How Do You Know?

What’s the difference between pursuing a dream and chasing an illusion? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. This past year too many people have told me that I’m chasing illusions and my question is always the same: how do you know the difference between a dream and an illusion?

The problem with dreams is that most people let go of them. When I was in high school an English teacher screamed at me. My dreams frustrated her. She insisted that my dreams where too big and too varied and I’d have to “pick one and learn to compromise.” Even then I knew that she was shouting at herself. Dreams do not die easily.

You can spot a dream strangler a mile away. They will tell you that your dream is not practical. In fact, that is true. No dream is practical and that is precisely the point. Dreams lead into the Netherlands of the unknown. Going into the unknown has never been practical. It is practical to stay at home and watch television. Safety is practical. Living a vibrant life has nothing to do with practicality. There is no accounting that can predict the bottom line of a dream.

When does a dream become an illusion? What is the distinction between pursuing a dream and chasing an illusion? When do you give up hope that your dream is viable? At what point do you set down the dream and say to yourself, “I guess I will do something else.” What else would you do?

I want to do good work in the world. Like every person I’ve ever met, I bring specific gifts to the party. Like every person I’ve ever met, bringing all of my gifts to the party is my dream. Unlike most people I know, my gifts do not easily fit into a single box. Or, perhaps it is more true to say that I am not good at fitting my gifts into a single box. I’ve been a tenured teacher, an artistic director, a corporate consultant, an executive and life coach, and actor and director. I’m an illustrator and author. I’ve worked with many schools and universities – I started a school within a school. Lately I’ve been watching entrepreneurs and accelerator partners trip all over themselves so lost are they in needing to know what they are doing. I wrote a book last winter that I thought would help – and I drew half a years worth of a comic strip. Humor is a great way to say what cannot be said otherwise. I’m a painter. None of those forms are the dream. They were attempts to bring my gift to the party.

This is my gift: I help people see clearly and step into their field of possibility. I help people see what they cannot see. And, like most people, I do for others what I most need to learn.

Here’s my latest theory on the dream/illusion border: Joseph Campbell once said that no one lives the life that he or she intended. We step into life with an idea of what we want to do or become and then something else happens. If you hang onto the dream, what happens is that the dream reveals itself in a surprising form. If you let go of the dream, you have nothing left to chase but illusions of fulfillment.

This dream/illusion question is no small affair…

2 Responses

  1. Picture an infinite array of dominoes ringing you and stretching to the horizon when you get up every morning. Let’s say these represent all one’s potential futures at any given moment. Pick one domino. Knock it down. What happens beyond that first fall is something of a crap shoot so that “…no one lives the life he or she intended”. However in the choice of these first dominoes–the myriad large and small daily decisions we make–is contained our future. In this sense we have at least the chance to realize our dreams. We have plenty of opportunities to create our own luck. I once read somewhere “how we spend our minutes is how we spend our lives”. I’ve also heard said “if you can believe it you can achieve it”…in which case it seems to me there’s little difference between dreams and illusions except the level of commitment one brings to attending to one’s minutes and knocking down well-chosen dominoes.

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