Tuesday, December 29, 2020

I Know the Secret to Making Your Dreams Come True

I know the secret to making your dreams come true.

In an essay written for New Philosopher magazine (content not available online), Oliver Burkman discusses what's called Littlewood's Law, named for a British mathematician by the name of John Edensor Littlewood:

Let's suppose . . . that you're awake and active in the world -- as opposed to sleeping or resting -- for a mere eight hours a day. Suppose furthermore that a tiny 'event' of some sort occurs at the rate of once per second during those hours: you see someone in the street, you read or hear a sentence, or have a thought, and so on . . . Crunch the numbers on that basis, and it turns out you can expect to experience a one-in-a-million occurrence -- the kind of odds most of us would call miraculous -- roughly every 35 days.

So, simply from a mathematical perspective, each of us experiences a very lucky moment on roughly a monthly basis; unbelievably lucky, astronomically lucky, a miracle. The thing is, we don't get to choose what that specific lucky moment is going to be and because most of us are intent upon chasing a specific kind of luck, which we often label our "goal" or our "dream," we don't recognize those one-in-a-million occurrences.

When I graduated from college, my first employer was so impressed with my ability to write "proposals" that my unpaid internship turned into a paid one within months. I had been taught in school to write clear, unequivocal mission statements, followed by goals and objectives, supported by strategies and tactics, all in the service of that original mission statement, the idea being that if we just followed our plan our business dream would come true. Those plans helped us secure business, they helped us get going, but I soon came to realize, first with despair and then with a shrug, that our beautiful plans were almost immediately relegated to the file drawer in light of real events and real people. I realize now that those plans, far from helping us achieve our goal (which in business is always to make money), were really just blinders that pretty much guaranteed failure -- or at least a success far beneath the one postulated in the mission statement. The more seasoned businesspeople around me knew this already, at least in part, which is why my beautiful plans wound up by the wayside as we took the more certain path of making it up as we went along with varying degrees of success.

When I was young, before the pressures of "getting real" were upon me, I dreamt of being a superhero and a saint, of a life of hedonism and of adventure, of building things and tearing things down. I saw myself by turns a spelunker, baseball coach, architect, firefighter, daddy, hobo, titan, jewel thief, politician, archeologist, tinker, tailor, solder, and spy. I imagined myself living a life of ease and great striving, both poor and rich, complicated and simple. I toyed with all of those ideas for myself, each holding special charms, then, as I approached that arbitrary point we call adulthood, I pretended to focus on one of them. I was going to, one day, be the creative director of a Madison Avenue advertising agency. I know, pathetic, right? Even I didn't fully believe in it, although I had a "plan" for making it happen.

I really beat myself up about it, but by the time I had graduated from university, I was certain that I didn't want to be one of those Mad Men, so it was without enthusiasm that I continued to work that damned plan, which landed me with that first employer who was impressed by my ability to write plans: that employer, by a one-in-a-million chance, turned out to be the woman to whom I've now been married for the past 35 years. I don't know if I even recognized it at the time, but my dream had come true: I was and still am the luckiest man alive.

And I don't mean that in the usual sniveling, husbandly way, even though I know how it sounds. I don't care. It's true. I'd always dreamt of finding a true life partner.

One of my thousands of dreams was to follow in my own mother's footsteps, to be a parent and homemaker, something that had seemed an impossibility given the gender of my birth, yet, as luck would have it, I found myself in exactly that role when our daughter was young, just as I'd dreamt.

At some point, in my infinite list of youthful dreams, I'd fantasized about being a teacher and by the unpredictable turnings of fate, via a one-in-a-million long shot, someone asked me at just the right moment, "What are you going to do with your life?" And when I didn't have an answer, she replied, "You should be a preschool teacher." And that's what I did. What incredible luck! My dream came true!

In pre-Covid times I found myself traveling to places around the globe, self-indulgently "suffering" the toils and uncertainty of travel, speaking to audiences of colleagues who seemed to find me both entertaining and informative. This was another of my dreams coming true. I'd often romanticized the life of a traveling minstrel, roaming from town-to-town with nothing but a rucksack and a song. I was living the dream.

For a long time I dreamed of being a writer, and now here I sit, writing every day and people actually read it. My dream is reality.

It's all been pure luck. And please don't try to spoil it by insisting that it was luck made by hard work, diligence, and putting my nose-the-grindstone because despite popular mythology, that has had absolutely nothing to do with it. I've not worked hard: I've been lucky because I have dreamed a million dreams. 

And so that's my secret to making your dreams come true. Dream a lot. Dream often. Dream like a child, every day, passionately, then hold onto that dream even as you dream the next one. Because for every new dream you dream, you increase the odds that your monthly allotment of one-in-a-million long shots will be the one for which you've been waiting. It's this lesson, not the one about grindstones that I want to teach the children in my life.


I'm excited to introduce my brand new 6-part e-course, The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think, in which I pull the curtain back on the magic that comes from treating children like fully formed human beings. This course is for educators, parents, and anyone else who works with young children. It's the culmination of more than 20 years of research and practice. I've been speaking on this topic around the world for the past decade and know that it can be transformative both for adults and children. For more information and to register, click here. Thank you!

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