Your Future Is In Your Hands

“Make your life a mission — not an intermission.”
Arnold H. Glasgow, American humorist

In the next few weeks, most businesses will be going through an inventory process. And that’s all well and good and legally mandated … but it’s fairly insignificant compared to a personal inventory.

You should be taking a personal inventory as well. You should be asking yourself a few questions: “Am I pleased with where I am in life? If I continue to do in the next five, ten, or twenty years what I’ve been doing in the last five, ten, or twenty years, will I be pleased with who I am, where I am, and what I have?”

If you answered “no” to some or all of those questions, relax. It’s never too late to discover your purpose and get on track … because you CAN change. The key to YOUR future is in YOUR hands.

After speaking to thousands of people, after working with hundreds of organizations, I’ve discovered that the happiest, most productive people are happy and productive BECAUSE they have a dream to live for and a purpose to live by. And if you haven’t got all that figured out in your life and your career, let me suggest the following tips.

=> 1. Get a dream.

When you were a child, you were a dreamer. In fact, half the fun in life came from pretending or imagining or asking “what if” questions. It just came naturally, and there was nothing wrong with that.

But then some people came along and told you to “grow up” and “quit all that foolishness.” Their negativity caused your dream to shrivel up or get shoved to the back corner of your mind.

That’s tragic … because every great achievement began with a dream. And it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Walt Disney, Henry Ford, or a mother who wants to raise responsible children. Every great achievement starts with the dream. Someone dared to dream, to believe it was possible, and acted accordingly.

So get a dream … if you don’t already have one … because there’s power in your dreams. As one of the best-selling authors of all time, Tom Clancy, puts it: “Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away.”

Despite the truth of Clancy’s comment, some of you may have a hard time when it comes to “getting a dream.” It just seems too fluffy or esoteric. And others of you don’t even know HOW to get a dream.

However, to get a dream, to get you started, to make it easier for you … ask yourself one question: “From now on, what is the single most important thing I am going to do with the rest of my life?” Your answer will reveal YOUR dream.

And then…

=> 2. Get a positive dream.

The world is filled with people who are AGAINST something. Just watch the news. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see some protesters on the street, carrying their signs, and screaming about those things they are against. And, certainly, there are plenty of bad things in this world we can and should be against.

But you can’t live a victorious life or have a productive career by simply being AGAINST certain things. You’ve got to have a dream FOR something. You’ve got to have a positive dream. As author Christina Baldwin pointed out, “To work in the world lovingly means that we are defining what we will be FOR, rather than reacting to what we are AGAINST.”

Cleric and author Robert Schuller takes it a step further. He says, “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.” That’s smart!

You see … many people are against all big businesses because of the bad things done by one big company. Many people are against all managers because of the incompetence of a particular manager they endured years ago. And many people are against God because of the misdeeds of a certain pastor, priest, nun, or fellow parishioner. That’s tragic.

So get a dream … but get a positive dream FOR something. And then…

=> 3. Dare to dream big.

As Satchel Paige, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, told us, “Dream big. Small dreams ain’t got no suction.”

In other words, little dreams only bring out a little of your potential and a little of your motivation. But when you dream big, the very best is sucked out of you and available for use.

Of course, there are always those cynics who say, “What if I dream big and fail? I’ll be disappointed.” True enough, but as financial expert Andrew Tobias would answer, “Even if you don’t always achieve 100% of your audacious goals, you’re probably doing better than if you set milder goals.”

Absolutely! Without big dreams, you’ll never experience great joy, great victories, and great accomplishments. Your life and your work will only be mediocre at best.

That’s why Michelangelo Buonarrito, the world-famous Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor, said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Once you’ve got a big dream…

=> 4. Turn your dreams into goals.

Your dreams are the WHERE of your life … WHERE you’re going. But you also need a HOW … HOW you’re going to get there. That’s where goals come into place.

Goals give FOCUS to your dreams. They tell you HOW to make your dreams come true. Goals get you to act like a focused rifle instead of a splattering shotgun.

Perhaps you remember the Dan Akroyd movie, “The Great Outdoors,” where a large bear breaks into a cabin. The children are screaming; Akroyd is madly waving an iron from the fireplace, and the bear is slowly backing everybody up the stairs. Then someone blasts a shotgun that merely blows the fur off the bear’s butt, and the bear runs off unharmed.

As some of you know, a shotgun filled with pellets won’t stop a bear. As the tiny pellets fly through the air, they spread out and lose their power. The blast is unfocused, which makes it easier to hit a small target, such as a duck or clay pigeon, but it’s almost worthless against a bear. For that you need a rifle that only fires one bullet at a time, where all the energy is focused on that one bullet. The focus is what makes it powerful.

Goals can be attacked in very much the same way. If you’ve got a small dream that only requires small goals to accomplish, it doesn’t take much time, energy, or focus to finish them off. Even a half-hearted effort will accomplish your goals. But if you’ve got a big dream, you’ll need to use the power of FOCUS. You’ll need to FOCUS … really focus … on WHAT you’re going to do and HOW you’re going to do it … until your dreams come to life.

Dr. Denis Waitley, the motivational author, writes about the power of focused goals. He says, “The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, learn about them, or even seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.”

Goals also give TIMELINES to your dreams. As Harvey MacKay, the author of “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” notes, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

In other words, without clear goals and deadlines for your dreams, you may waste your whole life waiting for the right time to get started on your dreams. You may live your whole life in “Never-Never Land” or the world of “Make Believe.”

Get a dream … yes. Turn your dream into specific goals … yes. But put a timeline or deadline on each of those goals so you get off the couch and actually do something.

Andrew Carnegie learned that secret at the beginning of the 19th century. His dream was to make the most money in the shortest time … and then spend the rest of his life giving it away. And that’s exactly what he did … giving away 90% of his fortune, planting 2800 libraries across the United States, and starting Carnegie-Mellon University. He had a dream … to improve the educational system in America. He had a goal to make his dream come true … to make lots of money so he could start libraries and universities. And he put a timeline on his … so it all got done in a timely fashion.

Of course, all this talk about dreams and goals might seem a bit far-fetched for some of you. You may be having a hard time making ends meet, and you can barely cope with today … let alone dream about tomorrow. If that sounds like you, then at the very least, I strongly urge you to…

=> 5. Find meaning in your work.

No matter what kind of work you do, find meaning in your work. You simply cannot work day in and day out, year after year, thinking your work is meaningless, giving it a ho-hum effort, and feel good about yourself or your life. You’ve got to do your work with so much enthusiasm and so much excellence that you can’t help but feel a sense of pride, purpose, and ownership.

In fact, that’s exactly what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to preach. He would say, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

When your find meaning in your work, chances are you’ll even live longer. A European study that tracked 16,827 people for 12 years found that those who retired early had a 51% higher mortality rate than those who kept working. And according to a 2005 study that followed 3500 Shell Oil employees, those who retired at 55 were twice as likely to die during the next 10 years as people the same age who continued to work.

According to Dr. Robert N. Butler, the founding director of the National Institute on Aging, says, “Even if your job is not the greatest, accomplishment — and most important, income — can provide an ongoing sense of purpose.” He says a job is the easiest way to help you feel your life has purpose, so try to stay with it as long as you can.

Action:  To clarify your dream, ask yourself what you would do if you could not fail. And ask yourself what you would do if money was no problem.