How to Dream Big: The Practicals

Last week, I shared about my journey of learning to dream. But becoming a dreamer isn’t all about emotional healing and having the courage to hope. If you’re going to get anywhere, you actually need to partner your courage with some practical steps, so that the culture of your heart begins to change to accommodate your dreams. If I inspired you last week, this week I want to give you practical tools so you can learn to dream.

Step One: Stop limiting yourself to what you think is possible.

When talking about dreams with people, the question that I like to ask is, “If time and money were of no object, what would you do?” The question sometimes shocks people, because our lives are so often defined by what’s in front of us. But dreaming focuses on beyond us, what we could never do by ourselves anyways. To do this, you have to think bigger than your limitations. Imagine the future in “What if?”


Step Two: Stop trying to figure out how your dreams could happen before you let yourself dream them.

One time, in a one-on-one meeting with a leader at School of the Heart, I decided to share one of my dreams. It felt stupid, impossible, and immature, but I somehow felt like I was still supposed to share it. “When I was little, I dreamed of being an astronaut, and I think it’s still one of my dreams to go to outer space.” Uncomfortable, I babbled on. “But, it’s not possible. I mean, maybe it could happen if I–” She cut me off. “Maggie,” she said, “Stop trying to figure out how it could happen. That’s God’s job. Stop trying to rationalize it. You don’t have to know how it’s going to happen for it to happen, and you certainly don’t have to know how it’s going to happen for you to dream it. I have lots of dreams in my life that I don’t know how they’re going to happen. You just have to trust.”

This exchange really challenged the way that I viewed dreaming, because it forced me to let go of the last bit of control I was holding on to. I was trying to protect myself from my fear of disappointment by trying to wrap my head around all the little details of how my dreams could happen, but unless you’re vulnerable, with the potential of being disappointed, you’re not really dreaming. So now, when I dream, I make the conscious effort to stop overanalyzing every little possibility, and to let a dream be a dream. I’m invested in it, but not in control of it.


Step Three: Let go of your timeline.

By the same token, it’s important that you stop expecting to reach all your dreams before you’re thirty. Sure, there will always be young successes, but most dreams require a slow process of growth and character development, so that you will be actually be ready for them when it’s time. But putting aside talk of  “the process” (I LOVE the process, and could talk about it all day), it’s really important that you stop putting the pressure on yourself that comes with a having timeline for your dreams. The anxiety will crush you; I would know, I tried it. Dreams have no expiration date; if they did, they would just be goals. So don’t be afraid to let it all go. For some dreams, even the end of your lifetime is too short a focus. Dreams have a longevity that can carry them through generations, so that our children’s children’s children can reap the benefits of what we dream today. And yes, by all means, take practical steps, and dream of a few things that you will totally see in your lifetime, but the dreaming phase is for imagining what’s possible, not for heaping on more fear of missed deadlines (heaven knows my art class already gives me enough of that).

Step Four: Write it down, and read over your list every so often.

At School of the Heart, one of our assignments was to make a list of 100 dreams. It was spread out throughout the semester, so that we weren’t completely overwhelmed, but nevertheless, each student graduated with a list of at least 100 dreams, and many people had even more. Once you start dreaming, it’s hard to stop! Writing down your dreams is an important practice because it takes them from the realm of fantasy to the reality of vulnerability. When you write down your dreams, they feel real. And when you make a list, they are all in one place. I have a google doc, so that my list won’t get lost, and I revisit it at least once a month to read through what I’ve written and add new dreams.


Step Five: Share your dreams.

Sharing your dreams is scary and vulnerable, but totally worth it. Sharing your dreams makes them feel real, and talking about them will inspire you more. Additionally, you will need the community around you to fight for your dreams if you want to make it. If you’re dreaming big, you can’t go it alone. Share your dreams with people you trust, but share them.

This is my dream tree. It was given to me at School of the Heart to be a visual reminder of the dreams in my heart. Now that I’m back at Kenyon, it sits on top of my bookcase so that every time I see it, I remember to dream.


My Dreams

All that being said, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and share a few of the dreams on my list. My list will look really different than yours, but let them inspire you to dream about your life, big and small.


-Become an ordained pastor.

-Have a dog.

-Be published in Relevant Magazine.

-Write, perform, and record an album.

-Change the way the Church talks about marginalized peoples, creating humanizing rather than dehumanizing patterns of speech.

-Play doorpost soccer with my kids.

-Become a person whose self-confidence and genuine humility breaks self-hatred off of others.

-Ride the world’s fastest roller coaster.

-See the end of the private prison industry.

-Learn to make a lattice-crust pie and share it with my family and friends.


Obviously, these dreams are all really different from one another. Some are fun, and others are incredibly serious. Some are easy to accomplish while others seem impossible. Some are about my career path, others about family, and others still, about the kind of person that I want to be. Dreams can be anything.


Go do it!

Dreaming can be a daunting task, but the reality is that you just have to try it. Make a list of ten dreams this week, or twenty if you’re feeling ambitious, and then grab a friend and share them. Next month, look back at your list, read through it, and add a few more. Go dream! I dare you.

Image Credit: Maggie Griffin