Do you remember that moment when you decided to become a lawyer? Was it reading the novels of John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline or Scott Turow? Did you want to be towering Atticus Finch, mischievous Horace Rumpole or trail-blazing Ally McBeal?
Did you rage against injustices or aim for the corporate summit seeking fame and fortune along the way?
For more than 30 years, I had been an accountant. I should have been a lawyer. I love verbal repartee and literary duelling. I am fanatically obsessed with sub-clauses and punctuation. As a student of history, I like nothing more than reading Robert Harris and Hilary Mantel bringing to life the likes of Cicero and Thomas Cromwell, the pre-eminent power broking jurists of their day. But I was never ambitious enough to want to become a top commercial solicitor, criminal advocate or legal scholar.
However, I am a dreamer; always have been and always will be. After the first of many occasions watching Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, I dreamt of being Henry Fonda’s mysterious juror, Dixon (his name is only revealed in the very last scene) who brings round his eleven colleagues to his way of thinking in the cause of a young miscreant accused of murder.
Recently I found myself reflecting on the subject of dreams, goals and ambitions. I concluded that I have no ambitions as yet unfulfilled. I have a wonderful life and a loving family. What else is left?
I simplified my life last year and took the momentous decision to say goodbye to twenty-five years of boardroom experience and begin a new career as a coach. After decades of doing what I had to do I now wake up every day, switch the radio on to Gold FM and wonder what the world (or at least LinkedIn) has in store for me today.
No goals left, and no ambitions – except to be happy and fulfilled, and to try and help as many people as I can. It’s that complicated!
But dreams? Now that’s another story. What happened to all the plans I had made ever since leaving school. So, I decided it was about time to get out the scorecard and here it is,
David’s top six unfulfilled dreams on his bucket list:
- Win the Men’s singles title at Wimbledon (won’t happen now)
- Score the century at Lords which wins the Ashes for England (ditto)
- Drive a two-seater convertible through the Pyrenees in springtime (haven’t given up on that one yet)
- For one night only – be a singer/front-man in a rock-and- roll tribute band (any offers? Springsteen or Tom Petty would do nicely)
- Conduct Lang Lang playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (may just have to make do with the Bridget Jones version)
- Write a scholarly book (a ten-year project – have finally started thinking about it)
So, when I look at my list an intriguing question strikes me. What is the difference between an ambition and a dream? And why does it matter to me? Here’s my theory.
An ambition is essentially time-bound. It exists for as long as it remains unfulfilled. Of course, an ambition might take 30 days or 30 years to come to fruition, no matter. Once an ambition is done, it’s done. Move on to the next challenge.
The flipside is that once an ambition can realistically no longer be achieved, it ceases to be an ambition.
By contrast a dream is not time-bound, it lasts forever. Even if the dream is never fulfilled it remains a dream.
Lawyers are always busy; I rarely meet one who has had the luxury of time to contemplate the purpose of their own existence. And yet, if you haven’t taken time out to reflect on your goals and dreams, your professional life can take what seems to be an inevitable course, drifting towards its conclusion. Suddenly, and often with no prior warning, it is over and you are left wondering whatever happened to those life-changing dreams you once had?
As a busy professional, one way to fulfil your dream might be to give away some of the hardest earned commodity you possess, namely time. Many lawyers understand the value of doing pro-bono work and heaven knows, legal aid cases are almost akin to working pro-bono nowadays. But this may still feel like fulfilling an obligation rather than pursuing a dream. Instead try searching for a cause you really want to support, whether it is humanitarian or environmental. Your skills and experiences are much in demand.
Well before you have to decide what to do when you retire, or “pretire” as it now applies to professionals and executives in their fifties, it is time to start thinking about what your future may look like. This is when you can start dreaming again, and it is not a flight of fancy but a hard-headed reality. Doctors tell us that on average we will be living into our nineties, provided we avoid a dread illness. Millenials are more likely to see their 100 th birthday. It’s a long time to contemplate and it represents payback for all the time devoted to those ever-demanding clients at the end of the phone and continuous alerts notifying yet another email from the senior partner.
Let me conclude by returning to those long, seemingly lost, dreams of our youth. The wonderful thing about a dream which comes true is that it neither dies, nor does it fade away. A dream that is fulfilled can be re-lived, it’s memory nurtured and in some cases passed down for future generations to cherish and perhaps to emulate.
For some people, dreams are spiritual and somehow “other worldly” and indeed there is some truth in this idea. An ambition is grounded in reality; the challenge remains within the realms of human endeavour however extreme. Dreams are what take us mere mortals to loftier heights than ambition alone can achieve. Dreams allow us, temporarily, to dwell among the gods.
Ambitions and dreams are not mutually exclusive. Think of Sir Edmund Hillary harbouring his boyhood dreams of Everest while exploring the majestic scenery of his native New Zealand. To achieve his mountainous feat, dreaming would never have been enough; Hillary required ferocious ambition and a dedicated single-mindedness towards setting and realising his dream.
There is nothing more thrilling for me as a coach than to hear my client say, “What I would really like to do is…”; in other words, to dare to dream. Maybe one day our dreams will be realised, but whatever realities we must endure, we can live with our dreams forever.