Some kinds of dreams are reserved mostly for the young.
When we're kids, we can picture an incredible future in great detail even though our plans to achieve that future are vague, unformed, or even nonexistent. In our dreams, we imagine an amazing future that seems not just possible but also achingly real.
We picture ourselves as a professional athlete, an actor, a rock star--or as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Sara Blakely--in spite of the fact that our vivid imaginings are infinitely more real than any of our efforts to actually achieve those dreams.
Say you're a teenager and dream of being a rock star. Even though you've never even picked up an instrument, achieving your dream still feels not just possible but also probable. Against all reason and logic your dream feels attainable.
"Someday" you're going to make it big.
Then a different "someday" arrives. You realize time has passed you by. You realize the guys playing pro baseball are your age or younger. You realize the gals playing on Broadway are your age or younger.
Or, in 1981, you realize the five guys onstage at James Madison University's Godwin Hall (a venue where eardrums went to die) are your age or younger.
Back then Def Leppard was a relatively obscure opening act. I discovered them through Paul Ipock (I wrote about Paul here; I promise it's worth a read). I was probably one of a handful of people at the show who knew any of their songs.
It was great to see them perform live, but over the span of nine songs I faced a harsh reality: My dream was dead. My time, if it ever could have been my time, had passed. I would never be a rock star.
Dreams, even unrealistic dreams, can die a painful death--yet dreams can also come full circle in unusual ways.
A few weeks ago, I spent time with Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen on his tour bus before the band's concert in Virginia Beach. We talked about the business of music, but we also talked about our kids and our families. He played a few songs from his upcoming blues album. He described how he often records guitar parts on his Mac instead of in a studio. He showed me how he captures song ideas on his phone by humming melodies. I met his lovely wife and daughter.
For a couple of hours, I hung out with a rock star.
Later, my wife and I went to the show. Our badges allowed us to enter through the backstage area and bypass the massive lines. We sat up front for an outstanding (and surprisingly powerful) Def Leppard performance.
Great experience? Oh yeah. Phil is smart, engaging, and funny. One on one, he's the farthest thing from a rock star. (Onstage he's another thing entirely.) And it was really fun to go behind the scenes and see the machinery of a major tour in action. It was fun to be "in," if only for a few hours, and to vicariously live a small slice of the rock and roll dream.
Yet as we left I realized every dream that dies does not result in a loss. Sometimes what we wish for is not what we need or, eventually, even want.
In my youth I dreamed of being a professional athlete. In my youth I dreamed of being a rock star. Today I am neither, and my younger self would be shocked to learn that today I don't even want to be those things. Phil is a great guy and lives an amazing life, but I don't want to be him.
I like him, but unlike my younger self, I no longer want to be him.
While I don't love who I am--the day we stop trying to be better than we are is the day we officially start dying--I do like who I am. I am married to a woman I don't deserve and, after the show, we drove home to where our kids were waiting.
A wonderful wife and a great family; those are dreams I never imagined when I was young. I didn't know any better.
But I do now--and am truly blessed to be living that dream.
We should always dream of (and work toward) more. But sometimes wanting--and appreciating--what we already have is the best dream of all.