Some people have great clarity of what’s on their bucket list - the things they want to accomplish with their life. But others struggle, not even knowing where to start. If you’re struggling with finding big dreams worth chasing, consider seeking inspiration from a younger version of yourself.
Digging Up Your Childhood Dreams
Children have an amazing ability to dream - to think of possibilities for the future without care for what’s possible, practical, or socially acceptable.
As we get older, our vision for our lives tends to narrow as we are influenced by the messages we get from our peers, media, and advertising. Some of this shift comes under the guise of “practicality” but too often we end up discarding dreams that could be worth pursuing.
As my wife and I have explored goals in our own lives, one of the recurring things we’ve seen is how the spirit of our childhood dreams still speak to us.
Think back to your childhood. What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you picture your life? Where would you live? Where would you travel? How would you spend your days?
Do any of those dreams still speak to you?
A Little White Shack
When my wife, Jaime, was young, she dreamed of living in a little white shack with the love of her life and kids. She didn’t dream of having a ton of possessions or living in luxury - just being close to the people that mattered most to her and focusing on quality time together.
Our grown-up sensibilities would tell us that our path should have been climbing the corporate ladder, upsizing to a bigger house and pursuing the material goods that show you’ve made it.
But her dream as a child was a pure and honest reflection of her character. Raw and unfiltered, it reflects her true priorities - priorities that I share.
Over the last few years, we’ve shed the possessions that didn’t add value to our life and downsized to a space that suited a more moderate lifestyle. With our recent purchase of a small piece of land, we now have plans to build our “little white shack” and make that dream come true.
What if your dream isn’t all that “practical” though? It’s easy enough to minimize and downsize, but what about a dream that seems unachievable?
Reframing Dreams Using Why’s
Maybe as a kid, you wanted to be an astronaut. While it’s certainly a legitimate profession, it’s not exactly the easiest job to get into. There are only about 150 in the world at any given time.
Setting that as your goal now may be the right move. If you’re all-in, I say go for it!
But if it’s out of reach (or something would disqualify you altogether) or conflicts with other goals you have, you needn’t give everything up - you just need to reframe it.
A great method to doing this is to use the Why’s method. Let me explain; we all did this as kids, so it should be easy to resurrect:
Don’t accept your goals at face value - ask why. Then ask why again…and again…and again until you get to an answer that speaks to the heart of what your goal truly was.
Let’s play through the astronaut example:
- I want to be an astronaut. Why?
- I wish I could get into space. Why?
- I love the thought of floating in zero-gravity. Why?
- The thought of feeling weightless sounds so freeing. Why?
- Because I’d be like a bird - able to soar without touching anything.
As we went through these questions, each answer led to something more practical and more actionable. By the end, we have a target that still accomplishes the goal without all the constraints and challenge of becoming an actual astronaut.
We can get to the heart of the dream (being able to soar) in a variety of ways:
- Save up $5000 and go on a zero-gravity flight
- Get a pilot’s license
- Try out hang gliding
Any of these are significantly more achievable than becoming an astronaut but still embodies the spirit of the original dream. If you had wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, you now have three really cool options that you can put on your list and start pursuing.
Why’s In Action
As a kid, I wanted to do a ton of things when I got older. I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to run my own business and create software.
Any one of these might be possible, but doing all simultaneously by those definitions would probably require a cloning machine.
By using why’s though, I’ve been able to get to the core of each of these in a way that makes them achievable regardless of my situation.
I said I wanted to be a stand-up comedian, but what I really wanted was to bring people joy - to make them laugh. I get a chance to try this with my wife and kids every day (much to their chagrin) with my cheesy sense of humor.
I said I wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, but what I really wanted was to be a present father - to give my children love and attention. I get a chance to do this with the time we carve out together - for movie nights, daddy/daughter dates, and everywhere between.
I said I wanted to be a teacher, but what I really wanted was a chance to share knowledge and help others. I get to do this through this blog - sharing what I’ve learned and learning from my readers as well.
I said I wanted to run my own business and create software. What I really wanted was a chance to create something meaningful and impactful that I own end-to-end. The work I’ve done the last two years with this blog and with my app - Thrifty - have been a great way to fulfill this.
What Were Your Dreams?
As you look for inspiration and for dreams worth chasing, think back to what you wanted as a kid. Dig into each possibility with the goal of finding the heart of what that dream was really about. When you get there, you’ll likely find a world of opportunity and excitement for the future.
What were your dreams as a child? Have you accomplished those? For the ones you haven’t, what does applying the “Why’s” approach lead you to instead?