Dreams to die for.
Most of our dreams end at the moment of attainment. Many of us organize our lives around these singular moments of fulfilment: graduation, the first job, a wedding, getting a promotion, buying a home, etc., so on, and so forth. I, for one, have spent countless hours thinking about just how much better my life will be whenever X1 happens. Then, repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
While we spend the countless hours imagining getting these things, we don’t spend nearly as much time considering what happens after they arrive; let alone why the things that fulfilled us just a moment ago cannot seem to do so long term.2 But that’s how the majority of our stories we tell each other work too — the hero (hopefully us!) slays the dragon, gets the treasure, and rides into the sunset as it all fades to black. Roll credits, that’s a wrap 🎬.
Except that’s not how life works.3
There’s a great book that deals with this called, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. In short, it explains how Jack could spend years pursuing enlightenment with some of the world’s best teachers, but still get pissed off in traffic.4 In short, we learn that enlightenment is not a permanent fixed state that we can achieve, much like the idea of being a success or a failure. Instead, it requires continuous presence and grace.
The Trap of Terminal Dreams
Speaking personally, my first job, my first marriage, and even the sale of my first company were all what I call “terminal dreams.” Simply, they were not at all what I imagined (and in the case of my first marriage, nor was I what she’d imagined). In short, all of these things were imaginings; not reality. Only my conception of what they should be mattered, the actual reality of what they would take to get and maintain wasn’t considered. That’s because they were all status symbols that were intended to signal to other people, rather than open goals that could evolve over time.
Here’s what I mean:
Instead of saying, “I want to be married” which is a moment in time, I could have framed it as, “I want to be with the love of my life”5 which I’m now lucky to be enjoying.
Instead of saying, “I want a cool job” which is hard to evaluate before joining a company, I could have said, “I will do work that explores the interactions of deeply technical challenges with high performing teams” which I do now through entrepreneur coaching, engineering consulting, and even writing this newsletter!
Instead of saying, “I want to sell a company” which I couldn’t even begin to understand the full consequences of, I could have said, “I want to grow my company to be sustainable and find the right partners to achieve our goals.” Now, I am starting and advising new companies with that in mind.
In short, in each of those first statements, I focused solely on discrete outcomes instead of open goals. I so narrowly defined the scope, there was no room for the mysteries of life to get in and work their magic on the outcomes.
The Importance of Evolving Dreams
Instead of terminal dreams, we can instead try engaging in dreams that evolve alongside us. For instance, we probably always want to do cool work, but what that work is will likely change as we do. Speaking personally, there was a time when living in a hotel for a year and building landing barges for rockets was really cool; and there’s absolutely no chance I’d go and do it the same way now.
Terminal dreams are something we die for. We hold tightly to them, we don’t let them change, and we don’t let ourselves change. We use up our willpower, ability, and gifts wrestling the entire universe to see things our way, to give us just what we want, and what we imagine we need. But the only things in nature that don’t change are the things that are no longer living. In other words, they’re dead. Terminal dreams lead to death, one way or another.
Evolving dreams, on the other hand, move with us. They do not come at discrete moments in time; instead, they unfold naturally as life does through milestones. For instance, one of my evolving dreams is to positively impact my home of Alaska through entrepreneurship. Even when my first business was doing poorly, I was still able to volunteer, mentor teams, and talk about the ecosystem we were all building. When my second company, The Launch Company, took off, I was able to help in all the same ways. The work is never done, but certain milestones allow me to check in, examine the course I’m on, and make any necessary adjustments.
This get us comfortable with the change of life, and apprenticing to the small deaths of seasons, pursuits, and ideas that are required in order to get comfortable with the overall ephemeral nature of life itself. It keeps us present, and prevents opportunity from passing us by.
The best part of evolving dreams is that after we are gone, either through change of course or the ultimate passing, others can more easily pick up the work and continue it in their own way. They aren’t burdened by the heavy legacy of running companies with your name on the building, or your gilded portrait in the hallway, or your 58-step plan to success; they are gifted the chance to do what you wanted to do: pick up an evolving dream and move it forward hand-in-hand with the changes of the world.
If you liked this post, please consider sharing, subscribing, or even buying me a cup of coffee ;-)
Where ‘X’ could be anything from a promotion, to a new car, to anything else. Except the purchase of actual X (nee Twitter) which was always gonna be a bad idea.
That’s a different post, tho.
Tho, it could be how death works, but I kinda doubt it.
Whenever I vent at a slow, distracted driver now, I tell my annoyed wife that “I’m just like Jack Kornfield!” It doesn’t work.
Which is funny, because only after I gave up on the idea of marriage and instead focused on happiness did I meet the love of my life, and then end up married!