TEDxAnchorage was this weekend, the culmination of months of anticipation (excitement, terror, and everything in between). My biggest takeaway was how amazing and kind people are – family, friends, and people I just met. I’m going to share more about the overall experience later (TEDxAnchorage volunteers are the best!) but for now, THANK YOU to everyone who sent encouraging texts, emails, FB messages, voicemails, flowers, and shared a part of their Saturday afternoon with me.
For those that have asked, the text of my speech is below.
DREAM IT. DO IT.
How many of you have had a dream of doing something or starting something beyond the ordinary, beyond the boundaries of routine?
Maybe it’s running for office or writing a book. Maybe it’s starting your own a business or becoming a distiller.
Whatever it may be, I would guess that ALL of you are dreamers.
I would also guess that a fair number of you have thought, “Yeah, maybe someday, but…”
I know I have.
As someone who works in economic development, I consistently read articles with titles like:
“The Top 10 Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2015″
“19 startups ready to blast off”
“9 Wildly Successful Entrepreneurs”
from publications like VentureBeat, Business Insider, and Forbes.
Invariably there are mentions of venture capitalists, multi-million dollar investors, skyrocketing profits, and generally something tech-y.
I love these stories. It’s great to learn about successes and mull over creative ideas and interesting business models.
But after reading multiple variations on the same theme, they started to feel hollow.
I realized that I wanted to learn more about the journey, the motivation and energy it took to go from the dreaming to the doing, and all the gritty details along the way.
Most of all, I wanted to hear those stories from people right here in Anchorage… the everyday dreamer-doers who might not make national headlines but who are truly making a difference in our community and shaping our experiences.
I launched my completely un-scientific research project to learn more about our community’s dreamer-doers a couple months ago.
I interviewed 17 people, ranging from artists and musicians to entrepreneurs and an Olympian, and asked each person the same series of questions about how they went from idea to action, from dreaming to doing:
- Do you consider yourself a dreamer?
- How did you go from idea to action?
- What is your support structure like?
- What personality traits are essential for pursuing dreams?
- Did you ever feel stuck, and if so, how did you move past it?
- Did you do any pivoting in your pursuit?
- Lessons learned?
- What would you do differently?
- What advice do you have for other people pursuing their dreams?
As you can see, these questions range from queries about motivation and support structures to personality traits and lessons learned.
After each conversation, I felt completely and totally inspired. There are AMAZING people living here, making our community rich and unique for all of us to enjoy.
And, my list of people that I would still love to talk to is HUGE.
Once the interviews were finished, I compiled the responses from each dreamer-doer and looked for common themes, which are what I’m going to share with you today.
First though, let’s think about the word “dream.”
I was startled to find that although everyone I interviewed acknowledged being a dreamer, many of them were uncomfortable with the term, and felt like it was meant for someone not really serious, maybe even a little wishy washy, certainly not for someone making things happen.
They said things like, “I’m a dreamer AND a schemer” or “I dream, but I dream within context” or “Sure I’m a dreamer, but I’m also pragmatic.”
Even the definition of “dream” has a bit of a split personality:
- a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie.
- an aspiration; goal; aim.
- a wild or vain fancy.
- to imagine as if in a dream; fancy; suppose.
- to pass or spend (time) in dreaming (often followed by away).
- most desirable; ideal.
As you can see, we have words or phrases like “indulge,” and “wild or vain fancy” contrasting with “an aspiration, goal, and aim” and “most desirable; ideal.”
There’s obviously some tension about the word “dream.”
In the context of dreamer doers for this project, the dreaming is where the idea comes from, the place where your imagination runs wild… and the doing is turning the dream into something real… making your “dream come true.”
In real life, dreams don’t come true by winning the lottery or wishing on a star like they do in movies or fairy tales. They come true through lots and lots and LOTS of incredibly hard work.
My dreamer-doers have lived that… they ARE living that. And this is what they have to say about how to make dreams come true:
Think a lot, read a lot, write a lot, organize your head. Do your homework. Know what you’re good at.
And, as Kate, a PR professional who always wanted to own her own business says, “it’s just as important to know what you’re NOT good at.”
For some people, like Colleen – who is following her dream to help people feel beautiful and live healthily – the process of owning her dream has been a “slow awakening to possibility.
For others, like Leah, who spent seven years making her dream of a Park for All, which is a playground where children with disabilities can play safely and independently, become reality, owning it was clear and decisive.
Not a matter of if, should, or when, but of pure action:
“LETS DO THIS.”
However you get there, heed the advice of Julia, a journalist who recently launched her own media website. She says that once you know what you’re doing, you have to “commit to your dream, surrender to it.”
Then put together a plan of how you’re going to pursue your dream, take a hard look at it and your life and decide if it’s for you – there’s a good chance you’ll have to choose your dream over other things that are also important.
Finally, if it’s right, go all in.
Do it now, or someone else will.
Yes, it might feel scary, but as one dreamer-doer, Scott, said, “If I didn’t take a risk, I’d still be a bagel baker.”
Which would be fine if his dream was to bake bagels, but his dream is to make a living as an artist.
Fernanda, an interior designer who fled the corporate world in search of something creative says, “Who wants to wonder what could have been?”
When she owned her dream, she found a career that she loves because she decided to be brave and take a risk.
One of the hardest things to do is share your dream with the people around you.
What if they don’t like it?
What if they think you’ll fail?
What if you do fail, and everyone knows?
Although a few people encountered naysayers when they shared their dreams, most said that the only negative voice they heard was their own.
Instead of criticizing their dream, the dreamer-doers networks supported them, gave them advice, cheered them on, and willed them to succeed.
One of the artists I spoke to, Annie, says she’s learned that she can’t believe everything she thinks, and that when she gets too negative she reminds herself that if she wouldn’t talk to a child that way, she shouldn’t talk to herself that way either.
In her studio, near her paints, hangs a quote that asks the question, “What if I fall?
And then answer, “Oh, but my dear, what if you fly?”
Pretty powerful, right?
Jill says that only after she shared her dream of opening a kid-focused coffee shop did it become real, and through sharing she felt like she HAD to pursue it.
She kept sharing it, kept working at her dream, and today her colorful, sunshiny shop is a happy hub filled with laughing children and parents relaxing with a latte.
For every successful dreamer-doer you see, there are many, many people standing behind them, holding them up, supporting them every step of the way.
To these people, THANK YOU. Your belief in dreamer-doers is the one thing everyone I spoke with said they absolutely COULD NOT do without.
Boot strappy, bull-headed, scrappy.
All descriptors dreamer-doers used when speaking about themselves, because they all said there came a point where they felt stuck, but by setting small goals, revisiting their idea, and believing in themselves and their vision, they kept going.
It’s healthy to have perspective; even small or un-glamorous tasks are steps along to path to following your dream.
Katherine, the founder of a local co-working space, says “Know that sometimes, you’re going to be the janitor AND the CEO.”
Some dreamer-doers even reached a point where they felt like they failed. Those that did realized that you have to be okay with failure, that it’s part of journey.
Jeremy, a local distiller, believes that you need to know what failure feels like, that the feeling of hitting the bottom is what will keep you pushing forward when you’re against a wall, while Bryan, a craft brew tour guide says, “You have to be able to ride the roller coaster. Take the downs as well as you take the ups.”
Chef Rob opened a restaurant that didn’t make it; he could choose to look back at the experience and be bitter, or he can remember what was good, the lessons he learned, and apply them to his current catering business.
He’s using his “failure” to his advantage by making his previous mistakes work for him.
It’s all part of the journey to pursue his dream of addressing food issues in our state by focusing on locally grown and traditional ingredients.
Many of the dreamer-doers said that they felt “lucky,” that they were at the right place at the right time, or a door opened just when they needed it.
Clare, who pursued her dream to run for office, said that when it was her moment to declare it almost felt like a “magical alignment of the stars.”
Holly says that when she qualified for the Olympic team the first time she lucked out in a lot of ways.
However, she is a person who made the team not once, but TWICE. I think we would all be hard pressed to find a dream that takes more physical labor, more determination, more grit than making it to the Olympics. It doesn’t sound like luck to me; it sounds like pure, unadulterated hard work.
Clare and Holly both put themselves out there and are more open to possibility than most people I know, which is the best way to get lucky.
You have to be open to walking through the door.
You have to be able to see the stars aligning.
And you have to say yes.
When there’s opportunity, go out and grab it – make your luck.
PIVOT. PIVOT. PIVOT.
You’ve probably all seen the graphic where it says “What you think success looks like” with a straight, diagonal line pointing up on one side, and “What success really looks like” with a crazy, squiggly line on the other.
It resonates because it is true.
Even if you’ve put together a great business plan, there’s no roadmap for pursuing a dream.
As local singer-songwriter Todd says, “You can make plans all day, but you have to be open to adaptation.”
Spencer Lee started out wanting to be a “DJ’s DJ” which to him meant playing cool music for cool people in bars. He thought weddings and corporate events were beneath him, but finally added them to his business plan because they paid well.
Now he’s one of the best known, most popular DJs in town, and even better, he truly enjoys working events outside of bars because it’s all part of his dream to “facilitate a good time by playing music.”
Through each of the themes I shared
– own it, share it, be persistent, get lucky, pivot –
there is one overarching sentiment:
BE TRUE TO YOU
This is YOUR dream. Have confidence in your abilities. Listen to others, but know that at the end of the day, you know what is right. Only you can define success for yourself.
Josh, a fine art and commercial photographer and possibly a serial entrepreneur with multiple awesome business ventures, says that he is always open to ideas from others when it comes to business; but when it comes to his art he relies solely on his own vision. For him, it comes down to passion and belief, and a willingness to commit to see his dream through.
To close, I’d like to share a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Or dream small, that’s good too.
But may you dare greatly, and may you know both victory and defeat.
And most of all, may you DO.