Why "follow your dreams" might be the worst advice ever!

Words by Lee Jackson Words by Lee Jackson

Motivational speaker and presentation coach Lee Jackson explains why following your dreams might just be the worst advice ever!

I play quite a bit of basketball, about three times a week is pretty normal during the season. But the reality is that when I play I'm often the oldest and the smallest guy playing – in fact sometimes I feel like I might be the smallest and oldest player in the UK. Well, I was until I played in the GB Masters tournament last year in Leeds, then I felt positively sprightly as I played against guys in their 50's. I felt very fast, well, for a weekend!

So why do I still play, especially when I come back with bumps, bruises and aching limbs? Why do I keep turning up? Surely its time to hang up my Adidas boots and enrol to play carpet bowls? I am 45 after all. Well, maybe I'm too old to play now, some might say I just need to grow up, but the honest answer is that I love to play, I love scoring against the odds, and weirdly I love fighting for rebounds off guys well over 6 feet tall. And of course I like being part of a team, I like the banter and weirdly like most blokes – chasing a bag of wind covered in leather around a court for two hours makes me exercise way harder than in the often odd world of gyms with lonely men checking their biceps in the mirror and taking selfies after every set of chest presses.

I've been playing basketball since school and I love it, and being a big old school hip hop fan I guess it's been part of my growing up really. But here's the thing, it's a hobby. It's a pastime. It's my way of exercising, it helps me de-stress after a day of speaking or writing. It gets my brain out of my work, it keeps me fresh, its part of my life.

But here's the distinctive – I know I'm not particularly good, and I don't have any inclination to take it any further, apart from another Masters event occasionally. And I certainly don't think I could have ever been a pro like many players still think deep down. I know my limitations in this area and being 5 foot 9 is definitely one of them!

Don't get me wrong when I say this, I'm not being negative, but I think people still dream a lot about things that will never become a reality. Maybe "Follow your dreams" that now famous kitchen plaque is just plain bad advice. Maybe it's even some of the worst advice we can get? Let me explain…

If I dreamed of being an NBA basketball player – no matter how hard I worked it just wouldn't happen, I'm too old, too small and too slow. That's a fact.

Why "follow your dreams" might be the worst advice ever!

But before you think I've turned into a grump, I haven't honest! I deal in, and speak about reality and hope, not fairy tales and pipe dreams. To some people following a dream is just that – it's a pipe dream, a day dream, no more, no less. And as vital as dreams are for our brains and our creativity we must learn to distinguish the difference between a pipe dream and a realistic goal.

Like most speakers I'll will always encourage someone to set a massive goal, a stretch goal, whatever you want to call it. Because why should we have small lives and tiny dreams? But here's the thing – if we have a big fat massive goal to see something happen in our lives, our work, or our communities then we have to do certain things to make it happen, otherwise it is just a narcissistic pipe dream that can distract us and delay us from our real purpose in life.

There is nothing sadder than a person who keeps saying "I could have been a contender, I could've been somebody" like Marlon Brando's character in 'On The Waterfront'. I meet people who talk about their past as if it will shape them or stop them forever and they also see no hope for the future. There is always hope, there is always a way to turn a big dream into a reality, if we follow the right steps and not just dream, things can change for us.

So, let's make a real plan, don't just dream a pipe dream. We can really change the world, not just think about it.

Here's my big dream reality checklist:

Firstly write down your big dream in full technicolor, sights, smells, feelings, everything – write it down and just think about it for a few days, add to it, fill it out, let it ‘marinade' in your head. After a few days, think – is this just a pipe dream or can it become a big goal?

Ask, can I physically do this thing? (i.e. if you are small and middle-aged like me becoming an NBA player isn't realistic!). This doesn't mean that you cant do really "big stuff" but sometimes there are real limitations no matter what a well meaning Facebook friend might tell you.

Have people validated you in this skill or job? E.g. from almost the first talk I ever gave people said to me (and my surprise) "You're pretty good at that, Lee" and I remember those words decades later, and that is one reason I now do what I do.

How do you feel when you think about this big dream? Are you overwhelmed, nervous, or energised and excited at times? Passion for it is key, not essential but very helpful, although don't get bound up waiting to "feel like doing it", as often work is just that – work.

Share it with selected friends, not just family and certainly not just negative people. Share it wisely and get peoples honest reactions. I do this a lot. We should always filter feedback – but we still have to listen to it.

Who does something similar? Find out who and get to meet them, phone them or email them, my friend Dave Hyner knows of a student who got through to Barack Obama! People who have done something similar can save you months of hard work by helping you avoid expensive and time-wasting dead-end streets and dark alleys.

If it's a business idea find out if you can make money doing it! This sounds simple, but honestly I meet people who have lots of ideas but the product or service just isn't sell-able and so, sorry, it's a hobby not a business. Many businesses fail because they are in fact niche hobbies. Some people love sticking seashells onto match boxes and selling them at craft fairs but no-one wants to buy them – that's a hobby!

If you feel that you want to go further – then start to chop up the big dream into tasks and goals and then put time aside in your diary to work on it. Even if you have a full time job – if this is something that you really want to do then you'll find time. If you love it or want it, you'll do it. I wrote four books when I had a full-time job and toddlers, we can make time for stuff.

Put in your diary to review this in 1, 3 and 6 months time. If you've made no progress, then you may need help, you need to make more time or to be really honest it's probably just a nice dream that may never see the light of day. That's OK by the way, we all have those, but it's the ones that we really work on that will see the light of day and change us or the world around us.

Make a realistic plan, not just dream a dream and you can really change your life and the world, not just think about it.

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