Reach for the Stars…but Don’t

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ambition. Reaching for the stars. Going the distance and going for broke. Manifesting your own destiny.

Biting off more than you can chew.

This is going to be a more philosophical post than normal, so I hope you’re bear with me. I don’t have the answer to the question I’m going to ask, but I’ll invite you to offer your own answers in the comments. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here–or even a thin line between them. But it’s something hanging around in the back of my mind for some time, and it’s nothing I can ignore any longer.

The question is: how much ambition is too much?

It’s all very well and good to reach for the stars, and I’d never encourage someone to not follow their dreams. But the pragmatist in me has to ask: when do you overreach your grasp? It’s pretty easy to do that–I do it on a regular basis, and I’m only now starting to recognize it. And I think it’s a pretty crucial question to ask. You see, I’m the kind of person who often bites off more than he can chew. I do it because I love to challenge myself, to think big, to dream. But there’s also a very large part of myself that is practical to the point of stagnation–that is, I tend to work very hard at convincing myself that dreams are just that, and to not pursue them if there’s too much risk.

I guess that’s part of the crux of this issue. If there’s no risk, the payoff can’t be that great–but the greater the risk, the more frightening it can be. In the case of this blog and my writing, the risk is accountability. I haven’t been keeping myself accountable for what I’ve set out to do. Faithful readers may remember a very detailed schedule I set myself to in finishing my Tapestry project, which has since stalled. A larger issue is my promise to review three Indie books a month, something I have, in all honestly, had a difficult time keeping up with. My recent lapse in posts of any kind is evidence enough of that.

So I’ve bitten off more than I can chew–I can admit that, and I can live with it. But what to do about it? Here’s the real question: when should one stop dreaming? Where’s the line between “impossible” and “I’ll try anyway,” and most importantly, when should you cross that line?

I know a lot of Indie writers who crossed that line, and I admire them for it. It reminds me that I can do the same–but at some point, I have to remind myself that I can only handle so much–which leads me to another self realization: I’m a fixer. Or try to be.

This means I like to approach a challenge and find a way to solve it–but it also means that I often take on more than I can handle by myself. To once again quote Dan Pallotta, it’s “altruistic martyrdom.” Being a martyr for a cause that doesn’t require it, simply because you believe so much in that cause. But in the end, it doesn’t get you anywhere, just leaving you with a feeling that you didn’t do enough, or could have done more.

So what does this all mean in terms of following your dreams? I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place; I want to think big and follow those dreams wherever they go–but I also want to live and walk in the “real world.” I want to reach for the stars, but I want my feet on the ground while I do it–and to some extent, it makes me wonder if the two are compatible at all. The easy answer is that dreams can be ephemeral; they’ll slip through your fingers if you let them, so don’t let them. On the other side of the coin, if you want security and stability in your life, you have to make choices that create that stability for you–it can’t be left to chance.

There is a happy medium here, I’m sure. You can follow your dreams and be practical about it–in fact, having a practical plan can be a sure fire way to ensure your dreams come true–but it’s important to have some self realization. As much as I’d love to be able to read three or four Indie books a month, it’s an unrealistic expectation at certain times of year because of my career. Devoting all of my free time to writing might seem like a good way to actually finish my projects and make them as good as they can be–but I need and want to make room for family. I think you can reach for the stars with your feet on the ground–but I can’t say I’ve found that balance yet.

You may see where some of this is going–a change in my blog schedule. I do read a lot of books, but keeping up with three Indie books a month (on top of ‘real life,’ other reading and hobbies) is challenging. I’ve actually found myself skewing toward short stories, which isn’t fair to the Indies who have written wonderful full length novels. So I’m going to make another change.

I still intend to review Indie works, but will cut it down to one or two reviews a month. I intend one to be a novel; the other either a novel or short story, depending on my available time. I’ll still blog on other issues related to Self Publishing, and will work “behind the screen” to build a bank of reviews for when I’m too busy to pound out a blog post. Hopefully, I’ll have fewer lapses in activity here, if not no lapses at all.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to ponder the philosophy of ambition. It’s all very well and good to say that one should follow their dreams with abandon, but at some point you have to wonder what you’ve lost because of that single minded determination. I don’t want to stop dreaming. But neither do I want to turn off my life for the sake of my dreams. I guess, in the end, the most important thing to remember is that whichever choice you make is a choice you makeand the consequences, either way, are yours alone.

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2 comments on “Reach for the Stars…but Don’t

  1. I like your question! Contemplating dreams and life balance seems a worthy endeavor, one that most of us must re-examine as we journey through our lives and learn and change. I like to differentiate between dreams and plans. Dreams are for inspiration, guidance, energy. Plans are for determining the next right thing to do. The dreams born of my deepest heart’s desire sometimes beckon me onward for years on end. My plans…tend to require a lot more adjusting! For example, for many months last year, I went to the gym first thing after my kids headed to school, to get my swim done before I started writing. Then I began to find the swim would segue into other tasks, and those tasks into yet more tasks. And my writing time was shrinking. So I changed my tactics. Did the writing first, then the gym. Fitting multiple priorities into a day is always challenging, and there’s nearly always some bit getting short shrift. Nature of limits!

  2. James J Parsons says:

    Dreams and Plans…a good way to think about that balance!

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