Monthly Archives: June 2012

I Have a Dream

I have a dream.

Well, I’m working on it, at least.

It’s big and quite different from anything I’ve allowed myself to dream about in the past. It’s bold and brash and promises to challenge me at every turn, to push me out of my comfort zone at every opportunity.

It’s a dream that will test my commitment, my faith in myself, my vision.

It’s the kind of dream that gets scoffed at, dismissed as unattainable for little people like me. I myself direct the scoffing-and-dismissing choir. Often with precision and skill.

But it’s a dream born out of the conviction that it’s time to move on. Time to leave the past in the past and create a present and future of my own making, on my own terms.

And it frightens me.

Like ripe peaches on a tree, with just a little shake the doubts and questions and uncertainties rain down on my head.

Are you sure you want this? That’s a really wide chasm between here and there—what makes you think you have what it takes to make it across? Aren’t you being presumptuous to think you can make it? You don’t have enough talent, experience, know-how, connections, or skills. Ordinary people like you don’t get to live out dreams like that. No way you can make this happen.

The chasm between here and there, reality now and reality then, seems distressingly wide. But dreams often seem that way, don’t they?

Barbara Sher points out in her book, Wishcraft, that when it comes to taking actual steps toward our dreams, we stop ourselves and hide behind all the reasons it can’t be done. I don’t have the money. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the skills. I have to take care of my family. I have debt to repay. The time’s not right.

Here’s the real truth, though: We’re not afraid we cannot fulfill our dreams. We’re afraid we can!

Why else do we go into hiding? This truth is not easy to face.

But the obstacles and reasons-it-can’t-be-done only take on the level of invincibility we assign them. We actually have more say-so than we choose to acknowledge.

If we recognize this truth, our obstacles take on the consistency of play dough: solid, but pliable. Completely within our power to shape and mold.

If we recognize this truth, we’re left with no more excuses. Only the choice to move forward or stay put. Life, or death-by-same-old-same-old.

I have a dream.

Did I mention how big and scary it feels?

If I wait for the right time, the perfect conditions, the stars to align, I may wait forever.

So, even in the face of fear and awe, doubt and uncertainty, a long list of reasons-it-can’t-be-done, I take the first step. Just one step.

But it’s one step closer to bridging that chasm, one step closer to fulfilling my dream. Woo-hoo!

What’s your dream?

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Freedom and Redemption: The Shawshank Edition

A couple of weeks ago I got to thinking about that movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” It just popped into my head one day as I pondered the often complex relationship between freedom and courage and fear.

I thought about the old guy in the movie, Brooks, who had completed 50 years as an inmate at Shawshank Prison. By the time we meet him, life outside of prison had become a distant memory for him, a non-reality. Red, the story’s narrator and another inmate, described Brooks as “institutionalized”—a part of the prison system for so long that he had absorbed its identity as his own. He could no longer separate Brooks, the man, from Brooks, the inmate.

Then one day, the powers that be handed Brooks the one essential thing his fellow inmates coveted and clamored for, the one thing that, indeed, most humans fight for, and the one thing on which he himself, at one point in time, had probably hung hopes and dreams.

Freedom.

Freedom to walk away, to make his own choices, to live his life by his own rules, to take back ownership of his life.

But as he stood on the threshold between a dark and narrow past, and a vast, open future, Brooks faltered.

The future, with all its bright possibilities and choices and freedoms turned out to be more than he could handle. He had come from a place where Big Brother controlled every minute of his day, every morsel of food he ate, every activity in which he engaged, practically every thought in his head. To suddenly be free of this weight threw him off-balance, left him feeling unmoored and adrift.

Lost.

He tried to make do in this new land of the free, to make sense of the vast and unfamiliar landscape. To find a new reason and purpose for his life. But he just could not find a firm grip.

In the end, the effort just didn’t seem worth it. One day, in the little apartment that posed as his new home, he hung himself. Cause of death: freedom.

Freedom can shock your senses when you’ve gotten so used to being tied down.

Believe me, I know.

I’ve written about how I spent a good part of my life feeling trapped by weaknesses, unrealistic expectations, and a large helping of fear. I yearned for my own freedom, for the day I could finally make my life my own. Turns out, unlike Brooks, the obstacles causing my entrapment were mostly false fronts with unlocked doors. With a little courage and strategic effort, I could easily walk through them.

Knowing this, I’d like to think I’d be more like the movie’s main character, Andy: brave, determined, willing to risk everything, even his life, for his freedom, for the sake of taking back ownership of his life. But the truth is, sometimes I fear I more resemble old man Brooks, who had become so institutionalized and re-formed that a life behind bars was the only life that made sense.

But even knowing that my sense of captivity is largely an illusion, I still hesitate at the threshold. Somehow the devil I know—the frustration, the yearnings, the maddening sense of being tethered to the ground—lures me back to its side with offerings I find difficult to resist: Safety. Familiarity. Comfort (such as it is) in that I at least I know my way around here.

Compelling things, those, and not to be underestimated.

Holding tightly to them, freedom looks like the devil I don’t know. From the vantage point of safety, freedom looks vast and intimidating and overwhelming, even as it intrigues and calls to me.

But freedom does beckon, slowly, patiently, coaxing me out like you would a frightened dog or skittish horse. Showing me where I can make different choices, embrace new assumptions and beliefs, and envision a different outcome. I learn to be patient with myself, to understand that I have to give my eyes enough time to adjust to this new landscape, to begin to recognize objects and forces—thoughts, promptings, ideas, dreams—that I had been blind to before.

Isn’t that what Andy did for Red in the movie? Andy helped Red to see beyond the walls of their prison, to envision an outcome other than life and death in captivity. Andy gave Red reason to hope. And when Red was finally released after more than 40 years of imprisonment, fully institutionalized, by his own admission, Andy saved his life by luring him towards a future and a hope.

Towards freedom. And redemption.

By the grace of God, that’s where I’m headed, too.

What’s Your Weakness?

You can do anything you want to, if you just put your mind to it.

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase a million times.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t embrace it wholeheartedly.

I understand the message behind it. With a little sweat, grit and passion, we can accomplish much more than we might imagine. If we give up too easily, or fail to take full ownership of our dreams and goals, we may always fall short.

Still, the fact is, none of us can do anything we want to do. We all have limits. Weaknesses.

But in our society, “weakness” is a four-letter word, a distasteful burden we must strive to fix, eliminate or conceal at all cost.

To use the square peg/round hole analogy, our square edges prevent us from fitting into standard round holes, so those square edges become weaknesses to be sheared off and sandpapered down.

I myself spent a good part of my career trying to force my square edges to fit neatly into round holes. I had adopted the belief that, if I wanted to survive, much less succeed, I had to conform to round hole specifications. So I dedicated untold amounts of energy and effort trying to “fix” what was wrong with me.

I had a lot of help, too. In the office, well-meaning supervisors invested extra time and effort to my transformation. Goals and objectives, performance reviews, regular check-ins all became part of the strategy to turn me into a well-oiled, highly productive cog in the organizational machine. They were motivated to do this, at least initially, because of the untapped potential they saw in me. All that talent could be unleashed if we followed the plan to whittle away my square edges.

I welcomed this investment, at least initially, because I, too, believed that the key to my success, the answer to my career struggles and setbacks, involved forcing my weaknesses, my limits, into submission. The longer I failed to accomplish this goal, I feared, the deeper into the pit of mediocrity I would sink.

So I continuously sought after and accepted round hole positions. And with each new position and supervisory intervention, I prayed that this time I would finally conquer those weaknesses, bend them to my will, and thus earn my ticket into the kingdom of round holes where, finally, I could legitimately join the ranks of those whose abilities, skills and accomplishments—whose worth—remained unquestioned.

I always started out with good intentions and great hope, but at some point I would find myself bumping and crashing against my limits. Motivation turned to disappointment, frustration and a deep-seated puzzlement: I obviously had talent and brains—why then could I not consistently perform up to standard? I either could not or would not do what needed to be done to fit into that round hole. Mission failed.

And for me, every failed mission struck with the force of a hit-and-run, leaving me to pick up the broken pieces of my self scattered over the ground, questioning my self-worth and my abilities, and struggling to find the energy to start all over again.

But that’s what happens when you try to build a career that relies too heavily on whittling down square edges, on exorcising weaknesses. It’s like trying to live in a house of cards—collapse is inevitable and debilitating.

Just think: where would I be now if I had known to change course earlier on, if I had chosen not to fear and revile my weaknesses, but to respect and honor them instead? If I had followed the trail of my talents and strengths, and allowed my limits to stand on their own and help guide my journey?

Would I be writing this blog, I wonder?

Fortunately I’m starting to learn these lessons. I can’t even begin to tell you how freeing it is to know that I cannot do everything I put my mind to. My weaknesses exist not to cut me down, but to point the way to my purpose, my calling.

My square edges are mine, and I’m keeping them.