Dreaming in good company
Sitting over a glass of wine or a cup of tea with some dear friends after a fantastic meal/ weekend/ holiday together, so many of us have had that conversation that goes: “Someday we should just buy a big house together (in upstate New York/ Tuscany/ the Blue Mountains/ Bali) and have this be what life feels like.” And then we don’t. Because that’s kind of an absurd thing to do and so many pieces need to line up. So you finish your tea, and give hugs goodbye, and go back to your life.
But what if you didn’t? What if you found a group of friends who were willing to give it a go and you found a big house (say in the southwest of France) that you loved? Would you do it then? Would you take the off ramp out of the life you live and into the life you say you want?
A group of us have been asking ourselves this question for the past seven months or so. We have been imagining our lives taking an entirely different turn, packing our sofas and our sweaters and our dishes into the back of a truck wherever we live now, sending that truck over road or over the ocean (or both) and arriving all together at one place where we will be co-owners of a big house on a lovely piece of land in a river valley.
Now we stand at the threshold, talking about room selection and kitchen chores and renovations in this big house nestled in the countryside. And some of us are over the threshold, living in the home we almost-own, negotiating the French language and bureaucracy, waking to the dawn chorus and admiring the slanting sunlight so beautiful that a painter you’ve never heard of was this home’s most famous resident.
This might be a crazy plan, this co-living together in a country where almost none of us speaks the language fluently. It might go wrong a thousand different ways. We will have a set of details to work out that none of us have any idea yet how we’ll address. We will have finances to collectively decide about and manage. There will be relational frustrations and misunderstandings we cannot yet imagine. Many of us even work together which adds its own set of unforseeable dynamics.
And yet aren’t dreams like this? Aren’t they a little risky, half-formed, unknowable? Don’t they mostly have these dangers to relationships, to finances, to our families, our work lives? As Cultivating Leadership has grown, each fork in the road has felt like a possible delight, a possible disaster. One of the questions I’m engaged with on this grey Tuesday is what does it take to notice the fork in the road, and what does it take to choose it?
My friend Carl Richards writes about dreaming and adventure, and he’s endlessly curious about what it takes to take the next step from a thing in your head to a thing in your life. I’m curious too, and it seems like there are so many ways to wake up from a dream and talk yourself back into reality. For some of us, having the vision itself is the difficulty. For others, it’s the courage to believe in the vision. Or the sensibility and capacity to take the first step. Each of us has our own inner spoiler, our own way to avoid the possibility that the dream will become reality. And here, perhaps is the first thing this particular dream-into-reality has taught me: When there’s a group of us, somehow the dynamics are different. Maybe I’d have pulled back earlier and changed my mind. But there are others involved, and someone is always pushing forward when another one of us falls back.
As I’ve looked back at my earlier dreams—the ones I have made happen and the ones I have left behind—my focus has too long been on what I myself was doing or not doing to make this into a reality. I congratulated myself for my courage when I took a step; I chastised myself for my cowardice when I didn’t. But in my life, the truth is there has never been just one of me that’s responsible for what happens next. There is always a context—those who went before me, those who may come after, those all around.
It’s more obvious this time, the co-dreaming it has taken to make this idea manifest in a real house with real friends in it. Each of us in this little collective today brings a different element to the dream. There’s vision—the having of the dream in the first place. There’s joining energy, what Derek Sivers called “the first follower”—the one who turns the dreamer from an absurdity into a leader. There’s activation energy—the one who turns the dream into a kind of plan and begins to make it come true. There’s community energy—the folks who watch and wait with anticipation, cheering (or sometimes jeering) from the sidelines in a way that pours energy and commitment into the dream. There’s the energy of grit, to face the hard parts and push ahead. And more.
I think I have imagined that most of these different energies needed to come from inside individuals. To make my dreams come true, it was my job to muster up all of those different forces inside myself. I don’t think I noticed that what we need is not just inside us but all around us. I think I don’t notice that enough in general.
What a difference it makes when someone steps into your dream and then another person and another. Then somehow, it’s not just courage you have as you leap in to the pure unknown of this new life. It’s company.
Dreams have heft and weight and currents. They can float away or drag us under. Dreaming in company means there is someone to offer a hand or a boost. We will dream together and buoy one another. And in sometime over the next few months, we will wake up together in a big house in a river valley in the southwest of France.