Where do our dreams go?

I recently had a revelatory experience. We have long desired a place at the beach. But not just any place: Old Florida feel; close to the water; easy access. A pipe dream. We were in Tampa last week and I made a casual perusal of real estate listings. There it was! Well, crap. It was pending…but the deal was shaky. We had a real opportunity to get it.

We had a walk about. It was absolutely perfect! An oasis. Just what we wanted. Just where we wanted it. Was it possible? A significant stretch, but achievable (only just). I told the Realtor we would put in a backup offer.

And then reality hit. Our foreseen comfortable retirement would be “not so comfortable.” The cushion would be gone. The travel with friends would be limited. This is where we would go (and not much else). “But it was perfect!” Well maybe not so much. It was small (not the space we enjoy here in Tennessee). Barb and I would be on top of each other. It was expensive! Not just the price. Taxes were significant and insurance sky-high.

Ultimately, we decided not to make the offer. I still envision myself on the veranda reading a book (or maybe writing a book) surrounded by palms, looking over the pool. That was the dream, but a dream not to be.

When we are young, we dream a lot. Sometimes they are trivial, “I want to be a cowboy.” Others are more substantial and seem (at the time) achievable. I went to high school in (then West) Germany. One evening I was sitting on a hill with some friends. The lights of a plane passed overhead, and a train flew by. I wondered where they were headed. I wanted to travel the world. I thought I would join the State Department and be stationed in exotic places.

I first started college at Georgia Tech and soon decided that it was not for me. I got accepted into the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. That was the ticket! I also applied to West Point and the opportunity to play soccer and follow in my father’s footsteps (although I would never have admitted that at the time) won out.

That “dream” didn’t die, it just morphed. Not only would I travel, but I would do so as a soldier. By the time I was commissioned, I firmly believed I would become another Patton or McArthur (At West Point, there is a saying: “Much of the history we teach is made by the people we taught).

I was stationed back in Europe and understood why we were there (patrolling the fences, minefields and border guards of East Germany). On one maneuver exercise, I chose a defensive position and found a stone marker. It was where Napoleon had deployed his forces when he defeated the Austrians (Obviously great minds think alike). I never became the great soldier-statesman I had envisioned. Life (and family) got in the way. I sometimes wonder how the alternative path might have worked out. But I do not regret my choice despite leaving one more desire in the dust.

I have had other “ambitions. Sometimes they have taken the form of actual goals. This has been particularly true in business. When I first came to Kingsport, I joined a former military colleague. I once told him that my vision was to see an office building on a particular hill with the company logo emblazoned on the side for all to see. It was both aspirational and a bit shocking. It did not come to fruition.

When I started my own company, that aspiration had faded, but it never quite went away. I worked my way up to building it. It was a different hill, and my company’s name didn’t go on it (my son’s name did). It was the pinnacle of my career (figuratively and literally). I put my heart and soul into it, and I made it real. But all things change. Circumstances “encouraged” me to divest it. It was successful, but no longer a dream fulfilled. Someone recently asked how I felt looking at it from the outside. I replied, “It’s just real estate.” You can’t fall in love with property no matter how much of yourself you invest.

Even given some setbacks, I know that “dreams” have their place in our lives. They reside in our psyche. They help draw us into the future. They help define who we will become. Despite our perceptions, in some respects dreams are finite. The inherently incorporate an end point. After all, fulfilling a dream implies an objective that can be achieved.

They are also aspirational and can never really be attained. When actually confronted with fulfilling our desire (as I recently did), we find that what we think we want, may be an illusion. It is something worth imagining, but not capable of actually “becoming.” The reality is not quite what we envision. It never can be. It is in their true nature. There is always more, a little detail that we may not have even recognized that somehow leaves the result less than we imagined.

Where do our dreams go?

Sometimes they simply fade away. Drawn from us by the reality of life. Sometimes we find that they were not real, just an apparition that helped us through our worldly travails. And sometimes we seem to get there only to find out that the end we desired is not quite what we thought it might be.

Perhaps, I am looking at this all wrong. It is the journey, not the destination that counts. The people and experiences along the way matter more than “achievement.”

In the end we find that “the juice really is worth the squeeze.” The ups and downs are what make life interesting and worth living. Disapointments are a part of the human condition. Regardless of how we get there, what we feel and who we touch are the important aspects.

But, I also have faith that the “end” will be far more than we ever could have imagined. There is a true comfort in that.


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