I recently said the following: “I’m leaving my position at this company to pursue my dream of starting a business.” Then I read Bullish: Some Dreams Are Stupid and realized that starting a business isn’t a dream. It’s a goal.
People say dream when they mean goal. Maybe it’s because dreams are unintentional – you can’t help what your mind comes up with while you’re sleeping. Sleeping dreams can’t be chosen. Daydreaming often happens by accident, too. Do you call your ambitions “dreams” because it’s less of a commitment? Does it make you feel safe?
We have a dream complex: “The American Dream” is a Big Cultural Thing that involves freedom, money, bootstraps, and some other stuff. We’ve learned that the United States is the land of dreams, and people have them and there’s some unwritten rule that people should respect dreams because they’re dreams, and you’re not supposed to crush someone’s dreams.
But “dream” sounds sort of fluffy and maybe unattainable. When you’re a kid, that’s expected: “your dream is to be a rockstar? You can be whatever you want!” When you’re an adult, it’s different: your dream is to travel to all seven continents? Well, you can actually do that. You can make that happen, if that’s what you want. So does that make it… a goal?
Dreams aren’t tangible. They suggest an alternate reality as a counterpoint to your real life. Goals have weight, and goals imply that you’re actively pursuing them – not that it’s a lofty hope.
It’s been my “dream” since I was a kid to go to Italy with my cousin. But actually, it’s a goal. We realized we were waiting for the right moment (professionally, financially) and that such a moment would never appear unless we made it. So we did. We’re going to Italy in June. You could say we’re making our dream come true, but I prefer to say we’re realizing our goals.
Language is powerful.
To be clear: dreams are great! Sleeping dreams, day dreams, waking dreams that are goofy or amusing. Dreams are fun and funny – sometimes I wake up from a dream and feel like I already had a great day. It’s fine if you want to keep talking about your life dreams, but how does your relationship to those dreams change if you call them goals? Does it make them seem more real? More scary? Does it make you want them less? Does it make you think about what it will take to achieve them?
dream goal could be to have a walk-in closet, speak several languages, never have to clean your house again, rise to the top of your company, homeschool your children, learn to paint, take a road trip across country, write a book, etc. Your goals will change, and they should. You’ll revise them as you grow and learn and your priorities shift. Some of your goals may truly be dreams – scenarios it’s fun to think about because imagination is enjoyable. But I bet there are some “dreams” that never go away. They keep coming back and poking you in the forehead.
I bet those dreams are goals.