What of Dreams?

What do dreams mean? Not those random visions we see in an almost hallucinatory manner as we slumber at night. Rather, the dreams that make up our goals, our ambitions. Why do we yearn for these things? Why is it they take up so much of our energy as we pine for them to come to fruition?

Dreams do not equal purpose. That is a lesson I had to learn early on and one that I am still fighting to instill within myself. In some cases, yes, dreams and purpose intertwine, but dreams are effectively pining for an end result, whereas purpose is a process. Dreams are a destination; purpose is a path.

My writing is a perfect illustration of this. I dream of success as a writer. Maybe, just maybe, my purpose is also to be a writer. After all, storytelling is of ancient importance to the existence of humanity. It is how cultures — from the time that we started communicating as this unique ape that is human beings — conveyed lessons, carried information across generations. On how to live, on how nature worked. It was all done through story. So it is not implausible that my purpose may intertwine with my dreams. But there is a difference.

Writing itself is an action. It is a process. I am a writer simply because I use pen and paper — keyboard and pixel — to form words that convey meaning and story. I am a writer because of the act of writing. To continue being a writer, I must write. That is it. That is all that is required. It is a process. Never ending. Perpetual, were I to deem it so.

The dream in writing… that is a different matter. I wish to publish a book. I wish to be a bestselling author. I wish to earn my income as a writer. Each of them is an end state. Once achieved, they no longer are of consequence — or they can no longer be a driving motivator. Or it becomes a lather, rinse, repeat cycle of rehashing goals. Couple that with the possible motivations that might go along with the dreams. Often they are superficial, based on things like recognition, approval, etc. Those are the “whys” behind dreams.

We can use desire as a synonym for dreams of this type. When I think of desire, I am often reminded of things like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (promoted by Oprah), or Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, where they lead one to believe that if you simply orient all your thoughts and hopes and wishes towards an end, the universe will suddenly move to manifest it. At least in my reading of Think and Grow Rich, I caught a passage on the need of that orienting thought to be coupled with effort… but I wonder if I would have caught it if I wasn’t looking for it by then, after having gone so long with the almost wish it into existence mantra the book appeared to push.

Purpose, though. Purpose holds with it the prospect of fulfillment. Not wish fulfillment. Rather, the feeling of accomplishment, of meaningfulness. When I write because I want to write, because I am having fun with it, when it is for the exploration of a theme or a topic of thought, it comes to be more meaningful to me. Not necessarily easier, but it is certainly more engaging. Life almost springs into action before me when this is the case. When I think about the dream or desire portions of it, it is a different feeling. Suddenly, that is when writing becomes difficult for me. Or it is easy, but in retrospect and in reviewing my work, the words I put down were vapid, bland, empty. They were without… meaning.

As an aside, I think that is where this concept of authenticity comes from as well. When working towards a dream, we tend to copy others who came before us. We try to emulate them. We don’t just listen and try to learn techniques or lessons from their victories or follies, we simply attempt to follow the same path. Want to write a bestselling novel like some famous author? Well, do exactly like they did! And how many books out in the bookstores are really just bland re-tellings of the same stories? Too many to count.

Then there’s always a few that smack us in the face. The exceptions that prove the rule. These voices are hailed as authentic voices. They don’t follow the mold. Give it time, and then industry will mold them. If the writer stays focused on the dream, and not on the purpose. Commercial success rarely sustains for those who shirk the demands of conformity that industry puts forward. (Except maybe in modern times with how the internet and independent publishing have blossomed.)

Writers who write from the place of purpose, of process, without consideration of the dream, find themselves labeled as unique. I am certain there is more there to be explored later.

What of those dreams, though? Why do we have them? Is it a calling of the spirit, as many are wont to believe? 

Another way to think of dreams is that they are akin to fantasy. Not that they aren’t real or that they are not possible, simply that they are something that is just beyond the reach of reality. Something that doesn’t exist. At least yet. Maybe.

Dreams can be a bleed-off, a valve to relieve some of the tensions of modern life. Certainly when my career frustrates me, I find myself disappearing into that fantasy land of imagining what life might be like as a full-time, successful writer. That end state. These opaque, incomplete views help to relieve tension. Unless I think about them for too long. 

Dreams can be a problem when we fixate on them. Focusing too long on the end rather than the path can disorient me. Maybe others feel the same way too, as though staring too long at a spreadsheet on the computer. They almost screw up our vision, also like the way a lightbulb creates this weird flash overlaid with our eyesight if we look a little too long at it. Our vision is blurry. But not quite in the same way.

Another phrase or saying that is akin to this phenomenon is “not seeing the forest for the trees”. In this analogy, the trees are what we can call our dreams, our goals. Sure, the connections aren’t wholly perfect, but we can work with them to figure this whole thing out.

I was, for many years, the kind of person who only saw the trees. I looked at my dreams and conflated them to my purpose. In doing so, the purpose actually suffered for it. In many ways, I believe that my purpose is to be a writer. To tell stories and to explore the truth through writing. My problem is that while I might believe that, I’ve locked myself for too long in the dream of it. Of being a “writer”. Of reaching fame. Financial success. Recognition. The superficial trappings of life. While those all might be nice perks, they aren’t writing. They aren’t a path.

If I truly want to be a writer — to act in the manner of it being my purpose — I have to walk a path. And to do so, I might have to learn to dispense with these dreams.


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