Of Dreams and Duty

of dreams and duty

I’m such a sucker for dream-come-true stories.

Guess that’s why I like shows like The Voice. Every artist has a story of struggle and hardship and a dream that will not be denied. Each one brings her fragile dream to the stage and exposes it to the world. Curled up on my sofa, I’m a nervous wreck. You’d think it was my own dream on the line, and I can’t sing a lick! But boy, can I relate.

I have dreams. I spent my childhood and adolescence with my nose buried in a book, totally absorbed by words on a page that plumbed the depths of my being. How could the author, a complete stranger, tap into my soul with such surgical precision? I wanted to be that kind of surgeon. A writer.

But I have duties. Obligations, no matter how pleasant, that demand my attention in the here and now. For years, it was wiping snotty noses and dirty bottoms, kissing boo-boos and foreheads, cheering soccer goals and volleyball kills. And then it was corporate. Executing strategies and budgets and performance reviews. And now I’m back to caregiving – bathing, dressing, kissing my mama’s forehead goodnight. And through every season, tending a growing marriage while trying desperately to keep up with the laundry and cooking and cleaning. Would I change a whit? Not a chance. However menial, each duty represents an investment in my finest life’s work – my tribe.

But here’s the thing. Duties and dreams do not coexist well. Both need time and space and resources, but duties demand, whereas dreams softly implore.

Dreams Deferred

One of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes, explored what happens when a dream is deferred.

“What happens to a dream deferred?

                              Does it dry up

                             like a raisin in the sun?

                             Or fester like a sore—

                             And then run?

                             Does it stink like rotten meat?

                             Or crust and sugar over—

                             like a syrupy sweet?

                             Maybe it just sags

                             like a heavy load.

                              Or does it explode?”

Langston Hughes’ dream was the same as Martin Luther King’s. It was the very beat of his heart, the ink in his pen, his raison d’etre. Perhaps his dream worked through each of the stages he describes – dried, infected, crusty, rotten, weary, explosive. But it never went away. Dreams are like that. Determined little boogers.

I’ve been thinking about my dreams a lot lately, probably sparked by a deluge of mail from AARP. Seeing signs of life in a dream I had deferred for 50 years has given me new hope and determination. I still have duties, of course, but I have more liberty, too.

If your dreams are largely deferred for now, here are five things you can do to keep them alive.

Speak them.

If I asked you to tell me your dreams, could you? Have you buried them so deep you aren’t sure you have any? You do. To speak them out loud is to affirm your true self. Dreams spring from your God-given wiring. They are the very essence of who you are. Speak them, if only to yourself.

Affirm them.

Repeat after me: “Dreams are good. I deserve to have dreams.” We all know someone who has selfishly pursued his own dreams, leaving a path of broken relationships in his wake. To be clear, that’s bad. But the dream itself was good. Got it? I’m not advocating abandoning your family to do your own thing. Those duties that keep you from pursuing your dreams are good too! Everything in its time. Even though dreams and duties compete, let them live together in relative harmony.

Nurture them.

Because they aren’t pushy, dreams can be ignored. But don’t. Feed them, even if you can only give morsels. If your dream is writing, read good books, attend a seminar at your local college, volunteer to do a guest post for your friend’s blog. If your dream is music, sing or play with your church band, go to a concert, volunteer with your kid’s band or choir. You get the idea. Spend time in the arena you want to find yourself, and build a network of friends who share your passion.

Guard them.

Life’s demands can be dream-crushing. Don’t listen to the naysayers and pessimists, even if one of those voices belongs to you. Maybe your dream has to be deferred for now, but another day is coming! Believe it! Wrap yourself in hope like a super-hero cape. Defend your dreams with the same ferocity you defend your kids or friends.

Pursue them.

When time and opportunity allow, work on achieving your dream. Through education, practice, trial and error, you make small steps in the right direction. Celebrate any gains, no matter how small. The duties that keep you from throwing yourself whole-heartedly into your passions can actually be a good thing. If you’re like me, more time doesn’t necessarily make me more productive. Quite the opposite. Time scarcity forces me to focus my energy more intentionally. Embrace the struggle!

What is your heart whispering? What would you do if anything were possible? I wish you dreams, my friend, and the joyous pursuit of those dreams. All in good time.

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