One of my favorite quotes is: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. ~ Henry David Thoreau
I have recently learned that it is a misquote. The entire quotation comes from Thoreau’s Walden, and is: “I learned this, at least, from my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours… In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
That is MUCH more deep. And does not fit on a coffee mug.
But, I like it because Thoreau is not saying make your dream small. He is saying that if you “advance confidently” and LIVE the life you’ve imagined, that the obstacles will appear less daunting. The internal voices that tell you your dream is silly, that people will ridicule you, that you will fail, will fade. It is more difficult to listen to those voices while you are busy charting the direction of your dream, and figuring out the next step in your confident advancement, and living the life you’ve imagined.
I have always been a dreamer. As a little girl, I wanted to be a great equestrian. I went through a dozen of those little plastic-headed stick horses. I was an awesome jumper. But at about age six, I discovered that real horses are very big, a lot of work, and it hurts when you fall off.
So, a lesson learned at six seems to be a lesson about life. Real dreams are big, they are a lot of work, and it does hurt when you fall off.
I want to run for office. I believe I would be a thoughtful leader, a responsible custodian of the people’s trust, and a faithful follower of the law. Of course, I have agendas – dreams for what our city could be that it is not. I believe things could be better for all our citizens, and the city could be a place our children want to return to and live in. I think we could care for our less fortunate better. I believe we could pollute the planet less. I believe we could educate all our children and give them a better chance at their dreams. I believe we are a city of people who care, and that we need to extend that caring to the way we live our public lives, and spend our collective resources.
It is a terrifying idea, running for office. I asked myself, “What is the worst that could happen?” At first, I thought, “Well, I could lose, be humiliated, people could believe some horrible rumor spread about me, or I could embarrass myself by not knowing enough about finance, or federal grants, or sewer systems, and I could have to move out of Hoover in disgrace.” But then I realized that that is not the worst. Far worse would be to WIN, and to do a bad job. To WIN and make a mess of the city and leave it worse than I found it. To WIN and go down in history as the worst city councilperson ever. And have to move out of Hoover in disgrace.
Even if I was painted by the old boy network as the worst elected official ever to serve in Hoover, and I had to move to another state, and all my friends pretended they never knew me, wouldn’t it still be better to live the life I’ve imagined, rather than standing still, waiting for life to happen to me? Waiting for someone else to do my work and fulfill my dreams?
One of the people I most admire, former President Jimmy Carter, is called by some the worst President ever. Terrible things happened while he was President, and he was then defeated in a landslide by a senile actor. But he continues, and has for decades, to go confidently in the direction of his dreams. He cares for those who have less. He speaks out for those whose voices are not heard. He sets an example of kindness and generosity, and he inspires even his worst critics to do likewise. He keeps his faith, even when it meant parting from his life-long denomination. Even suffering from cancer in his tenth decade of life, he moves forward, because there are still dreams, and there is still work to do.
If I endeavor to live the life I have imagined, I might fail, and it might hurt, but it does seem evident that I will “meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” The goal is not ego or accolades or power, the goal is to advance confidently to make life better for others in whatever way presents itself.