Toss the alarm clock. Abandon your routine, chores, and obligations. Retreat to an enchanted island. Pitch a tent in the shade of a volcano. Bury your toes in the sand and live out your dream.
We all had great dreams once. As children, we believed we’d travel to exotic places and lead wild adventures. Then came the trials and tribulations of growing up. Nonetheless, we can never completely let go of our dreams. Romantic delusions to some, those childhood dreams ignite our spirits and rekindle our thirst for life.
The 16 contestants who hunted, flirted, and quibbled on the runaway hit Survivor lived out their great dreams. The dream of collecting $1 million for surviving a stint on a deserted island was a huge incentive to take a considerable risk. But an even greater incentive was the dream of restoring the adventurous spirit those contestants felt as children. Being a castaway on Survivor granted them the spirit and thrill missing from their normally mundane routines. And, for weeks on end, the events on Survivor served as watercooler fodder for millions of vicarious viewers.
Dreams are crucial. Without our dreams, we lose touch with a deeper, more profound part of ourselves. The more comfortable we become in our predictable lives, the more important it becomes to step out of our comfort zones and to take the risks in order to realize our deepest wishes.
Like most 15-year-olds, John Goddard had a wealth of heart-pumping dreams. One ordinary day in 1940, he bothered to write 127 of his life dreams on a pad of yellow paper. Most lists like that wind up in the attic with old report cards and letters from grandma. John’s became a blueprint for life.
In 1972, Life magazine reported that, at age 47, he had achieved 103 of his original dreams. That article, entitled “One Man’s Life of No Regrets,” detailed his Master Dream List and became one of the most requested reprints in Life‘s long history. His list included a vast spectrum of dreams, including the following: visiting eight world-class rivers; studying 12 primitive cultures; climbing 16 of the tallest mountains; carrying out careers in medicine and exploration; visiting every country in the world; learning to fly an airplane; becoming an Eagle Scout; riding in a blimp, balloon, and glider; playing the flute and the violin; going on a church mission; teaching a college course; becoming a member of the Explorer’s Club; and many more.
“When I was 15,” he told the Life reporter, “all the adults I knew seemed to complain, ‘Oh, if only I’d done this or that when I was younger.’ That they had let life slip by them. I was sure that if I planned for it, I could have a life of excitement and fun and knowledge.”
Why do some people like John Goddard follow their dreams? Why do some, as the Apple Computer ads say, Think Different? And how do you begin to live your dreams? Here are three practical steps.
Step 1: Ask yourself two tough questions.
As we age, it becomes more vital to ask ourselves, What am I trying to accomplish in the years that are left to me? We begin to understand that this lifetime is not a dress rehearsal. A finite timetable urges us to set fundamental priorities and to take the risks that bring them to life — fast.
Living without regret requires difficult self-questioning. We must regularly ask ourselves these questions:
- What do I want?
- How will I know when I get it?
Step 2: Write a Master Dream List.
Next, we must return to our childhood. Remember when you were asked to make a wish list for a birthday or a holiday? Your list likely included a medley of practical objects, seasoned with some outrageous items that far exceeded expectations, but were the instruments of your best fantasies.
Lists are useful. They save time and inspire possibilities. But most importantly, they bring results.
Write a Master Dream List. List all the things you dream of doing before you die. Let yourself go. Quantity is the key. List as many of your dreams as you can without heed to limitations.
Concentrating exclusively on today’s needs without regard to long-term dreams leads to a “postponed life” — one in which neglected dreams come to haunt a person in the future.
Step 3: Talk with a partner.
What happens to your relationships when you begin to take charge, to change, to create your Master Dream List?
Dreaming and scheming can place stress upon your closest relationships. Your change may threaten a partner who is insecure with a change or who is risk-averse. Practice this exercise along with a partner in order to share the experience and learn each other’s dreams.
Listen carefully to each other, and explore the unfamiliar together. Include one or two wild possibilities straight from your fantasies. Others may not find them strange after all. In fact, the seemingly impossible dreams that you come up with may be startlingly similar to your partner’s, and they may open up a radically new lifestyle or career.
Before editor and essayist Norman Cousins died, he wrote, “The tragedy of life is not death, rather, it is what we allow to die within us while we live.” What dreams do you need to actualize in order to live a life of no regrets?