Dream Big (or not)
When I was in college, I fell in love with the movie Sabrina, first with the 1995 remake starring Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford, and then with the Audrey Hepburn original. I watched them both repeatedly and for a time could quote them with ease.
It’s been years since I watched either and the exact words are fuzzy now, but lately, I have been thinking more and more about a particular scene. Bear with me as I recap the relevant basic plot quickly in case you aren’t familiar: the main character, Sabrina, is the daughter of the chauffeur for the super-wealthy Larrabee family and grows upon their estate. It’s a love story about a young girl who goes away to Paris to find herself and get over the unrequited love she has for one of the family’s sons and it has all the twists and turns that a good romantic comedy/drama usually does.
The scene that I keep thinking of is a minor one where Sabrina is talking to her father where he sits surrounded by his books piled haphazardly on every surface. She comments that one of the things she loves most about him is that he chose to become a chauffeur so that he would have time to read and that she always pictures him sitting in a long line of cars reading his beloved books as he waits for the Larrabees.
This scene has always struck me because it rings out in stark opposition to what we are usually told. Had her father followed the general wisdom we are so often given, he would have “followed his passion” and perhaps found a job in publishing or struggled to become a writer or worked all day in a library filled with books he didn’t have time for to read. Instead, he chose a profession having nothing directly to do with books but that allowed him to meet his responsibilities in a way that also allowed him both the time and energy to fully engage in his passion for reading.
I think this is revolutionary and brilliant on a million levels and needs to be talked about with frankness and honesty significantly more often than it is.
It is more than okay to dream of a life that allows time and energy for your pleasures, your passions, your pursuits without those things also being how you pay your bills or happening on a big public platform.
In an age dominated by the “side hustle” and “live your passion” it can seem small-minded to say that the “day job” isn’t necessarily the enemy we’ve made it out to be. But it really isn’t. Sometimes it’s possible to choose a day job that allows for the greatest enjoyment of your life outside of how you meet your responsibilities. Sometimes the most world-changing thing we can do is simply enjoy our lives and give permission to others to do the same.
When I was beginning my wedding photography business nearly a decade ago, I paid a lot of money for a mentoring session with a couple who were a big deal. They were running a six-figure business that included everything from shooting weddings to hosting workshops to writing materials for industry publications. I was drowning in my own small business and knew that how I was doing things was unsustainable for the long term. I thought that they must be able to help me figure out how to dig out if they could keep so many balls in the air, so I spent money that I couldn’t really afford to seek their guidance.
During the session, one of them asked me what I wanted and I told her honestly that I wanted to do great work for my clients, make a living, and get some of my life back so that I could pursue all of the other things that I enjoyed like running and reading and spending time outside. She said, “But don’t you want to become a leader in the industry? Don’t you want to teach and speak at conferences?” and when I said no, I could visibly see her pull away and begin to dismiss me as not having “what it takes.”
She tried one more time, “But what are your BIG dreams??”
But those were my “big” dreams. I was drowning in my business and exhausted and had six-figure student loan debt and couldn’t see a way to make it all work. Getting a handle on all of it so that I could feel like I was living a real life again so that I could read a book or go for a hike or have a leisurely dinner with my husband- those were my dreams.
At the time, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I’d just given her the “wrong answer” and that I wasn’t dreaming “big enough.” That I wasn’t enough.
That very expensive mentoring session did not help me figure out how to manage my business in a way that moved me toward what I truly wanted because that couple was selling the idea that “big” dreams were the only ones that mattered. That dreams that didn’t include some level of fame and celebrity, that didn’t come with a stage and a big audience, weren’t dreams that were “big enough.”
But I was enough and so were my dreams
And so are you and yours, be them big crazy take-over-the-world dreams or “small” enjoy-my-time-at-the-playground-with-my-kids-today dreams. If you truly want to run the Larrabee Corporation and grace the cover of Forbes, I am 100% behind you. If you want to be a chauffeur so that you have time to read, then I’m here to say that that counts, too.
We all have the same 24 hours in the day and 365 days in the year. We all have this one life. There are infinite ways to live that one life full of meaning and purpose, and it doesn’t always look like running a company or speaking on a stage, or having a gazillion Instagram followers. Sometimes quiet and simplicity are “big” too.
When you use your own true voice to encourage and support, when you live your days with kindness and do the best you can with whatever tools you have to leave everything you touch a little better than you found it, that is living big. That is a life of purpose and meaning.
It doesn’t have to be public and it doesn’t have to include any version of the celebrity. Living big is done over a million small moments in our day-to-day lives, in the millions of tiny interactions we have where our existence brushes up against someone else’s.
Our dreams shift over our lives and we can change our minds at any point. If you’re not sure yet, then I encourage you to begin “small”…begin with a way to meet your responsibilities that leaves time for your joy and take it from there. You may find that that feels quite big after all. You may find that you do, indeed, want to share it with others at some point. Or not. Whatever. It’s enough.
A good life is hard work. But we get to choose what that hard work looks like. Sometimes it means big, scary, public goals and long hours of toil building a company. Sometimes it is having a job that allows you to “clock out” and read a book or meet that friend for a drink or sit on the floor and play legos for a while. Sometimes it is raising our lowered heads in a mentoring session and proudly saying, “Yes. My ‘small’ dreams are what I want. How can you help me reach them?”
Go get those dreams, you guys, be them loud dreams or quiet dreams or dreams that are somewhere in the middle.
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