This is a week we think of the dream of Martin Luther King, a dream that imagined the future of so many as different and better. It’s a dream that addressed injustice with change and saw opportunity to the betterment of many. It is a dream that that empowered and changed lives.
We also remember today that dreams are still worth having and pursuing. We also remember that these dreams only have impact if they are followed by action and the determination that takes a dream and turns it into reality. Without such action, a dream is a fantasy, a movie, a nice memory.
I don’t have a story as huge as the dream by MLK, but it’s a personal story of a dream I want to share here…
It was a quiet in my little town in the Swiss mountains over 25 years ago. There was snow on the ground and everything was calm, except for the muffled sounds of traffic far away. It was a cold night and I stood under the stars. The brilliant light of stars and galaxies was twinkling in the cold air as I stood in awe.
I was a teenager and was struggling to make it through school. This had nothing to do with my ability to master the subject areas and exams in school. But, coming from a farming town I was an outsider to my school which included children of lawyers, doctors and other professionals. I was walking down from the mountain every morning and had to either walk up or wait for the evening bus each evening. I could not participate in evening or weekend programs – it just was too far. Instead, my friends seemed to have all the fun and joy, while I was struggling to make ends meet. Frankly, I hated this school. I did not have any people I would call friends and I was trying to figure out how to make it as I found myself in increasing contradiction with my very religious home and family.
Yet that evening the stars that made me think like so many days since then. In fact, there is nothing more imposing to me to this day to think of the history of our time burnt into any picture of the universe today – we are looking at light that left its stars years and even centuries ago and light that is just now entering right now the eye of the observer… It’s both humbling, but also tremendously rewarding to think about this.
I don’t remember what made that evening so special or why this evening has stood out in my mind. Was it a disappointment, a frustration, a sense of limitation or desperation? But, looking at the stars, I started to dream of the future in a rather specific way. I thought ahead of things through which I could matter and do something. I dreamt about leaving my town and family and go abroad and learning from others, getting to know the world I had never seen. I wanted to become truly excellent and known as somebody who mattered in the lives of others. And, I was going to find friends and love that made it all relevant – singling me out from all the people like that stellar light that just hit my eyes.
I promised to myself that I was going to try to do the best I could to make this dream a reality. This is why I still remember this evening till today. I can’t help but smile when I think about the dream of the guy standing there. It turns out he had a lot of stuff backwards.
First, I needed to learn to be a friend, and then learn about the gift of having friends that changed my life forever. These friends helped me and created opportunity and allowed me to go beyond limitations. I also found love that made my relevant in so many other ways than I imagined as a teen.
Success, I learned, came from a community, not just me. And, success was also a very much two-sided sword. In fact, I did not appreciate standing under the stars how tough my path would be from time to time, how resilient I had to be to achieve important goals.
Also, I had to learn that leadership and excellence come very much from hard work and perseverance, not just talent and smarts.
Then, I learned that we all have opportunities and that the difference between more and less successful people was how they handled such opportunities. As I mentioned before, some of my most interesting opportunities occurred almost randomly, but they have one thing in common: I did not let them get away and that’s why they mattered.
And, successively, my teenage dream is becoming reality.
I still take motivation from that experience in that winter night over 25 years ago. I hope that right here in Michigan, or wherever my path leads me, I can create positive change, and the love that turns a stranger into a friend and a bunch of individuals into a great team!
Through this post, I hope I learn about the dreams of many of you who seek to change the world through entrepreneurship or deliberate action. Fulfilling dreams takes patience, and resilience. Just remember:
Nothing important is easy, but nothing easy is important enough to be at the center of our dream through which we reach out to tomorrow’s reality.