It’s 3:42am. I’ve been pacing around the living room with our one-month-old for the last hour and a half (3.2 miles of walking, according to the phone’s pedometer), thinking about an article I’m working on about parents with small kids and full time jobs and how they still find time to chase their dreams.
Time to chase dreams. That’s funny.
A few minutes later, the baby dozes off. There’s a noise upstairs that sounds like a ten gallon bucket of pasta dumped on the floor, followed by a scream and the megaphone voice of my three-year-old son.
“DAAAAD! Eliott just threw up on me!”
The screaming wakes the baby, who wakes up my wife and the rest of our four kids. I leave the baby wailing in his crib and run upstairs to keep the badness from spreading. Halfway up, my phone says I’ve made four miles. “Great,” I think. “At least I’m getting exercise.”
This is how Saturday ends and Sunday begins.
TIP #1: Nothing Ever Happens Like It’s Supposed To.
“Life is what happens when stuff gets in the way of your plans,” my Grandma used to say, and I think that’s true. I had always planned on publishing a book by the time I was 35. I’ll be 38 this year and I’m about as close to publishing as I was a decade ago.
Life gets busy. When I was 25, all I had was a job and a bunch of free time. Now I have a wife, a mortgage, and the responsibility of raising four kids into respectable adults who, we hope, won’t accidentally set the house on fire when we’re not looking.
None of this was planned, but all of it has been good. It’s been great, actually. When you chase your dream, you’ll more than likely find that things don’t always go as planned, but the off roads are often what make things worthwhile.
Tip #2: Find A Routine. Stick To it.
We get everything cleaned up, and fall into our weekend routine: kids playing games and watching cartoons, breakfast on the stove, a few cups of coffee brewing in the pot.
Things have calmed down. Time for that article.
I try to write each morning, even if it’s just a few minutes. If you find a routine that works, stick to it as best you can. Do it long enough and you can fall back into it without even thinking, like muscle memory, when the world throws you a curve ball.
Tip #3: Don’t Forget The Milk.
I get two sentences done when my phone beeps. My To-Do list tells me we have to be at church in ten minutes. I grab the non-sick kids, toss them in the car and get moving. After church, my phone sends us on a wild goose chase of tasks: library, grocery store, gas station and bank. I’m on autopilot. My mind is on the article the whole time. I unload the groceries when we get home and, of course, forgot the milk.
This happens to me a lot. I get distracted, thinking about a story I’m working on or a big project at my day job, and I miss small but important parts of the day. Sometimes it’s milk. Other times I don’t hear my kids or my wife when they speak to me. They think I’m listening, but my mind is really off someplace else.
Your dream will seep in and ruin everything else if you let it. Do too much and nothing gets your full attention. That might be okay if all you missed was the milk, but it doesn’t work well with loved ones. If you want to build full, rich relationships, you need to flip the dream switch to OFF once in a while.
Tip #4: Prioritize.
The rest of the day goes well. We watch some television, and play some games. The kids are feeling well enough for dinner. We bathe them, put them to bed, and I settle in to finally get some work done on this article I’m supposed to write.
A door creaks. My three-year-old can’t sleep. “Can you tell me another story, Daddy?”
I want to finish this article. There are other responsibilities, too; things like laundry and dishes and, of course, my favorite television shows. Then I remember an old boss who took less challenging jobs early in his career so he could spend time playing with his kids. “Our dreams are a support structure for our lives,” he said. “Not the other way ‘round.”
Sometimes chasing a dream means putting it on hold when other, more important, things take precedence. It’s not always an easy choice to make but, if we make our dreams the focus of our lives instead of merely a part of our lives, we’ll end up losing out on both.
I want to write. I want to tell stories. I want to share ideas that will move people and change the world. What better audience could I hope for than a three year old in dinosaur pajamas?
“Sure, buddy,” I say, and we spend the next two hours building a story together about a little boy who found a portal to another world under his bed.
I didn’t make it to bed myself until after midnight. That wasn’t part of my plan when I started my morning, but it was still a good ending to the day. The article had to wait till I fell into my routine the next day. I finished both the article and a big project the following day.
The next night, all four kids listened to a re-telling of the adventures of the magical world of Underbed. There may or may not have been a gigantic pasta monster and a giant, beeping robot that looked like a phone.
It is a strange and unexpected way to chase my dream, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.