No matter how old you are, you must have a vision for your future. Are you afraid to dream? You should be more afraid not to.
Nobody had ever asked me much about my dreams until Walt Wright, an unexpected mentor, forced me to take my future seriously.
“Leslie,” he said one morning as he walked into the office, “I’d like to see your 10-year plan.”
that? I wondered. Would I find it in one of the file drawers at my new
receptionist’s desk? At 21 years of age, I hadn’t planned my next 10
days, let alone my next decade.
serious,” Walt continued. “I want you to think about what you’d like to
accomplish.” He handed me a legal pad and said he’d check in with me a
couple of days later; and he did.
he said leaning back in his chair with his feet on his desk, “let’s
hear it. What are you going to do with the next 10 years you have on
I read aloud
three things I’d put on my list. First, I wanted to help get Les, my
husband, through graduate school. Second, I wanted to eventually move
out of our tiny apartment and into a house. And three, I wanted to have
“Hmm,” Walt nodded. “OK. That’s a start. Would you say this captures your dream? Is this what you want to do with your life?”
a bit of a different question. Truth be told, I wanted to do more than
whittle away at my husband’s student loans, get a mortgage and have a
baby. I wanted to make a difference; and Walt knew it.
“Let’s try this again,” he said. “Let’s talk about your dreams. If you could do what your heart wants to do what would it be?”
got me thinking. The next day I came into Walt’s office with a new
list—and new energy. Dreaming, by the way, is sure to energize your
“Here’s what I dream
of doing over the next 10 years,” I told him. And I slid my yellow pad
of paper across his desk. At age 21, these were the things I dreamed of
doing with my life:
• I want to earn my doctorate.
• I want to run the L.A. Marathon.
• I want to have three children.
• I want to write children’s books.
• I want to teach and mentor college students.
was it. At the time, these were my dreams. Big dreams. And chances are,
I would have never articulated them if Walt had not forced me to take
my future seriously.
way, in case you’re curious, in the past two decades I’ve accomplished
each of these dreams, except one. I had just two children, not three.
That’s a story for another time. For now, I want to stay on the topic of
dreams and how they expand our ability to make a difference.
many of us, as women, don’t think much about dreaming big dreams. In
fact, I debated long and hard about whether or not to share with you my
five dreams from so long ago.
fear you may feel badly that you haven’t dreamed your dreams yet. Or
that you might think you’ve missed your chance to dream big dreams if
you didn’t articulate them early on.
that’s a thought you’re carrying, I want to challenge it. I’ve
interviewed enough women in their second half of life to know that,
truly, it’s never too late to get excited about dreaming a big dream.
TOO OLD NOT TO DREAM
friend recently asked me if a woman in her 20s finds it easier to dream
big because she has so many more options and choices to pursue.
the contrary,” I replied. Only half jokingly I continued: “You should
attend one of the college courses I teach and interview even the most
thoughtful and articulate young women with their lives before them, and
you’ll soon see how much most of them struggle to dream a big dream.
Most are consumed with getting through the semester, their social life
and finding time to sleep.”
my friend countered, “but don’t you think a woman in her 40s and later
finds the idea of dreaming at all somewhat painful?…I mean she has had
to surrender some of her dreams and grieve their loss. Aren’t her days
of dreaming big dreams over?”
heart ached to hear this question. It literally gave me a thud in my
stomach. A woman’s days of dreaming big dreams over? Absolutely not!
course I didn’t shout this out. Instead, I answered by saying: “In some
of these same courses that I teach, sprinkled among the shining
20-year-old faces, you’ll also find a few women in their 30s, 40s and
sometimes 50s who are returning to college to realize a new dream they
have for their life.”
her about Betty, a woman in her early 50s, who always wanted to be a
nurse. With her two children recently married, she lives in an empty
nest with her husband and is returning to the classroom to make her
dream come true. And she’s loving every minute of it.
“I turned our dining room into my study,” Betty told me. “I just love learning all of this stuff.”
can remember another woman, a bit older than Betty, who had always been
interested in the history of Europe. She came back to college for a
second degree, 45 years after earning her first one.
the first day of class, as we went around the circle to introduce
ourselves, she said she couldn’t remember what she majored in the first
time. The students howled, but she laughed the loudest. And why not, she
was pursuing a dream.
her graduation she rewarded herself with a wonderful European trip
accompanied by a dozen of her young classmates on a semester abroad. It
was the first of several trips she’s now chaperoned with the teaching
Too late for a woman to dream? Never!
I understand that almost all of us in the second half of life have
regrets. We have opportunities we may have passed up. Doors we closed
too soon. Poor choices that curtailed our options. Or life’s
circumstances that were out of our control.
life. But does this mean we are forever walled off from dreaming big
dreams? I’m here to tell you that the eventual pain that results from
not dreaming—for fear of being disappointed by an unrealized dream—will
always eclipse the pain of a dream that never comes true.
Why? Because a big dream almost always leads us to something good that we never would have experienced without our dream.
Consider some of the dreams women have recently told me:
• “My dream is to see my agoraphobic daughter leave her room.”
• “My dream is to open my own bakery and use the profit to feed the needy.”
• “I have a dream of making the Bible come alive to junior high students.
• “I have a dream of getting out of financial debt and honoring God with my money.”
• “I have a dream of building houses for Habitat for Humanity.”
are big dreams. I think most of them will be successful. But if not,
they will have enjoyed the satisfaction of trying and nobody can
criticize them for that.
yearning and passion has God placed in your heart? What do you dream
about? I hope you’ll give this question serious consideration if you
Sandburg, one of my favorite poets, said, “There is an eagle in me that
wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in
the mud.” I know just what he meant.
Sometimes I feel steady and strong, sometimes worried and weak. The difference? It has to do with dreams.
older I get the more I notice that my strength, my energy is directly
correlated to my dreams. The more confidently I pursue them, the
stronger I feel. But the moment I let a dream die, I feel that eagle
within me giving way to the hippopotamus.
had a recent dream that energized me for a while. I was invited, along
with several others, to help cast a new and updated vision for the
overall ministry in our local church. I felt affirmed. I was excited.
I prayed about it. Wrote down some of my thoughts. Talked to others.
had something to contribute. And I did contribute. But not long into
the process of crafting a new vision for our established church it
became apparent that the old, entrenched “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way”
attitude of the gatekeepers was going to prevent any new and creative
ideas from having a fighting chance.
my big dream of making a difference in this area was gone. It died. And
with it, part of my joy became less bright. My spirit, temporarily,
This must be what
Langston Hughes meant when he wrote these lines in “Dreams”: “Hold fast
to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot
Do you believe that? I do. That’s why I continue to dream even when some dreams die out.
YOUR DREAMS COUNT
days much of my passion for dreaming is focused on my two little boys.
When I dream big, I dream about the kind of men I’d like them to be.
dream about the qualities I’d like my sons to cultivate. I made a list
of these qualities, with my husband, and I’m energized most days—even
after little sleep with a sick 2-year-old—about this big dream.
personal dreams these days, as opposed to my dreams from 20 years ago,
have more to do with significance than success. In addition to the
character qualities of my sons, I care deeply about the state of
marriage in our country.
think that if the divorce rate could be lowered significantly, it would
be one of the single greatest social revolutions of our lifetime. So I
put a lot of my energy into that dream. I dream about seeing seasoned
couples mentoring younger couples. With my husband, I write about it,
speak about it, and work with others to do what we can to make this
dream come true.
I have a
dream of helping a local ministry for the needy in Seattle become the
best it can be. I volunteer my time there when I can, and I support it
over time and as we age. What may seem like a big dream to some women
will seem rather puny to others. That’s OK. We are all contributing to
the great collage that makes a difference. And whatever a particular
woman’s dreams are, you can be assured that they are a vital means to
helping her discover how she is designed to make a difference.
live in Seattle and so, perhaps, it follows that I love coffee. The
largest cup, venti, is not an uncommon order for me. Most of my thoughts
about life—and my prayers—have been scribbled on a napkin in the white
space that forms the margins around the green-ringed Starbucks logo.
And that’s where recently I wrote: “I dare to dream venti.”
I do. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about making a difference with
my life it’s that my difference-making is only limited by the size of my
dreams. And so is yours.
why I hope you dream big. I hope you talk to a trusted friend or two
about your dreams. I hope you pray about them often.
“Dreams are the touchstones of our character,” Henry David Thoreau said. “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
So dream venti!
Leslie Parrott, Ed.D., is co-founder with her husband, Les, of the Seattle-based Center for Relationship Development.