No matter how old you are, you must have a vision for your future. Are you afraid to dream? You should be more afraid not to.
Nobody had ever asked me much about my dreams until Walt Wright, an unexpected mentor, forced me to take my future seriously.
"Leslie," he said one morning as he walked into the office, "I'd like to see your 10-year plan."
What's that? I wondered. Would I find it in one of the file drawers at my new receptionist's desk? At 21 years of age, I hadn't planned my next 10 days, let alone my next decade.
"I'm serious," Walt continued. "I want you to think about what you'd like to accomplish." He handed me a legal pad and said he'd check in with me a couple of days later; and he did.
"OK," he said leaning back in his chair with his feet on his desk, "let's hear it. What are you going to do with the next 10 years you have on this planet?"
I read aloud three things I'd put on my list. First, I wanted to help get Les, my husband, through graduate school. Second, I wanted to eventually move out of our tiny apartment and into a house. And three, I wanted to have children.
"Hmm," Walt nodded. "OK. That's a start. Would you say this captures your dream? Is this what you want to do with your life?"
That's a bit of a different question. Truth be told, I wanted to do more than whittle away at my husband's student loans, get a mortgage and have a baby. I wanted to make a difference; and Walt knew it.
"Let's try this again," he said. "Let's talk about your dreams. If you could do what your heart wants to do what would it be?"
That got me thinking. The next day I came into Walt's office with a new list—and new energy. Dreaming, by the way, is sure to energize your heart.
"Here's what I dream of doing over the next 10 years," I told him. And I slid my yellow pad of paper across his desk. At age 21, these were the things I dreamed of doing with my life:
- I want to earn my doctorate.
- I want to run the L.A. Marathon.
- I want to have three children.
- I want to write children's books.
- I want to teach and mentor college students.
That was it. At the time, these were my dreams. Big dreams. And chances are, I would have never articulated them if Walt had not forced me to take my future seriously.
By the way, in case you're curious, in the past two decades I've accomplished each of these dreams, except one. I had just two children, not three. That's a story for another time. For now, I want to stay on the topic of dreams and how they expand our ability to make a difference.
So many of us, as women, don't think much about dreaming big dreams. In fact, I debated long and hard about whether or not to share with you my five dreams from so long ago.
I fear you may feel badly that you haven't dreamed your dreams yet. Or that you might think you've missed your chance to dream big dreams if you didn't articulate them early on.
If that's a thought you're carrying, I want to challenge it. I've interviewed enough women in their second half of life to know that, truly, it's never too late to get excited about dreaming a big dream.
TOO OLD NOT TO DREAM A friend recently asked me if a woman in her 20s finds it easier to dream big because she has so many more options and choices to pursue.
"On the contrary," I replied. Only half jokingly I continued: "You should attend one of the college courses I teach and interview even the most thoughtful and articulate young women with their lives before them, and you'll soon see how much most of them struggle to dream a big dream. Most are consumed with getting through the semester, their social life and finding time to sleep."
"Yes," my friend countered, "but don't you think a woman in her 40s and later finds the idea of dreaming at all somewhat painful?...I mean she has had to surrender some of her dreams and grieve their loss. Aren't her days of dreaming big dreams over?"
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