I may have stolen this from Star Wars.
There is a fundamental problem with my brain. Specifically, I have the attention span of a gnat and the memory of a goldfish. So, things get jumbled up in there. Many people have this on a smaller scale, like when they “quote scripture” and you think, “this must be from the book of Second Opinions.” So on occasion I will have a grand idea that came from a book I read fifteen years ago. I’m pretty sure this came one from Michael Stackpole or Aaron Allison from a Star Wars now non-cannon X-wing novel. But I like the concept because it crystallizes what most see as something nebulous.
First you have to accept the idea that humans have a certain inertia. For example, if I’m laying down on the couch, I will probably stay on the couch. If I am working on a project, I will probably keep working until I am finished. Unless I am acted upon by an outside force. “Dad, can we play football?” or, “Hey, want to go to lunch?” In order to “change” most of us have to be acted upon by an outside force. It can be small scale, “didn’t you used to park over there?” or large “You’ve really changed since…” But here is the thing. We can all change – it may require intervention, medical treatment, counseling, or an intentional internal shift. To combat this, there is a concept called a “Dream ladder.”
Imagine something that you want (a new life-partner, more money, a deeper faith, etc.) and put it at the top of your ladder. Now, honestly look at yourself – that would be the bottom rung of the ladder. Now, start filling in the steps to get from one to the other making sure the steps are realistic, they fit with your ethics and they don’t violate the ‘you.’ If you can’t get from where you are to where you want to be, then you should stop wasting your time/energy. If it’s a lot of steps, then get to work. But if it doesn’t fit you, or you are unwilling to put in the work, let it go.
For example. When I was sixteen, I wanted to be a standup comedian that worked on Saturday Night Live and occasionally appeared on TV. I actually video-taped myself doing stand-up bits and characters and mailed it to Lorne Michaels at 30 Rock. But, here is the problem, every character and bit had been done by someone else on the show – no originality. I didn’t even get a rejection letter. It might have helped to put a letter with my address in the envelope with the tape or even a self-addressed stamped envelope. Then I decided that it was time to dream ladder this thing a few years later. Step one: write original material, 2) work that out on local stages until I have about ten-fifteen minutes, move to New York and live poor, working my way into the clubs and pour my heart and soul into it. Risk humiliation, starvation, whatever for years… I found out more things about the show, how competitive it was, that kind of thing. Apparently Lorne wasn’t just going to walk into my parent’s basement and see me do “old guy” and give me a featured spot. (Adam Sandler/Craig Ferguson do it funnier anyway). After seeing it on paper, I decided… to much risk, too little reward, and dad already told me he’d pay for college if I stayed at home. (Smartest decision I ever made)
Now, I’ve done stand-up in theaters when films broke, between sets with a band, even in the middle of sermons or as fundraisers – (Stories I Can’t Tell in Sermons) but apart from that one night. I was killing time, people were not there to see me. So, I had the dream small-scale, got some cheers, but the big dream, I really don’t miss it. It’s not worth climbing the ladder to me. Why pay dues for something you really don’t want?
Learning to play guitar? – worth the climb (so were bass & drums)
Piano and Mandolin? – NOT worth the climb
Having no debt? – worth the climb
Having a completely outfitted digital recording studio? – NOT worth the climb – yet.
Becoming the first millionaire in my family by selling insurance door-to-door? – NOT worth the climb.
Becoming a minister/pastor/chaplain? – worth the climb
Becoming a dad… you get the point?
We all only have so much energy, only so much in the way of resources… why spend so much time, stress, and worry over something we won’t prioritize? Moving on to a different ladder keeps the mental clutter from wearing me down.
Now, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t dream, but expecting them to become reality takes work and work takes focus. But what do I know? I’m a dual-degreed Pastor serving as a chaplain, and that lets me do what I am not only called to do, but doing something that gives me energy and life.
Is it easy? Not usually, but it is still well worth the climb.
Now, on to the next ladder.