Being a dreamer has always been part of who I am, even from a very young age. Growing up on a small rural farm, my vivid imagination as a child would take me to places far away. I spent several years living with my grandparents. I fondly remember my grandmother encouraging me to dream. She would read me the story of Joseph and his coat - and how his dreaming saved his family and an entire nation from hunger. I so wanted to be that guy - so it’s no surprise that I developed a deep desire to change the world. And with such a desire, I had entrepreneurial dreams.
Throughout my early career, I would think about problem solving and possibilities. I found myself studying business models and thinking about our customers. I would flow-chart alternative designs to that would strengthen our products, our customer relationships, and our value. I dreamed of a better way.
My entrepreneurial spirit led me to launch my first business in 1993. It was a rollercoaster of terror and bliss. My life was lived on what I call “the ecstasy and agony scale.” For those of you have lived this journey - trying to turn your dream into something real - you perfectly understand. The joy I have found in daring to imagine things differently, to improve life and expand opportunity cannot be bought with money. And now, 25 years later, I find this journey of following a dream to make a difference is the fuel of life.
Life saving drugs, electricity, cars, airplanes, the smartphone, even the freedom of speech we sometimes take for granted — All of these were someone’s dream. What other people thought impossible, someone dreamed for the future. Their dreams shaped history and defined a future which is now our present. Just like their dreams, I believe our dreams shape the future too.
My life’s journey has certainly had its twists and turns. And, unfortunately, life doesn’t always go the way we planned. Losing my son in 2015 meant losing all the dreams of his having a family and what his impact might have been had he not died at 25. I’ve won and lost in this journey of life - making my own fair share of mistakes, making a few good decisions too, and realizing I won’t achieve everything the way I had planned. And now that I’m well into my mid-50’s, I am acutely aware of just how limited my time on this earth is. I’m also more aware of the importance of holding onto important dreams.
I’ve come to realize that everything I have survived in life has led me to the place I am now - a place of opportunity that would not have happened had life unfolded in a different way. Every high, every low and everything in between have all led me to this very moment where I can make a difference in a unique way - I simply must walk the more difficult path to turn an idea into something real.
All too often we hang onto our past - the “what might have been” and use these failures, the missed opportunities, the hurt and pain to torture ourselves all throughout our lives. Had I stopped dreaming every time I hit a roadblock, I would have stopped years ago. If I’ve learned anything, it’s the importance of forgiving others, forgiving myself for failure and moving on! I’ve learned that letting go of the past is the only way to make space to focus on what’s next - and not losing sight of the impact I hope to make in the world.
Today, I am more certain of what really matters. I am more thoughtful of how I spend my time on a few dreams that might make a difference for someone. My encouragement to you is to never stop dreaming, no matter how old you are or what your circumstance may be. Within us are the dreams that can change lives.
Dare to keep dreaming.