Reading: 8 Ways to Create the Life You Want by Phil Keoghan
So what’s on your list? I’m not talking about a grocery list. Or a to-do-around-the-house list. I want to know what’s on your List for Life. Show me the list where you’ve written down all the meaningful, memorable, or just-plain-crazy things you want to do in your lifetime.
You mean you don’t have a list like that? You’re not alone. Most people never take the time to even think about such things – let alone write them down. We’re all too busy dealing with the everyday realities of life. There are children to raise, jobs to do, bills to pay, houses that require tending. Who needs a list of even more stuff to do?
You do. I do. We all do. Human beings crave new challenges and experiences. We always want a little more out of life, even if we’re not sure what that more is, exactly. Scientists have found the desire to experience – to explore, try new things, learn, be stimulated and test ourselves – is hard-wired in our genes. Even if you think your hectic daily routine is demanding enough, something inside you (specifically , the D4DR gene, which I call Gene Wild) yearns to break out of that routine occasionally to try something different.
If you ignore Gene Wild, you will always have a little itch in your soul that remains unscratched.
Sermon: Are You Living Your Dream? January 4, 2015 Rev. Nancy O. Arnold UU Congregation of the South Fork
It has been a long time since I allowed myself to dream. As a child I lived for my dreams — creating the life I wanted in my mind. The dreams were mostly for the present back then. I was going to be transformed from the fat ugly duckling into the girl who was popular and got chosen for the team. I would make the winning throw/kick/hit/basket – depended on which “team” I was on – and I would be adored for my talent and embraced by my teammates.
There are some dreams that are best put aside. There was a reason I was never chosen to play the games. I do not have an athletic bone in my body. I can’t think and move at the same time, and I just don’t get competitive sports. However, I’m a great fan. My strength is in cheering for the other players.
More than twenty years ago, writer-director-teacher, Julia Cameron, introduced The Artist’s Way. She developed the program to encourage creativity as a spiritual practice. When I did the Artists Way program many years ago, it reminded me once again of what it felt like to dream. There had been many years when my life had detoured to accommodate the needs and dreams of others. But there were also some when I set my sights on something and achieved it. Returning to school and becoming a minister were among those dreams. But what I had forgotten is that the dreaming can’t end when you reach the goal.
“If your ideal self has been achieved,” Gail Sheehy writes, “what happens after the dream comes true? If you don’t replace it with a new dream, there may be no zeal left for the future, although there may be plenty to fear.” (Gaily Sheehy, Passages) The Artist’s Way helped me to recognize that there were still things I wanted to do. There was still an unknown woman waiting to become a creative spirit.
Since then, I met Jerry, my life partner; I fulfilled a lifelong dream of going to Ireland. With Jerry, I’ve traveled more than I ever hoped – to places like Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Israel, Romania, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Nova Scotia. England and Scotland are on
the roster for March of this year. After treatment for breast cancer, my dream list was reconstituted. Before the year was out, I had gone parasailing for the first (and probably last) time and I went to a free concert in Central Park to celebrate Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday and saw, not only Arlo (a favorite of mine from the sixties), but the entire Guthrie clan including small children. And then participating in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage fulfilled another long held dream.
Along the way, my home office has been organized – disorganized, and reorganized – several times now. As a minister I worked with one congregation to fulfill its dream of building a new Fellowship Hall, and with others to prepare for new ministries. And this last summer, after biking more than 30 miles on the Erie Canal towpath with my friend Sue, I realized that riding three or five miles around town was not the impossible venture I had made it out to be. Now I create opportunities to bike to various appointments and stores whenever possible.
And yet, I find that once again, I am waiting to unleash that creative spirit. The dreaming detoured a bit as I devoted myself to relocating and exploring different forms of ministry. I find myself putting up the roadblocks that keep me out of those restricted pathways to the unknown. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior in which meeting the needs of others, and putting “the greater good” before personal hopes and dreams takes precedence. We may not even notice when we stopped dreaming, or perhaps settling for the life we have.
There’s a 30-second “Are You Living Your Dream? Quiz” that may help to awaken a dormant longing.
Do you know what your dream is?
Are you living the life that you were meant to live?
Does your current profession make you feel alive and grateful to do the work you do?
Do your daily activities match your heart’s desire?
Are you content with your self-expression in the world?
Are you content with your current fantasies?
Are you content with your level of skills, training or education?
Are you content with the image you project about who you are?
Do you make time every day to focus on yourself in some kind of positive and rewarding
Are you following your passion?
If you answer one or more of these ten questions with a “no,” you probably aren’t living your dream life.
What is it we tell ourselves to keep from acting on our own dreams? “I could do that, if only…” “It’s too late.” Julia Cameron suggests we stop waiting for things to be different:
Stop waiting until you make enough money to do something you’d really love.
Stop telling yourself, “It’s just my ego” whenever you yearn for a more creative life. Stop telling yourself that dreams don’t matter, that they are only dreams and that you should be more sensible.
Stop fearing that your family and friends would think you crazy.
Stop telling yourself that creativity is a luxury and that you should be grateful for what you’ve got. (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p. 7)
In the movie, “Shall We Dance?” the main character celebrated one too many birthdays with his wife not knowing what to give him. She said to him, “You don’t want anything. I can’t think of anything to give you that comes in a box.”
Though he didn’t respond to her challenge at the time, the seed was planted for him to think differently about his life. He decided to take dance lessons, and didn’t tell his wife. When the conversation between them finally happened, he explained to his wife: “I was ashamed. With the good life we have, I was ashamed to want something more. And I couldn’t tell you because I didn’t want to hurt you.”
One might think that taking dance lessons was the turning point in this man’s life. But the real transformation began when he first acknowledged he wanted something more. The turning point was in his relationship with his wife, when they started communicating with each other about their deepest desires. What he wanted didn’t come in a box. But until he stepped outside the box of his life as it was, there was no way for him – or anyone else – to know that.
Howard Thurman posed the challenge this way:
Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Doing what makes me come alive is not something that comes naturally, or easily, for me. Doing the responsible thing is much more my style. So it is fortunate that through my ministry, I have met some amazing people – people who spark my own sense of what is possible.
Like Lisa, a woman I knew in Akron. She exudes joy, and takes pleasure in what she calls “little dreams every day.” When she was a child, her father once told her, “You don’t want to look back on your life when you’re old and say ‘what if?” That message was reinforced for her in college when the professor in a Psychology class posed the following questions:
“How many people live their dreams? And, how many of us live out the dreams of others (our parents for instance or our spouse)? Can you truly be happy living the dream someone else has prescribed for you? Whose life is it anyway?”
The messages from her elders remain powerful memories that keep Lisa living her dream. What is her dream?
Live my life and be happy (she says). Be true to myself and follow my heart over my head. And, live little dreams every day! (Lisa Dennis’ reflections on “Living My Dream,” May 22, 2005)
If Lisa weren’t true to herself, she would not be with her life partner, “the most amazing woman” she’s ever met. They wouldn’t be parenting a beautiful daughter together. Little dreams for Lisa include running with her daughter to “touch the clouds as the fog lay low over a
neighbor’s lawn” and running “half naked through the sprinklers on the country club’s golf course on a hot and humid summer night.”
For Lisa, life is a series of tiny dreams unfolding before her eyes. She wants to seize each one and not waste one opportunity. For her, “Dreaming is living and living is dreaming. The two cannot be separated.” As a result, Lisa is grateful for the small moments of joy that might escape some of us.
Although I didn’t know him well, a man I greatly admired was John Looney, a Quaker whose motto in life was “to see what love can do.” “To him, love toward others was not sentimental or naïve.” Love “was the most moral, ethical, and practical means toward personal fulfillment and fundamental social change. One of his common retorts was, ‘What good is faith if not put into practice?’” (obituary, Akron Beacon Journal, May 19, 2005)
John Looney was a “tireless, committed, and joyful educator; he was an organizer for peace, non-violence, and justice.” He “was also a dedicated husband, loving father, and devoted friend. He and his work with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social action organization, and Peace GROWS were known and respected in Ohio and across the nation.” John was the recipient of many awards for his work on behalf of peace and justice. But he saw these awards only as opportunities to convey his message. What was important to him was living “his life as he wanted the world to be” – a place in which all people were respected and loved.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” Writer Sonia Choquette suggests that
When you think of the word “desire” you think of passion, yearning, intense longing. When you have a true desire, you have a burning urge for some particular experience or outcome. This burning, intense, passionate longing is the creative spark that sets miracle making into motion. Without it, nothing gets going. If you do not have this spark of authentic intensity, your creative miracle-making process will lie dormant. (Sonia Choquette, Ph.D., Your Heart’s Desire, p. 10)
After we consider the question: “What makes me come alive?,” the next step is to visualize what you want, focus on it, and set your sights on it.
How do you know what to focus on? Open your mind to the possibilities, Phil Keoghan says:
You may have no clue what types of things to include (in your list), but that’s only because you haven’t devoted enough thought to it. (Keoghan, “8 Ways to Create the Life You Want,” Family Circle, March 8, 2005 issue)
What is it that makes you come alive? What is uniquely yours?
Your list should be different from mine…(Keoghan writes) It’s important to create a list based on experiences that have special meaning for you… (Keoghan)
He suggests that it may help to spark ideas if you divide your list into these themes:
Face Your Fears, Get Lost, Test Your Limits, Rediscover Your Childhood, Express Yourself… Think of an interesting idea that ties in with each of these five themes and you’ll have a great list.
Once you have the list:
Go public. Stashed away in a desk drawer, a list is easy to forget about or ignore. Once you’ve written it, keep it in plain sight. Keep copies all over – on the fridge, near your desk – so you constantly see it and are reminded of your dreams. Show it to your spouse, your kids and your friends. Soon they will be encouraging you to take action.
Lose the guilt (“Ha!” you say.) You’re a “responsible adult.” People depend on you! If you’re off having fun, how will everyone survive? Answer: They will manage. And maybe everyone will be better off. But leading a fuller life [an authentic life] you’ll make yourself a happier, healthier person and a better spouse and parent. Your loved ones will probably be thrilled and supportive (and willing to fend for themselves for a day as you go chase a rainbow). Don’t be surprised if they begin to follow your inspiring example and make their own dream lists.
Make time for dreams. Your life is big, and there’s room in it for work and dreams. It’s simply a matter of how you prioritize it. If you consider fulfilling your dreams unimportant, you’ll never find the time. You must choose to rank them… and maximize (y)our limited time on earth.
(Remember that) failure is not an option. Fear of failure often stops us from trying something that challenges us…. Just by going out and trying it, you guarantee yourself a memorable experience regardless of the outcome. (Keoghan)
When I meet with Coming of Age youth, I often ask them: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I love their answers. Climb the tallest mountain. Skydive. Work for world peace. Help other people. Take care of animals. Travel. Learn to fly.
What I learn from these youth is that we are always coming of age. The dreams that move them are available to us at all ages. Sure, there will be things that are now beyond our reach. That’s part of our life passage too. Scoring the winning run in a softball game is no longer on my list. But writing that book is. Being happy and at peace still make the top ten. Becoming a grandmother — well that may be a dream for another lifetime…
“To love life is to be whole in all one’s parts; and to be whole in all one’s parts is to be free and unafraid,” Howard Thurman wrote. I look to people like him, I look to people like Lisa, and John Looney, and to our youth, and I look to you, to learn how to live with wholeness. I invite you, too, to see “life as a series of tiny dreams unfolding before” your eyes. Seize each one. Don’t waste one opportunity. As a Lisa says, “Dreaming is living and living is dreaming.” Ask yourself: “What is it that makes me come alive?” And when you find the answer, don’t look back. Just go and do that. And do it now (before it’s too late).