Holly Richardson: Give yourself permission to dream

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

I love, love, love the fall. I love the cooler weather, I'm immensely grateful the heat of the summer is over, I love the return to a more structured routine (even though spontaneity is fun too), I love the smells, I love the colors and I especially love the renewed goal-setting that is inspired by dropping temperatures.

January, of course, is the most common goal-setting time of the year, but it is definitely not the only time. Around New Year’s, I wrote about SMART goals and vision boards. They are great tools for structuring the goal-setting process or, rather, the goal-achieving process. But, they are just tools. They start with the assumption that there are goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to see come to fruition.

I spoke recently at an event with young women and their female leaders and I asked them to share a stretch goal for themselves, something they wanted to accomplish in the next five years. All of the young women could think of at least one thing they wanted to pursue, but some of the adult women struggled to think of a personal goal or dream. They could think of family goals and aspirational goals for their children, but they could not think of or remember something they aspired to individually.

They are not alone. Whitney Johnson, author of “Dare, Dream, Do” wrote: “To my surprise, when I asked women what they dreamed of doing, many responded, ‘I don’t have a dream’ or ‘I don’t know that my dreams are within reach.’ Many felt that it wasn’t their privilege to dream. This concerned me. These were highly educated, eminently capable women who are the bedrock of our society.”

“Through dreaming,” Johnson continues, “we can find our voice and know who we are. When we have a clear sense of identity, we can make things happen and act on the world; we can then speak the words that make our dreams become a reality.”

Running a household, especially with kids at home, is intense and it costs. It costs in time, money, energy and emotional labor. It can feel like spinning a hundred plates at once, hoping that when a plate does drop, it’s not one of the most important ones. It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of the day-to-day, setting small, short-term goals that focus on the immediate future. “Drop off dry cleaning.” “Buy birthday presents for Jonny.” “Attend parent-teacher conferences.”

I did a quick Google search for “Mom goal setting” and what I found was not a focus on individual dreams, but lists of suggested goals that detailed ways to run a household, manage the kids and their schedules, get dinner on the table “on time” and tossed in almost haphazardly, a mention or two of “self care.”

While it’s great to want to get your kids to soccer practice on time and use your crockpot more, there’s a bigger world out there just waiting for you to dream, then dare to go and do that thing which simultaneously scares you and makes your heart sing.

Dreaming can be scary, I get it. It’s way too easy to talk ourselves out of wanting what we want — or even thinking we have the privilege to dream. It takes time to dream. It takes emotional energy to dream. Kids benefit from seeing parents who pursue their dreams, outside of family care taking.

I always wanted to be a mom — you could say that was a huge dream of mine. I’ve been blessed to live that dream for more than 30 years. But, it’s not the only dream I have, nor was it the only one I had even with a house full of little kids. (Although some months my “goal” was to shave both legs in the shower and there were times I couldn’t even do that!)

Too often we overestimate what we can get done in a week but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. When John Grisham wrote his first novel, he could barely carve out time to write one page per day. It took him two years to finish that novel, but by chipping away at it day by day by day, he brought that book to market.

I am not advocating that you quit your job and leave your family while you go to meditate in Nepal. I am advocating that you give yourself permission to dream and then start taking steps towards that dream. Who cares if it takes five years to reach that dream? Ten years? That time will go by whether you pursue your dream or not.

Walt Disney said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” But first, we have to dream them.

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, just started pursuing a new “stretch” dream of earning a Ph.D. in political science. It’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time.