“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher… or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.” ~Douglas Adams
Who doesn’t like to dream? Fantasies, daydreams, whimsies of all kinds are pleasant and indulgent. Dreams are thought candy—enjoyable in the right quantity and within a balanced thought diet.
Anyone who ever left a mark on this world had a dream. Whether they created a business, governed a country, or created a movement, it all started in their mind and heart as a dream. At the beginning, that dream might have been laced with fantasies of fame or riches or power. They may have pictured successes or accolades or respect. Therein lie the temptations and the snares of big dreams.
Of course it doesn’t stop there: dreaming is a place to start, but not one to prematurely end. Bringing a dream into the real world involves facing down challenges and problems, obstacles and outright resistance. So what separates the dreamers from the visionaries? How does a dream move from fantasy to reality?
When the Reality Kicks In
When we call someone a dreamer, it is rarely a compliment. We generally mean someone who is unfocused or lost in their own thoughts, and we expect that they are unlikely to do anything of value or to make any meaningful impact.
When we call someone a visionary, however, it is an entirely different matter. They are someone we see as ahead of their time, bold and adventurous. We expect them to do great things. The difference is they make things happen here in the real world.
So what is vision that makes it so different from dreaming? Vision is the result of applying the laws of physics, human nature and economics to a dream so as to transform that dream into a reality. The visionary ceases to luxuriate in all the possibilities that are inherent to dreaming, picks one and makes it real. Being a dreamer is a prerequisite for being a visionary but it is hardly a given that every dreamer becomes a visionary. Vision calls for refinement and many dreamers just aren’t willing to do the work or make the sacrifices that such refinement requires.
Does business or government or education or religion require vision? No. There are plenty of visionless organizations with visionless leaders. If that doesn’t sound very inspiring it is because it isn’t: vision is a motivator and so it is understandable that visionless organizations don’t do much to improve the world we live in. In fact, they are usually attempting to be a force to maintain the status quo. For anything to move forward, upward or onward, vision is required. Even small organizations can have an impact with enough vision behind them, and small organizations with vision often become large organizations. That’s how we got Kiva and NPR, Amber Alerts and Girl Scout cookies. It’s also how we got organic vegan mexican food at Gracia Madre and delicious Jersey milk and yogurt from Saint Benoit Creamery.
Don’t know those last two? It’s probably because they are also committed to being local in addition to healthy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t visionary outfits lead by visionary people. There are times when the vision is deep rather than broad. That’s the great thing about vision—it is up to the visionary to choose.
Why Visionaries are Willing to Pay the Price
By now you have probably figured out that you can dream all you want for free but there is a price for being visionary. To turn a dream into a vision means making hard choices: it means ditching frivolous attachments and speculative leanings. That might sound like it would suck all the joy out of your dream, but consider this: would you prefer to spend your days wishing you had the perfect pony with a flowing mane and trophy-winning speed, or riding your own real live horse?
Not everyone is meant to saddle up. You might want the horse, you might want the race, or you might want the stables. There is a lot of room for complementary visions. Whatever your dream may be, one truth remains: it is vision that transforms dreams into reality. So buy that horse, because until you do there is nothing to ride. Learn to ride that horse until you can race, then race the best you can. Win or lose, you are now beyond the dream, doing something real.
Not every visionary is a household name but every visionary makes a difference. Join the ranks of those who, big and small, are making an impact because they are living their vision and not merely indulging some dream.