If only our dreams introduced themselves to us so neatly!

For a long time, I had a dream to “help the environment someday”. A very nebulous, though perhaps noble, goal. Unfortunately, there were always things that seemed to get in the way. I recognize them now as mostly excuses and fears, but at the time, they seemed like legitimate concerns.

I’m too busy. It’s very inconvenient. My kids are small and need all my attention right now. The list goes on (and on and on!). 

So I did what most of us do when confronted with all the reasons not to pursue my dream. I waited. I waited for the perfect timing (it never came!). I waited to be less busy (I never was!). I waited for the right conditions (you guessed it, never happened!). I waited for a sign (still waiting!). And a decade went by. 

You might be wondering to yourself how a person like me, known to many as a great accountability partner, could let this happen. Where was the accountability on my own dream? So glad you asked!

The first obstacle for me was that I didn’t acknowledge the fact that this was a dream. I had been treating it as a nice-to-have-someday sort of wish, rather than a dream I wanted to work to fulfill. We’ve talked before about the importance of dreaming big. I had failed to do that in this regard.

Another way I let myself off the hook was through inaction. I was paralyzed by trying to decide the best way to help the environment someday. Every time I would think about it, I’d feel stuck or overwhelmed, so I’d stop. I’ve shared before that hope isn’t a plan and sometimes the best plan is to stop planning and start taking action!

Interestingly, we all end up in this scenario at some point over the course of our careers. Sometimes, it’s the role we’re afraid to say out loud that we’d really love to have. It can be the new technology you’d like to take a class to learn more about, but are afraid of being the oldest (or youngest!) person there. Maybe you’d like to do a full career pivot, but don’t have the slightest idea what you’d pivot to. 

The writer Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “It’s never too late to reclaim your individual gifts, resuscitate a dream, create an authentic life.” That’s some great encouragement! Especially for those of us with dreams that have been on the backburner for a decade or more!!

Where to start? How about with the same two principles that helped me finally move forward. Acknowledge your dream and put some clarity around it. Then, try doing one small thing to get some momentum. 

For me, it started with reading a few books and watching some documentaries. Then I decided to apply for a leadership training. After the panic wore off from getting accepted to the training, I found ways to make the training as meaningful as possible, including building connections with people. That led to forming a group in the Milwaukee area to support each other and continue to take action. 

I couldn’t plan out all these steps in advance because I didn’t know where each action would lead me. That’s the interesting thing about action. It often will surprise you with where you end up because you’re learning and adjusting as you go.

#PositiveAction Do you have something that you’ve been putting off for someday? It’s time to acknowledge that dream and turn it into action, one small step at a time!

 

Image from Pixabay

Last week, I shared a little bit about the awesome Honor Flight that I was lucky to be a part of and what a great experience we had. It was literally a day of kindness… which was cool since that is one of the attributes that my great uncle is known for. He is also known for his compassion. 

Kindness and compassion aren’t necessarily celebrated as top leadership traits in the world of work and yet any one of us knows that working for or with someone kind and compassionate is a pretty great experience. 

What can we learn from this? 

  1. Live into your strengths, whatever they are
  2. Don’t worry if you lack the “traditional” qualities
  3. Actions leave a lasting impact, even seemingly ordinary ones

First and foremost, you need to identify and accept  your wonderful, weird strengths. Then use them wherever and whenever you can! If it’s compassion and kindness, like my great uncle, do that! If it’s strategy and planning, do that!

Second, the narrow definitions we see on what makes a great employee or leader often fail to take into account the first point. When we’re using our strengths, we will be most successful. That will look different for each of us, of course, but the fact remains. In the case of my great uncle, his approach was different than many educators of that time. Instead of focusing on discipline, he leaned into his strengths of kindness and compassion.

Third, our ordinary actions in our ordinary moments in any given ordinary day are often the things that are most vividly remembered later. I love the irony of this! My kids are frequent reminders to me because we always talk about our favorite part of the day before bedtime. 9 times out of 10, it’s the everyday activity that stands out for them: reading books together or playing a game or watching our favorite show as a family. No fancy trip to a theme park or over-the-top gift required! Just hanging out doing the stuff we were going to do anyway. Basically extra ordinary is all that’s required.

That brings me back to my great uncle. He’s spent his life displaying kindness and compassion, regardless of if it was in style or what “successful” leaders did. It wasn’t noteworthy or award-winning. It was weaved into his ordinary every day. And it was so memorable that many of his former 6th grade students felt the need to thank him for it nearly 50 years later. That’s pretty extraordinary to me!

#PositiveAction Think about the legacy you’re creating by using your strengths. How are you making your ordinary days extraordinary?

Photo created by me. 

 

Many a high school and college graduation speech is spent telling young people to dream big. Shoot for the moon. Anything is possible! 

I’m not arguing with that advice at all. I think dreaming big is great! I also think it becomes harder to do the older we get. When was the last time you went to a retirement party where the advice everyone gives the retiree is to dream big about their next phase in life? Yeah. Me either.

Somewhere between our wide-eyed youth and our cynical old age, the act of dreaming starts to seem frivolous. Childish. Unnecessary. We go from thinking, “Anything is possible!” to “How can I survive this month? (Or sometimes day or even meeting)”. I want to point out that merely muddling through is a very low bar to set. There’s no fun or joy in that. 

What if I told you that you could thrive? Would you believe me? Shrug it off? Say you don’t have time for that?

Thriving looks and feels very different from surviving (aka muddling through) and that’s because it has a dreaming component.

Many of us may be out of practice at dreaming, so let’s define it first. A dream is a cherished aspiration, ambition, or idea. I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds great! How do I get one?” The answer starts with questions. 

When we’re young, we have questions about everything. As we get older, we start to think we have answers and stop asking questions. A great way to dream is to ask yourself questions. What would I do if money were no longer an issue? What drives me crazy that I wish I could change? What legacy am I leaving for my family? How do I want to be remembered? Am I having the kind of impact I want? What do I care most deeply about?

The list of questions is endless – I’m sure you thought of more just while reading that. More importantly, are you ready for your authentic answers? It’s time each of us had a cherished aspiration, ambition, or idea we were working toward! When you do, you have energy, interest and excitement around bringing that dream to life.

I think the artist (and dreamer!) Jason Kotecki said it best, “The only dreams that have no chance of coming true are the ones never dreamed in the first place.”

Regardless of your age, you need to dream big. 

What areas of your life do you need to start reimagining? Can you dream bigger? 

#PositiveAction: Spend 5 minutes thinking about and writing the answer to one of the questions above (or one that you made up) and see if it helps to bring a dream into focus for you.

Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Hi! I’m Allyson. Most of my friends call me Ally. Welcome to the Authentic Ally (see what I did there?) blog where I share my thoughts on careers and life, partly because I’m interested in those topics and partly because we spend so much of our time physically at our careers (as well as worrying about them when we’re not there!) that it’s hard to separate them from our lives.

One of my favorite quotes on work comes from the comedian Drew Carey:

 “Oh you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody, and they meet at the bar.”

It’s intended to be funny, but there’s a large kernel of truth in it. More than 70% of American workers range from unhappy to downright miserable in their jobs. There are a lot of reasons for the disengaged feelings so many people experience and we’ll explore a lot of those reasons here on this blog, but first let’s all agree that the embarrassingly high number of unhappy workers is not ok. It’s bad for people and it’s bad for companies. 

So I’m here to change that. I want to increase the number of happy workers because happier people are healthier people. They’re better partners, parents, co-workers, friends, leaders, and volunteers. And just imagine how our world changes when the majority of people are doing work that they love, that excites them, and that brings about high levels of creativity!  

Who’s with me? *Collective cheer rises up… or at least a nodding of heads in agreement* Great! Let’s get started.