The Dreams We Dream

We all have a dream. It’s why entrepreneurs fail. It’s why marriages end in divorce. It’s why retirees go back to work.


We all have a dream. And the dream is better than reality.


The dream is a story that we tell ourselves. It is an internal dialogue that no one else hears. The power of these stories, these dreams, is immense. They make us do things we otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t. As such, they are good and helpful. But they can be taken too far, too literally. That’s when these dreams betray us and become nightmares.


Let me give you an example.


According to the Small Business Administration, less than half of new businesses are still alive after five years. The reasons for failure vary, and the following list captures the main conclusions of those who investigate business failures: lack of market demand, shortage of capital, poor leadership, dysfunctional team dynamics, and pricing.


There is no reason to doubt those conclusions, but perhaps they fail to detect the root cause of business failure. Perhaps entrepreneurs are not successful because reality did not match their dreams.


The dream of starting a business often centers on greater freedom or more control. It usually involves the alluring prospect of striking it rich. But what happens when that dream fails to play out in the real world? Reacting to that unpleasant circumstance is likely predictive of entrepreneurs’ ultimate success.


Paradoxically, the dream is vital to get started, but the dream can also be toxic when real life unfolds differently.


The same holds true in marriage. The dream is romance and bliss, but the reality is communication and patience. When reality is harder than the dream, some couples are caught off guard. When they are unable to make reality align more closely with the dream, the marriage dissolves.


A similar phenomenon is encountered by pre-retirees.


A lifetime of saving and investing positions them for a secure retirement. They begin to think about how they will spend their time when they are no longer working every day. They think about the morning strolls, the afternoon naps, and the evening sunsets. It sounds so sweet.


But after the strolls, naps and sunsets, the retiree still has another 12 waking hours, roughly, to fill. The pre-retiree, however, assumes those blanks will fill in naturally once retirement commences. In any event, they won’t be working, so how bad could it be?


Then, reality unfolds.


The things that were so seductive about retirement fail to live up to the dream. The morning strolls hurt their knees or hip. The afternoon nap is only necessary to fill the boredom. The evening sunset is accompanied by annoying mosquitos and dreadful humidity.


That’s a bleak picture of retirement. It is not intended to be. But the truth is that pre-retirees too often have exceptionally rosy expectations about what retirement will be. That’s often why retirees return to the workforce. They miss the camaraderie, the challenge, the sense of purpose. They cannot seem to find the equivalent in their newfound spare time. More freedom, but less fulfillment.


The trick, therefore, is to harness the power of the dream without becoming beholden to it.


For instance, when retirees re-enter the workforce, they are often able to do so on their own terms. They find positions with more flexibility, better hours, or preferential tasks. That is a wonderful way to leverage the dream while being mindful of reality. So is volunteering, spending time with friends and family, and developing new hobbies.


Many pre-retirees can benefit from easing into retirement, rather than committing cold turkey. What does that look like? Perhaps only working three or four days a week for a time. That provides a gradual transition to retirement and allows pre-retirees to get a sense of what retirement will look and feel like.


Ultimately, it requires introspection. Think about what drives you. What is your passion? What strengths do you possess that could allow you to make a difference once you leave the working world?


Retirement can live up to the dream. But it takes pre-planning and it takes work – just a different kind, perhaps.

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