Getting Real – Dreams, Values, and Goals

Live your dreams. That sounds very good. But does that concept sustain a life? Dreams rarely come true, and there is frustration about not realizing a dream. Thinking about values, even values derived from dreams can deal with the frustration of not realizing a dream. Think about dreams and contrast that with the concept of values. This thinking can lead to understanding how goals based on values is a discipline for thinking. This thinking can lead to decisions about goals enabling you to do all you can do toward realizing your dreams.

What are dreams and what do they do to us? You dream when you sleep and you also have thoughts that are dreams. Dreams are fantasies about what could be with no requirement of probability. Aside from being entertaining, dreams are a source of creativity and inspiration. You envision what could be, and that helps with what is now your life. But dreams are also a source of frustration. Why does the dream seem to be real for some but not for me?

Values, on the other hand, are real. By values, I am not talking about morality. The term, “values”, includes moral concepts such as being honest or loyal, but the values that are real are those attitudes and beliefs that control your emotions and actions. Because dreams are entertaining and help you escape from the mendacity of the world you face, you welcome dreams into your thoughts. Thinking about values is difficult, and you tend not to spend time examining your values even though values drive the emotions that cause you to act.

Most people have given little thought to what their values are. Few people have actually given their values enough thought to be able to articulate what those values are. Yet, values ignite our emotions, direct our decisions, and cause us to act. Moreover, if you live your life in violation of your values, you will feel dissatisfaction and unease about your life. Values can be changed through examination and determination of what is proper; however, this can only occur through an effort to understand and articulate your values.

Most of us have grown up with a set of commonly accepted attitudes and beliefs, some of which we have questioned and changed and others which we have simply accepted. These values cause us to feel emotions that affect our decision-making and the actions we take to a considerable extent. Not understanding what these values are can seriously undermine our ability to make effective decisions and feel satisfaction for our actions.

For example, I have a value to do things to make my life more enjoyable and also have a value of commitment to my life partner. When I do certain actions which are entertaining to me but destructive to my health, I violate the value of commitment to my life partner. I need to understand that the value of commitment to my partner involves a responsibility to maintain my own well-being so as not to be a burden to my partner, and be able to help my partner as needed. If I violate this value, I will be feeling a sense of disease and unhappiness even though I may not have thought directly about this value.

There is a link between dreams and values. Often our dreams provide values that we do not examine. Why do we as children want to be professional athletes? Of course, we see feats of athleticism and we see the admiration and recognition awarded to certain gifted individuals. The dream is: I want to be in the National Basketball League. The value is: I would like to have others recognize me for my talents. Without a value, it is difficult to set a realistic goal. “I want to be in the National Basketball Association” is not a goal – it is a dream. Very few will have the talent to have a reasonable probability of playing in the National Basketball Association. The value behind the dream, “ I would like to have others recognize me for my talents”, invites the question: “What are my talents?”

A goal is built from values. In our example, a goal from the value is: “I want to develop my talent for music in such a way that others recognize me and appreciate that talent.” Setting the goal suggests actions that can be taken to realize that goal: “I will take music lessons.”

To continue the example, if experience provides the information that you are very good at piano, but do not have a good singing voice and have difficulty with wind instruments, the action to be taken is revised to taking piano lessons. This completes the planning cycle: set goals, take actions to reach the goals, and revise the actions and goals as appropriate. Then there is a reasonable goal that can be achieved and provide a sense of satisfaction.

What I see over and over again is the setting of goals based on dreams without an articulation of values. If a goal is set in violation of one or more values, the result of accomplishing the goals will not be satisfaction, it will be a feeling of uneasiness and frustration. On the other hand, if values are articulated and reexamined, with goals based on those values, the process of attempting to reach the goals can be very satisfying.

Satisfaction and frustration swirl about the examination and articulation of value. If the value is realistically stated, it will not be the cause of frustration. Dreams frustrate because they are not real and not likely to become real. Values, whether or not derived from dreams, can be realized. As life evolves, values need to change. Unexamined values do not change. Unexamined and unrevised values cause uneasiness and frustration. Examined and articulated values provide satisfaction where we act to reach realistic goals based on those values.