport," Arnold explains. "My school friends thought I was crazy. But I didn't care.... I had found the thing to which I wanted to devote my total energies and there was no stopping me. My drive was unusual; I talked differently than my friends; I was hungrier for success than anyone I knew." That's the power of a compelling dream. A dream is an inspiring picture of the future that energizes your mind, will, and emotions, empowering you to do everything you can to achieve it.
Once Arnold had found a dream of his own, he was relentless in its pursuit. He began working out for hours at a time, six days a week. His dream was to become the best built man in the world. At age eighteen while he served his mandatory year in the Austrian army, he won the Junior Mr. Europe, his first major competition. The next year he won Mr. Europe. He moved to Munich and kept working. He obtained part ownership in a gym there. And in 1967, he won the Mr. Universe amateur contest in London. He was only twenty years old, and his victory astounded everyone. When he called his parents to tell them about his success, they were less than excited.
"If it had been through the local Graz paper saying I had just completed my college degree, it would have meant more to them," remarks Arnold. "In a way I cared that they didn't understand it. I felt they ought to have at least realized what it meant to me. They knew how hard I had worked for it.... I think you're always doing things for the approval of your parents."
Despite the lack of support for his career choice, Arnold went on to win every major bodybuilding competition in the world, including the prestigious Mr. Olympia contest an incredible seven times, the last in 1980. But becoming the world's greatest bodybuilder-an amazing accomplishment in itself-was not Arnold's only dream. Many people were shocked when he was able to turn his bodybuilding prowess into a successful movie career. Years later, they were flabbergasted when he ran for governor of California-and won. What most people didn't know was that Arnold had dreamed of such things since his early days in Austria. At age twenty, he told a friend, "I want to win the Mr. Universe many times like Reg [Park, his idol]. I want to go into films like Reg. I want to be a billionaire. And I want to go into politics."
Arnold has lived his dream. He became Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia many times. He's made many movies, with his films earning more than $1.6 billion! He's been a highly successful businessperson. Since the early days in the United States, he's been a disciplined saver and wise investor in real estate, stocks, and businesses. (He's not quite a billionaire yet; it's estimated that his net worth is only $800 million.) He is a political leader. Arnold Schwarzenegger has owned his dream, and as a result, he has been highly successful.
"From the very beginning I knew bodybuilding was the perfect choice for my career," says Arnold. "No one else seemed to agree-at least not my family or teachers. To them the only acceptable way of life was being a banker, secretary, doctor, or salesman-being established in the ordinary way, taking the regular kind of job offered through an employment agency-something legitimate. My desire to build my body and be Mr. Universe was totally beyond their comprehension." But it wasn't beyond Arnold's comprehension-or his ability to achieve it because he was able to answer the Ownership Question affirmatively.
A DREAM IS POSSIBLE ONLY IF YOU OWN IT
How do you answer the Ownership Question? Is your dream really your dream? Are you willing to put it to the test? In the name of being sensible, many people ignore their desires. They undertake a career to please their parents, their spouses, or others. That may make them dutiful, but it will not make them successful. You cannot achieve a dream that you do not own.
Think about your personal history. How have your plans, goals, and desires been influenced by others? Are you aware of how your vision for yourself has been impacted? Is it possible that your dreams are the result of ...
Who your parents think you are? Who others think you are? Who you wish you were?
Or are they the result of ... Who you really are and are meant to be?
It is the responsibility of every individual to sort that out for himself or herself. In fact, you will fulfill your dream and live the life for which God created you only after you figure it out. As Nobel Prize winner for literature Joseph Brodsky observed, "One's task consists first of all in mastering a life that is one's own, not imposed or prescribed from without, no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends. It would be regrettable to squander this one chance on someone else's appearance, someone else's experience."
How do you know whether you're pursuing a dream that's not really your dream? Here are some clues to help you figure it out:
When Someone Else When You Own Owns Your Dream Your Dream
It will not have the right fit. It will feel right on you. It will be a weight on It will provide wings to your shoulders. your spirit. It will drain your energy. It will fire you up. It will put you to sleep. It will keep you up at night. It will take you out It will take you out of your strength zone. of your comfort zone. It will be fulfilling to others. It will be fulfilling to you. It will require others You will feel you were to make you do it. made to do it.
When the dream is right for the person and the person is right for the dream, the two cannot be separated from each other. For something to truly be your dream, you need to see the possibility it represents-and you need to own it! Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard asserted, "A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it."
Ownership is the first vital step to fulfilling a dream. It is like the key that opens a dream to everything else. When you own your dream, don't you see it more clearly? When you own it, don't you rely on things you can control to achieve it? Doesn't your passion increase, and aren't you more likely to develop a strategy to achieve it? Don't you include other people in it and pay the price to achieve it? When you own your dream, don't you become more tenacious and fulfilled while pursuing it? Doesn't its significance increase? All the other questions about your dream are more easily answered in the affirmative once you take ownership for it.
I HAVE A DREAM, BUT ...
Most people don't live out their dreams. They wish and wait. They make excuses. They hope for the best. As time goes by and their dreams are unfulfilled, some become frustrated and bitter. Others give up. Author and thinker Henry David Thoreau stated, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I believe one of the reasons so few people realize their dreams is that they don't take responsibility for them.
My brother, Larry, has often reminded me of the importance of putting a stake in the game for any endeavor. By a stake in the game, he means investing something of value. Anytime that happens, a person's level of commitment goes way up. Why? Because if you own something, you must give it energy, money, time, and commitment. When you have a stake in the game, you no longer have an easy come, easy go attitude about it. You are invested in it. Whenever Larry goes into a business deal with someone, he is sure that both have a stake in the game, or he doesn't move forward.
You need to possess a similar attitude about your dream. You need to have a stable in it, to own it. When you do, you become empowered to rise above the excuses offered by people for not pursuing a dream, such as the following three I hear most often:
Excuse #1: Dreams Don't Come True for Ordinary People
Many people believe that dreams are only for special people, and everyone else has to settle for less. But I disagree with that mind-set. It is true that the people who shape history have dreams. The Wright brothers wanted to fly. Winston Churchill envisioned a free Europe. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about racial equality. However, you don't have to be a world figure to have a dream. Everyone can have a dream and pursue it. In fact, the pursuit of a dream often makes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary people. Ordinary people can live extraordinary lives when they follow their dreams. Why do I say that? Because a dream becomes a catalyst to help people make important changes in their lives. You don't just change who you are in order to live out your dream. You pursue your dream, and the process changes who you are and what you can accomplish. A dream is both a target and a catalyst.
Excuse #2: If the Dream Isn't Big, It's Not Worth Pursuing
A dream should never be evaluated according to its size. That's not what determines its worth. A dream doesn't have to be big. It just has to be bigger than you are.
My friend Dan Reiland told me about a member of his staff who told his colleagues, "All I ever wanted to be was a great dad." They didn't criticize him because he wasn't shooting for the moon. And as he talked to them about his heartfelt desire, he had everyone in tears. It wasn't a big dream, but it was a powerful one. Bigger is not always better, and size does not determine significance.
Excuse #3: Now Is Not the Right Time to Pursue My Dream
The most common excuse for not owning and pursuing a dream is timing. Some say it's too soon. They wait for permission to go after their dream-permission that can be given to them only by themselves. Meanwhile, the few, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, see their dream and go after it, affirming the words of author Pearl S. Buck: "The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation."
Excerpted from PUT YOUR DREAM TO THE TEST by JOHN C. MAXWELL Copyright © 2009 by John C. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
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