When’s the last time you let yourself dream big – I mean really dream? I’m not talking about having a moment where you wish for something more but then just as quickly short-circuit it with dismissive thoughts. I’m talking about holding space to let yourself really envision a bigger, brighter future.
In his book, The Dream Manager, Matthew Kelly presents a compelling case for the power of dreaming and how it not only energizes and guides us towards a better future but also can help foster greater connection with others. Think about it…how many of our conversations are regurgitating the day or rehashing past events, and how many are future-focused and looking towards what is possible? Which of those conversations are energizing and life-giving, and which are neutral or even an energy drain?
I think that part of what halts or prevents our dreaming is that letting ourselves sit in possibility and joy is extremely vulnerable. In fact, joy is one of the most terrifying and vulnerable emotions we experience, so we tend to forebode it and dressrehearse tragedy. How often do you hear yourself or others say things like:
- I don’t want to get my hopes up.
- Don’t get too excited about [ABC] or you’ll be disappointed.
- It’s not going to work out, so don’t bother putting too much energy into it.
- Don’t get ahead of yourself
As kids, we dream all the time and imagine that we can do and be anything we want in this world. Then, at some point, that diminishes and we start holding back and playing it safe and small. Our brains are hardwired to seek out familiarity and comfort. So we resign ourselves to our current reality and circumstances and are afraid to want something more or different. But what if we embraced the discomfort a little more and authored a different journey for ourselves?
Don’t Follow – Build a Yellow Brick Road
A few months ago, I read Choose Your Story, Change Your Life by Kindra Hall, and it really spoke to me. She talks about her obsession with The Wizard of Oz and uses it as an incredible analogy for how we create our own future (and get in our own way).
Let’s start with the Emerald City. In the movie, it represented possibility and dreams coming true. A horse could be any color, and people could be anything they wanted to be. Kindra describes the Emerald City as a place we all wish and work for in our lives; it’s where we’ve reached our potential and experience self-actualization, happiness, or success.
In order to get to the Emerald City, we need a yellow brick road. And even when we find that road, the journey won’t be simple; we’re going to have to endure obstacles that stop us (i.e., fields of poisonous poppies), haters (i.e., trees throwing apples at us) and setbacks (i.e., flying monkeys). But here’s the thing, the yellow brick road that is responsible for leading us to the destiny we desire isn’t pre-determined; it is entirely composed of the stories we tell ourselves.
This is critical and worth repeating. Our ability to reach the destiny we desire – to have the life we truly want for ourselves – is largely dependent upon the stories we tell ourselves.
Our behaviors aren’t what holds us back; it’s the story we tell ourselves that precedes our behavior that gets in our way. Herein lies the predicament. You see, as humans, we make sense of our experiences by creating narratives and stories. And in the first 10 or so years of our lives, our brains are downloading programming (in the form of stories) based on our experiences that serve as a filter for our reality. We learn when to speak up and when to be quiet; what is right and wrong; and when we’ll be accepted or rejected. The problem is that studies have shown that over 70% of this programming is fundamentally flawed, negative, and self-sabotaging; and it leads to us telling ourselves all kinds of stories that keep us safe and small.
In fact, our inner storyteller has one job to do – keep us safe. Yet so often we don’t realize we’re telling ourselves a story; we think it is fact and reality. Once we realize that, we have the power to rewrite stories that aren’t serving us (or others) well. More on that shortly; let’s go back to Oz…
As I read Kindra Hall’s book, I started thinking about the influence of The Wizard of Oz in my life. Besides my obvious love of sparkle (I mean who wouldn’t want their own pair of ruby slippers?), it’s been in my orbit more than I realize.
When I was in 8th grade, a group of friends and I decided we should be the Wizard of Oz characters for Halloween. I was the only one with long, dark hair and was excited to play Dorothy. Yet, another girl claimed that spot before I could say anything. I was devastated and embarrassed that I had to be the lion; but of course I never spoke up. Then, another friend loaned me a costume she had; I bought one of those face painting kits; and I was determined to own my role as the lion. I remember many people asking why I wasn’t Dorothy but saying that my costume rocked.
In reflecting back on this experience, it reminds me that we have a choice when things don’t go our way; we can be petty and shrink or rise to the occasion and show up fully. Halloween of 8th grade wasn’t about me. It was about being part of a group, playing my part and doing it to the best of my ability. Any one of us by ourselves wouldn’t have made much sense. But together, we created something memorable.
Fast forward to the early 2000’s. I taught Spinning classes for many years and was the queen of theme rides. One of my favorite rides was a Wizard of Oz theme ride. I had a little Toto in a basket I would put on my handlebars, created a yellow brick road path to the bike studio, and had a playlist complete with sound overlays from the movie. It was one of my most popular rides. I think that was partly due to nostalgia, but it also created a space for people to envision their own Emerald City and find the power within themselves to dare to dream a bigger, brighter future.
It got me thinking…Why is it that so many decades later, this simple movie continues to be part of our culture and influence us?
It’s even inspired spinoffs of the story with the awesome musical, Wicked, and the 2013 film Oz the Great and Powerful. In fact, when our son was around 4 years old, he used to be obsessed with “the Wizard” (what he called the Oz film) and watched it on repeat. I remember one day when my husband, Dave, was taking his turn to be home with Peyton due to him being sick, he texted me just before I left work; he said “In Wizard prison; please bring home food.” Besides the movie being funny, it has a good message about creating opportunities for others to dream and have hope – and how life-giving that is. I think in the midst of how bleak our world can be right now, perhaps we could all benefit from daring to dream and having a little more hope.
Putting a Little Oz Magic into Practice in Your Own Life
Towards the end of The Wizard of Oz, Glinda helps Dorothy realize that she always had the power within her to go home; but she had to learn that for herself. I think that has universal application. So here are some things I invite you to consider to put a little Oz magic into practice in your own life:
Be Deliberate to Envision Your Own Emerald City.
Create space for yourself to dream. Fast forward to a point in the future and really visualize what you’d like your life to look like:
- Where are you spending your time?
- What do your relationships look like?
- How do you feel?
- What kind of impact are you having around you?
Start having dream-based conversations with others as well, and resist the temptation to forebode joy along the way. Besides, it’s foolish to lose in your own fantasy/story! Then look at your current state and the gap between where you are and your Emerald City; that gap is your opportunity to author your own journey to get to where you want to be.
Build a Better Yellow Brick Road – Recognize and Own Your Stories.
We have to recognize that we tell ourselves stories – period. Psychologist Carl Jung is accredited with saying,
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it Fate.”
If we want to behave differently and have different outcomes, we have to start with thinking differently. This means we have to start to pay attention when we are telling ourselves stories and then ask ourselves,
- Is this story still true today, and is it serving me well?
- Or is it getting in the way and preventing me from [making progress on goals that are important to me, having the impact I desire, etc.]?
Once you recognize that you’re telling yourself a self-limiting story, you have the power to choose a new story. And once you find a new story that serves you and others better, create deliberate practices to embed that new story into your life so it becomes a new reality.
We all have the power within us to let ourselves dream, shift our story, and to build our own yellow brick road. Make no mistake, we will have to lean into the messy work and fight off some obstacles and detours along the way; but the journey to our own Emerald City will most certainly be worth it.
Dare to dream. Dare to demand more for yourself. You are worth it!
Stay brave. Stay human. Stay safe. And never dull your sparkle!