The Art of Success in Life: Unpacking the Possible Dream

by | Dec 31, 2008


Image credit: I used to dream… by Mariam Al-Ma via flick’r. To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe. ~Anatole France.

What is success in life?

It’s the time of year when we typically review the past and prepare for the future. This year I’ve been looking at what I really want. As you may know, it’s a harder question to answer than one might think.
So yesterday, I decided to look at what I wanted before I grew up.
Suddenly things looked very clear. Before I grew up and realized how hokey it sounds, I wanted to save the world. I believed that love was the answer. I wanted to be so good, loving, and pure that evil, fear, and disease would dissolve in my presence.

I wanted every little child in the world to have a Santa Claus and every parent to have one, too. I wanted to go to heaven. I wanted to please God.

(I realize that God is a loaded word. And life’s too short for me to pussyfoot around looking for the politically correct, suitably generic, term for a Reality that has been present for me for as long as I can remember. Suffice it to say that I’m talking about experience not promoting dogma.)

So I asked myself, what pleases God? It seemed unlikely that chronic fear, self-doubt, and playing small would make the grade. (That begged the question of where I got the idea that self-criticism was a prerequisite to holiness, but that’s another story.)

I was criticizing myself for being self-critical, when it occurred to me that God’s heart must swell with compassion for (you, me, us) as we tilt at the furiously spinning windmills of our personal demons. And then I had the stunning thought that God might be pleased right here, right now, regardless of how aware or asleep, joyous or despondent, productive or sluggish I may be. What a concept.

If God is pleased anyway, what then? How shall I live?

I’m liking this question.

So setting aside for the moment the burdens of living up to our potential, of loving our neighbors, and all the other shoulds and shouldn’ts that keep us teetering on the knife edge between fallibility and aspiration, I invite you to join me in a childlike celebration of the year that is passing away and of the year to come.

Let’s play!

At Play in the Fields of the Lord
Remember when you were small and you would make up the rules to a game as it went along? For a while you would be a knight or a princess, and when that role began to pinch you would transform on the spot into a unicorn or pirate. It just didn’t make sense to let the rules determine the game.

In that spirit, take a look at the year to come. Knowing that the game can change at any moment, define it now in the best, most joyous, most creative terms you can imagine.

You might begin with work. If work was so satisfying, so fun, so engaging, rewarding, and productive that it brought a silly grin to your face every day, what would that look like?

This is no time to be realistic or humble. In fact, humility in this context is an oxymoron. When we are truly childlike, humility takes care of itself. Dear to dream and let go of the ways and means just for today.

Next, consider your family life.
What are the new rules for this game? Remember, your task here is to move toward joy and ease, gratitude and freedom.

Now, finances. Start with the premise that there is plenty. Imagine that you are able to fully endow your dreams, the causes that are dear to your heart, and the adventures you wish to share with others. Simply notice what it takes in your mind’s eye to bring this about.

As you continue to dream the year ahead, you may invent games around contribution, spirituality, friendship, or learning. The playing field is wide open.

When you’ve completed your game preparations, take a few moments to savor your direct encounter with possibility. It’s not about making things happen or wresting happiness from difficult times. Instead, as with children who do not consider pretending to be a waste of time, it’s about the delight of play.

As this year comes to a close I’ll be saying goodbye to old habits of thought and opening my arms to the possible dream. I love that in the game I’m imagining you are all my joyful playmates.
Be well. See you next year.