Monday, November 3, 2014

Step #1 – Dreams and Realization

A dear and, prematurely, departed friend of mine, Rosita Perez, frequently told this little story when she made presentations for major corporations and large, multi-national organizations. It went like this. Her husband, Ray, also a friend of mine, and a super guy, would come to her complaining about a number of issues that all seemed to need resolving right now. She’d remind him of one of the philosophies of Dr. Richard Carlson, who titled his best selling book by this philosophy, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And It’s All Small Stuff.” Rosita would tell Ray, “Don’t sweat the small, stuff, Ray.” Ray would often reply, “But, this isn’t small stuff, Rosita, this is important.” To which Rosita would respond, “Ray, Being born, BIG STUFF! Dying, BIG STUFF! Everything else . . . small stuff.”

So, what does this story have to do with Step#1 – Dreams and Realization? It’s simple! We let the small stuff of life enslave us. There’s another saying that has passed around the Internet and is part of the chorus of a George Strait (country artist) top 10 song from 2010 that goes, “Life’s not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.” In other words, each of us have so many breaths we’ll take during our lifetime, but just breathing doesn’t have anything to do with experiencing life to its fullest.

Life Is For LIVING!

I like to think that life is for LIVING and I don’t just mean waking up every morning and doing the same routine things everyday. Let’s see, you shower, groom, catch a fast cup of coffee and half a bagel, drop the kids off at day care or school, commute to work, do whatever it is that you do at your job, watch the clock waiting for the end of the day, commute home, prepare and eat dinner, clean up, help the kids with their homework or take them to their soccer games or whatever, watch a little CSI,  Law and Order or American Idol, catch a bit of Jay Leno or David Letterman, climb into bed, pick up the book you’ve been trying to get through for two months, fall asleep and start the whole routine over again when the alarm goes off at 6 AM. Okay, so maybe your routine varies a little, but I doubt that it varies very much.

So, what were those dreams you grew up with. Remember when you wanted to be a fireman or a cowboy or a soldier or a racecar driver or an astronaut or a doctor? Fill in your own dreams and ideas for future occupations. Ladies, fill in your dreams here, too. They may differ from a man’s dreams. The dreams probably changed many times as you grew through childhood, adolescence, those tough teen years and, again, when you finally reached adulthood. 

What other dreams did you have? Did you want to run and win marathons? Did you want to play baseball, football, basketball, golf or tennis competitively or professionally? Did you want to be an artist and paint or sculpt or take award-winning photographs? Maybe you wanted to be a best selling author with lots of fiction or non-fiction books to your credit. Or, perhaps, you were musically inclined and played in a rock band with your high school buddies or sang in a classical choral group. You might have even composed your own music. The list could go on endlessly.

But, why aren’t you doing those things? Why didn’t you pursue your dreams? Probably, because during your childhood you were being conditioned into the model created by the Industrial Revolution. This model, in my estimation, is now obsolete, but it’s still the prevailing model that most people live their lives by.

Four or five generations ago, men, primarily, since women were only a small part of the out-of-the-home workforce back then, would take a job in a factory or a coal mine or in whatever field they found work and they would stay in that job for their entire working lifetime, typically, 40 to 45 years. Then, they would retire, live for a couple more years and die.

Women, typically, stayed at home for all those years and handled the domestic necessities of life. Some women were schoolteachers, nurses, telephone operators, waitresses and airline stewardesses –so-called, women’s work. Everyone is still conditioned for this same model today, though women have probably made the most progress over the past several decades.

The school system is based on that model. It prepares you for when you’ll enter the workforce and get a job. Creativity is stifled. Thinking outside the box is frowned on. Doing what your dreams would lead you to do becomes unrealistic by those in authority and influence around you. You can’t make a good living as a musician or an artist or a photographer or an adventurer or a professional athlete. You need to be “serious” and get a job where you have security and can make some real money.

Life Happens!

So, you put those dreams on the shelf, push them to the back of the closet in your mind and just say, “someday.” When does someday arrive? Usually, it never does. And, why does it never come? Because LIFE HAPPENS! Now, life is going to happen whether you’re working in a field that pays good money or not such good money. It comes whether you love what you’re doing or despise what you’re doing. Life is going to happen because it just happens, period!

What exactly does “life happens” mean? It basically means the chances are reasonably good that, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’re going to seek a mate, create a secure home and have a family. Typically, once you identify the mate and go through the ritual courting process, you’ll bond in a marriage agreement. Then you’ll start to create little people just like yourself and the cycle begins again. Only now you are the parents and will begin conditioning the new little people into the same “system.” And all of this requires a stable, secure, responsible environment, right?

Wow! Do I sound cynical, or what? Well, actually, this is all very natural and the way the human life cycle has been since “Adam and Eve” (or however you define the beginning of our species). Here’s the rub. Everyone is born with a natural freedom. Once you understand a bit about life, you understand that you want to be happy. A fulfilling life means that you have done something that fulfills your dreams while contributing, to some degree, to the society you associate with.

There are certain basic needs that Abraham Maslow outlines in his Hierarchy of Needs. You can look this up yourself. Essentially, you all start at the base of the pyramid with very basic needs for survival and as you meet these needs you progress up the pyramid. However, nowhere in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, nor anywhere else, does it say that you need to conform to the standards or system of survival, personal growth and achievement of anyone else. Yet, by the time most of you reached the end of high school and, certainly, college, for those privileged to attend such an institution, you were conditioned to “get a job.” 

“I Did It My Way”

For some reason, call it providence or, maybe, just luck, while I went through the “indoctrination and conditioning process,” I didn’t buy into it totally. I started my entrepreneurial career at age 12 as the proverbial “newspaper boy” delivering 108 to 110 evening newspapers to my customers six days a week and collecting for the papers on Saturday mornings. I learned that the better the service I rendered, the larger the tip I’d receive. I, of course, had to pay the newspaper their share each week. So, I really was an independent businessman.

My father, a self-made and educated man, always held a job. He would have liked to have been in business for himself, but he grew up during the depression and hung onto the “so-called” security of his employment with someone else. Today, many of us know that the term “job security” is really a paradox. Even finding a “good” job is extremely challenging. Finding a great job or one that fulfills your dreams is next to impossible. And having any kind of job security is virtually non-existent for most people. My father fostered my entrepreneurial spirit during those formative years. To some degree, he guided me toward a certain degree of non-conformity. I never got to thank him because he died before I graduated from college, but I am ever so thankful.

After completing my four years of college earning a degree in Education, I was totally disenchanted with what the “job market” offered me. As I told one recruiter, I was perfectly capable of starving all by myself. I certainly didn’t need to sign a contract and indenture myself to starve. I went immediately to graduate school for a master’s degree in Television and Radio. The job offers were a little better, but not very much.

I had been operating my own independent recording business through college and graduate school and I had a contract with a small regional radio network based in Syracuse, NY. One day while I was having lunch with the vice president of the small, family owned group (he was the son of the founder), Al said to me, and I paraphrase, “You have to make a decision. You can find a full-time job and keep doing your recording part-time. The chances are very good that you’ll still be doing it part-time 40 years from now. Or, you can take a chance on yourself, go full-time into your own business and pull in your belt and eat a lot of franks and beans. But, this is the only way you’ll know if you have what it takes to make it in your own business.” I chose the second option and I’ve never looked back.

I always tell people I became an entrepreneur because I was just plain lazy and couldn’t deal with the idea of commuting to and from a job and putting in eight hours a day, five days a week for someone else. Instead, I chose to work about 14 hours a day, seven days a week working for myself. As the song, with lyrics penned by Paul Anka and popularized by Frank Sinatra, goes, “I did it my way.”

Reality, In Your Face!

So, here is the Realization. Like it or not, you’ve all been sold a bill of baloney. No one needs to conform to the system, though the vast majority will. You could have opted out when you were a kid and chosen to pursue those dreams. Sure, you could have failed. Hey, you might have ended up as a “lounge lizard” playing the piano or the iconic Hammond B3 organ for a bunch of sad, drunken lushes. You could have written songs that may or may not have ever been recorded by any of the artists you wrote them for. You could have gone treasure hunting and never discovered a single gold doubloon. You could have obtained your commercial pilot’s license and never found a position with a commercial airline. You could have trekked around the world and taken photos that never won any awards or had your photos displayed in shows in New York City galleries. You could have done any of your dreams and failed miserably and never made an amount of money that would have made your parents proud of you and your friends envious. But, you’ll never know, will you? THAT is the realization!

Maybe you would have made a fantastic, exciting and fulfilling life for yourself doing exactly what you dreamed of doing. So, you might not have made all the money and couldn’t have afforded the MacMansion. But, you might have the pride in knowing that something you did directly impacted one or more lives positively. Instead, you conformed to what your parents, siblings, religious leaders, friends, teachers, professors and so on told you should do to have a nice, secure future and life. How did that work out for you? None of these people had any malice in the way they influenced you. They, actually, believed that this was the best course for you. And it was safe . . . or was it? And, by the way, there is ALWAYS a hefty price for security. It’s called freedom.

Perhaps, right now you’re saying, “But, It’s too late, now.” Or, you’re saying, “Ed is just a dreamer blowing a bunch of blue smoke in the air.” Well, you have the right to your own opinion. I once had dreams of building a huge multi-media empire and being a multi-millionaire media mogul. But, over the years, every time I went down that road, I became a prisoner in a prison of my own making. I ended up creating businesses where I wasn’t free and doing what I was passionate about. I ended up creating businesses with employees to manage. It turned out that building an empire wasn’t really my dream – it was a series of choices. The results of my choices and life happening, in my case, ended up with me building personal prisons. But, at least I tried.

“Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It”

So, here is your assignment for Step #1. I know many won’t do it, but for those who do, you’re at the beginning of realizing your real dreams, life, freedom, happiness and fulfillment.

1. Make a list of your REAL dreams. These are the things you wanted to do when you were a kid and teenager facing an exciting future full of unwritten pages waiting for you to fill them in. It doesn’t matter how off the wall or unrealistic the dreams may seem now. Just list them.

2. Then circle or highlight any of those dreams that still stir excitement in your heart, mind and soul. Get your daydreaming mojo going and release adrenalin as you imagine, “What if?”

3. Now, make a brief outline of where Life has taken you. You know, the Life Happens, stuff. How free do you feel about where you are, now? How happy are you based on where you are, now? How fulfilled are you based on where you are, now?

You’re going to have conflicts and anxieties as you think about this seriously and deeply. Your spouse’s and kids’ (if you have any) faces will flash in your mind during this process. You’ll think about all the stuff you’ve accumulated and how could you possibly live without it. If you’re still employed, you’ll have questions and doubts about surviving without the income from your current job or business. If you’re retired, questions will arise about whether it’s too late or about working all your life for the “security” you feel you currently have and could you lose.

Reality, when you face it toe-to-toe and square in the eyes can be both ugly and scary. But, if you want to live free and be happy, it is a necessary part of this all-important first step.

Keep asking yourself these three questions:
       1. Are you as free as you feel you want to be, should be and could be? 

       2. Are you as happy as you feel you have every right to be? 

       3. Are you fulfilled in the knowledge that you lived your dream and your life on your
           own terms, didn’t sell yourself out and, with what you have contributed to 
           society, can be proud of your legacy when that second “Big Stuff,” that Rosita
           Perez alluded to arrives?

You can’t do this exercise in ten minutes or an hour or a week. I’ve been working at it all my life and it continues even now on the other side of my mid 60’s. Even though I’ve been a non-conformist and serial entrepreneur all my life, I’m finally facing my own realities and realizing that I sold myself out most of my life. But, and this is a large BUT, I’m not dead, yet. So, I keep getting more chances.

Let me leave you with one other pearl of wisdom, a quote attributed to Wayne Dyer and often used by my dear, departed friend, Rosita Perez, “Don’t die with your music still in you.”

Good luck! You’re on Step #1 of your journey to living free. Hang on for the ride of your life if you choose to pursue your dreams, freedom and happiness.

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