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Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You're Going to Do about It
by Bob Goff
Learn More | Meet Bob Goff
Don 't Go Alone
If you are serious about your dream, surround yourself with people who love you well.
There she was. Maria. She wasn’t “Sweet Maria” yet because we didn’t know each other. She was definitely still sweet, but I hadn’t gotten the chance to call her that. When I first saw her across the room thirty-five years ago, I was immediately smitten. I would have jumped out of a moving car to meet her. It took a while, but she figured out I liked her. Perhaps it was the list of names I created for our children and gave her a short time later. Eventually, she reluctantly learned my name. She even said it once or twice, or at least I thought she did, because she was usually walking away. I remember her saying things like, “Thanks for the invitation, Bob, but no,” and “I’m sorry, Bob, but I’m busy that year,” and “Bob, are the pair of panda bears in my yard from you?” I think I’m an acquired taste.
After way too long, Maria started liking me back. When this happened, it was like the part in The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to color for the first time. It was in my pursuit of Maria that I learned the importance of having an ambition and staying after it, no matter how big or impossible it seemed. I knew what I wanted, why I wanted it, and I decided what I was going to do about it. There is a silent flip of a switch that happens when we make this determination about something we want. It’s the point where we move from just thinking about an ambition to actually doing something about it.
I clinched the deal when I invited her rock climbing with me. I had her tied to the end of the rope, and before she started climbing, she looked up at me and saw me confidently holding the rope. She told me later she realized in that moment she could trust me with her life. Pursuing your ambitions will take an equally big dollop of trust. God’s got you. Take the risk. It’s worth it.
Eventually Sweet Maria said yes, and we made a few kids to go with my list of names. It’s thirty-five years later, and whatever I’m good at these days, it’s because Sweet Maria Goff is better at it. One of the many things she’s good at is knowing herself and finding joy in her unique set of gifts, abilities, and desires. She doesn’t compare her abilities and ambitions to anyone else’s. She knows that God doesn’t compare what He creates. She also knows what she wants, why she wants it, and what she’s going to do about it. Having this kind of clarity is rare and beautiful and unstoppable. Aim for this in your life and you will find great joy.
Sweet Maria and I could not be more different. I love meeting new people, and the more of them in a room the better. Maria, on the other hand, thinks having me in the room is a lot of people and finds her purpose in being fully present with our family. Not many people get to see her. It’s like seeing a unicorn. She simply doesn’t need or want the attention.
She wrote a bestselling book once. Instead of going on a book tour or having a release party and inviting thousands of our friends, she ordered a medium pizza for the family and we made root beer floats at home. The way she lives her life is a daily reminder to me that our purpose is not found in another person’s validation. It’s not found in familiarity or approval or popularity either. It is discovered somewhere far deeper within us. Maria lives her life solely and sacrificially for our family and a handful of friends. She not only helps us better understand the complex world we live in, but she also helps me get ready each day so I don’t leave the house with one pant leg tucked into my sock.
I’ll admit, it’s a lot of work to live with a guy who acts like he’s sponsored by Red Bull. They call my drink of choice at the local coffee stand “Goffee.” It’s two shots of energy drink and three shots of espresso. I may die young, but I’ll be wide awake when I do. Sweet Maria likes to say I’m the balloon and she’s the string. This beautifully describes the right kind of codependence. If you want to achieve your ambitions, don’t be all balloon and no string in your life. We need to be anchored in God and tied to one another.
Being different isn’t always easy. Perhaps you’ve felt like you were different than your friends or family. That’s a good thing, and we’re going to need to settle into who God created us to be if we’re going to move ahead. To be purposeful and at ease with who we are, we’re going to need to be incredibly truthful with ourselves and the people around us, which is something Sweet Maria lives out every day. If she told me ghosts pooped Tic Tacs, I’m certain I’d believe her. In these pages it will seem like you’re reading my thoughts, but you’re actually reading what I’ve learned from her.
I’m always the optimist, and we sometimes see things differently. Recently Sweet Maria texted me upstairs at breakfast. She said there were “creeps” waiting for me in the kitchen. I was guessing “crepes” but had my fingers crossed. When I got to the kitchen to see who was there, Maria was looking at the weather forecast. The exchange went something like this:
Maria (shaking her head): “It’s going to rain today.”
Me (bright-eyed and smiling): “Isn’t that terrific? Sounds cozy.”
Maria (grumbling under her breath): “Bob, just say something’s bad, okay?”
Maria (looking up after a short pause): “Did I just say that out loud?”
While different in so many ways, we both share a common faith and a strong sense of adventure. I find mine in traveling, talking with lots of people, and starting schools in war zones. Maria finds hers in the more difficult work of loving and nurturing our family, making places of peace in our lives, and giving us all a place to return to. Yet we’ve found our superpowers because of our differences, not in spite of them. We’ve used these differences to sort out what things are worth the effort to pursue and which ones we should leave behind.
Our kids and the people they love are my teachers, my advisors, and the ones I go to for clarity on the many things I don’t quite understand. They help me sort into piles those things that will last in my life and the others that won’t. As you embark on this journey to identify your ambitions, find these kinds of people to surround yourself with. It’ll be worth the effort.
Someone wiser than me once asked, “If God answered every one of your prayers, would it change anybody’s life except your own?” I’ve seen Maria’s prayers change countless lives. I know her prayer for you and for me would be that we would leave all the planning behind, figure out what our lasting ambitions are, and get back to building those rocket ships that were supposed to be our lives. To do this, she would want us to trade what is easily available for what is actually worthwhile. It’s a distinction that has the power to change everything in your life.
We all are going to mess up.
When I was in kindergarten, we had nap time. We would all curl up on mats on the floor after an hour or two of loosely paying attention. I think there’s a strong argument out there that we should continue this at all ages and stages of our lives. The big honor in class was to be the “wake-up fairy.” This person would don a set of gender-neutral fairy wings and, with wand in hand, tap each of the sleeping students when it was time to wake up. This was one of my first ambitions I can recall. I wanted those wings. I wanted that wand. I wanted them badly. I wanted to be able to wield that kind of power over others. Think back. What was your earliest ambition? How long was it before you got your shot at it? And when you did get your shot, what did you do with it?
After weeks of impatiently waiting and practicing in front of the mirror at home, my day came. I strapped on the wings, grabbed the wand, and ran across the classroom to wake up my best friend. Unfortunately, in my fairy-induced exuberance to get to my friend, I tripped over a sleeping classmate’s nose and broke it. It turns out this was a large enough infraction to have me immediately lose my wake-up fairy duties. Like Icarus, I had flown too close to the sun and it cost me my wings. My ambition became my undoing.
Failure happens. I should have made a bumper sticker or a hoodie. You know this is true because it’s happened to you before, and it’ll happen to you again. You swing for the fences, your fairy wish is granted, you run with joy and anticipation, and the wheels come completely off. This is the way ambitions work—sometimes they simply don’t. Resist the tendency to be discouraged or thrown off the scent when it happens to you. It’s what you do next that says a lot about who you are.
I was a good kid in junior high school but a confused one. My dad smoked cigarettes when I was growing up, so I figured I would too. Back then, cigarettes were sold at the post office in a vending machine. You could pick up a roll of stamps and emphysema on the same trip. After school one day, I went to the post office to get a Marlboro hard pack for myself. The soft pack was for novices, but the Marlboro hard pack had a lid and everything, so it made you look James Dean cool. It cost only two quarters for a pack because tobacco companies hadn’t been sued for billions and people didn’t know they would die if they smoked. Even the Marlboro Man didn’t know back then.
Just after I put my second quarter in and pulled the lever, my Boy Scout leader came up behind me. It was certainly an awkward moment. I wanted to say that the cigarettes were for my mom, but the scoutmaster knew my mom and that she didn’t smoke. So I did the honorable thing and told him they were for my sister.
Some of us start early telling lies about ourselves or others. We do this for a number of reasons, but primarily because we’re uncertain about who we are and how we fit into the larger arc of our lives. We’re insecure and looking for acceptance, so we do dumb things in our desperation. We smoke or cuss or dress or act like someone we really aren’t to gain acceptance from people we don’t really know. We’re all going to make mistakes. Some are premeditated and weirdly intended to be self-destructive. Others just arise simply because we don’t understand what is happening around us. Those are the mistakes that remind us of our humanity and help us be truthful with ourselves about the fact that we don’t have it all figured out. I’ll give you an example.
I’m usually a pretty healthy, upbeat guy. For me the glass is not just half-full but overflowing-so-get-a-bigger-one. But when I get sick, the wheels totally fall off. I get sad and melancholy and weak. It’s beyond silly. It’s almost clinical. I catch a simple cold and I act like I’m on chemo. What makes things worse is my need to constantly check to see which way I’m going. Is that a new ache? Am I getting better or sicker? Will I even make it? How about now? Better or sicker? Have I updated my will? Better or sicker? I open the refrigerator door and think I’m walking toward the light.
One time when our children were young, I caught the flu. It would’ve been no big deal for anyone else, but this is me, so I assumed it was terminal. This angel-of-death flu started to come on really strong as we all went to bed one night. I wanted to keep track of my demise as I slipped toward the abyss (and also milk this thing for as much sympathy as I could get from Sweet Maria). I gave her updates every few minutes on how truly awful I felt. I thought an update every three to five minutes would be just about right. In the middle of the night, I was feeling worse than I could describe, so I thought I should get some additional proof of how much I was suffering. I went to the bathroom where we kept our medicines to find a thermometer in the cabinet.
After rummaging through mostly empty medicine bottles and baby supplies collected over the years, I found a thermometer and put it under my tongue. I planned to show Maria my triple-digit temperature so she’d know how heroic I was to still be clinging to life. My mom always told me as a kid how I needed to get the thermometer way under my tongue, or the reading wouldn’t be accurate. I buried it as far as it would go.
I took the thermometer out of my mouth a couple of times to see how high it was reading. I really couldn’t tell. But that didn’t surprise me because I probably didn’t have long to live. I put it back under my tongue for a couple more minutes and checked again, imagining there was hardly enough mercury in the thermometer to record how high my temperature was. It was dark and I couldn’t quite make out the numbers, so I woke up Maria and asked for help. As I slowly pulled the thermometer out of my mouth to give to her, I said, “Hey, why is there a big knob at the end of this thermometer?” Maria looked back at me for a long moment and then was swept over with laugher and horror.
She broke the news to me that the bulb was to prevent the thermometer from going missing when it gets used. “Go missing?” I was processing the information slowly as I pulled the thermometer from my mouth. I had grabbed the kids’ rectal thermometer by mistake.
I used to think that we had to have our act together for God to use us and for our ambitions to be attainable, but I don’t think that anymore. Here’s the incredible thing: I couldn’t even take my own temperature, but God still finds a way to use me. He’ll use you, too, if you’re willing. Something happens when we mess up. We get to start fresh. Are we going to get it wrong from time to time? Yep. Will we make big things out of small things? You bet. Yet God is infinitely patient with us. Sometimes the mistakes are small ones and sometimes they’re big ones. I’m still messing up the simple things in my life like taking my temperature, but God calls me His own nonetheless. He does the same with you. We need to get this straight as we explore our ambitions, or we’ll let our past failures block our bright futures.
We’ve all suffered setbacks. Maybe you’ve tried to go after some audacious dreams that got derailed along the way. Maybe a few others sunk at the dock. What do you do when this happens? This book isn’t full of airtight answers, but it will ask a few questions and offer a pathway to reframe your thinking. In the meantime, though, don’t feel bad about not being perfect before you start.
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