Realistically Dreaming?

Is that an oxymoron? “Realistically Dreaming”? Can you even put these two words together? Aren’t dreams supposed to defy reality? Think Rudy. Think Rocky. Think the person who invented botox. At some point these peoples’ dreams were pretty unconventional. That’s the point. Until they came true. I used to think that dreaming had no limits, and that there was no place for reality. Until I went to Nashville – the land of dreams. Home of my favorite cowboy boots. Where dreams are whispered in the wind, beckoned from the concert halls, and shine from the signed celebrity pictures on the Rock-Ola wall.

Just walking the streets, and I felt like I could do anything. Song lyrics started writing themselves my head. I found myself ordering more red hair. I felt a strong desire to buy a dog and go drown my sorrows in whiskey. I love Nashville. It’s intoxicating. And the dreamer in me never stopped drinking it in- until I was riding the hotel shuttle and the driver was giving me a run down on the area. He pointed out the best places to eat, the best places to listen to country music on a Wednesday night, and the best places to buy key chains of silver guitars and shot glasses. Then we passed the guy standing on a corner playing the guitar in front of a tattered hat. If he were good, I would have appreciated his effort. If he weren’t slurring his words, I would have stopped to listen. If he wasn’t wobbling, my dream bubble would have remained intact. But I was filled with a sadness for the guy who obviously drank his dream to death.

And then there was the guy on the corner selling newspapers, in flip flops and light blue Richard Simmons gym shorts trimmed in white. (Who knew they still existed? Hello high school flash back.) The shuttle bus driver informed me that with every newspaper you buy, you get a set of his latest song lyrics. And the sadness in me grew deeper, as I watched an element of dreaming I had not paid attention to – the dreamer who lets his dream take him down.

I talk a lot about dreaming. As a motivational speaker I encourage people to think outside the box, to ignore the ones saying you can’t do it – to jump. But am I leaving something out? Should I insert a disclaimer? I think so. I think we need to be careful that we don’t let our dream take us down. That while we fly above our comfort zone, we keep a distant eye, or maybe an occasional eye, on reality – so that we don’t find ourselves on the other side of a dream gone bad.

Here’s the good news: You can do anything. Here’s the bad news: You might not do it well enough. No amount of training or practice will turn you into a Celine. But that doesn’t mean your dream can’t take a new shape. Have the flexibility to let your fairy tale be rewritten – to let your dream change while holding on to the elements you love. I’ll give you an example from my life.

My first dream was to be a writer. For as long as I can remember, writing has been in my blood. It didn’t matter that I had nothing to write about. It didn’t matter that my writing was atrocious. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t exactly sure how to spell colonel. I wanted to write. And nothing ever stopped me – though many tried. At first I thought the dream looked like a book in front of Barnes and Noble. And so for years I walked that path. Rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter – until I just got tired of licking stamps. Did the dream die? Well, maybe that one did. Or maybe I quit too soon. Either way, I got tired of walking that path. It was a waste of time. And I’m glad I did, because it opened me up to a new path. The path of a professional storyteller, which turned out to be a dream come true – only the dream couldn’t support me financially. So the dream changed and I became a motivational speaker and a comedian. Bingo. Many years, many tears, and many many hours of sweat later, and the dream is coming true. And, guess what – I’m still writing. I’m still living the dream. It just took a different shape. It just took a little reality now and then to see where I needed to move in a new direction. I could be sitting there still today in my dark little den, wearing a moth-scented cardigan, suffering from self-induced agoraphobia, licking one…more….stamp….sure that this will be the publisher who accepts my book, despite the fact that the publishing world doesn’t really even exist anymore.  But I’m not. Now I’m living the dream. Still looking outside my comfort zone. Still ignoring those who tell me it can’t be done. But every now and then, taking a reality check.

If you think maybe this article is for you, here are some signs that a reality check might be in order:

  1. If your dream is causing you to check out of life’s responsibilities – like providing for your family, paying your bills, eating and sleeping – you need to stop and rethink.
  2. If your dream puts other people’s livelihoods at risk.
  3. If your dream is being forced to become everybody else’s dream.
  4. If you are obsessed to the point where you don’t take care of yourself.
  5. If you need alcohol or drugs to help you create.
  6. If your self-worth is affected to the point where you can not function until you get this dream.
  7. If you spend more money than you bring in – repeatedly – creating a financial catastrophe.

Who knows when we should take a new direction? What if Rudy had quit one rejection earlier? What if Rocky just didn’t have it in him to do that last fight? The world is filled with inventions that never came to be because the person quit too early – maybe even minutes too early. So do not hear me tell you to give up your dream. I refuse to give up mine. Just make sure you bring in a little reality every now and then. There might be something even bigger waiting for you behind the next door!


Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson - called one of North Carolina's funniest women by Our State Magazine. Kelly lifts the spirits of audiences from coast-to-coast using humor, storytelling, and lives of the characters from Prides Hollow - Kelly's make believe small town. This unique approach to motivational speaking allows Kelly to break through communications barriers and connect directly to the audience's imagination.
Her powerful stories and wacky wit will make you laugh, remind you that you matter, show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.
To book motivational speaker Kelly Swanson:
Motivational speaker Kelly Swanson's website

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  1. I think an important point, of your story, could be added — be open to listening to potential mentors. I remember a talk around the kitchen table of a very gracious successful speaker that helped to launch you into the world of professional speaking…

  2. Truth. Truth. And nothing but the Truth in this post. My greatest takeaway from what you wrote is you’re still living your dream, but it showed up in a different outfit. You were open to trying it on for size and it’s a beautiful fit. Kelly Swanson, motivational speaker extraordinaire.


  3. Kelly – I get lost in your words – I am transported to Nashville, I am with you in that shuttle – I love the way you write!  Plus, you say such great stuff.  I for one am really grateful that you didn’t let go completely of your dream.  You were just flexible and look how it turned out!  PS – Rudy will be in Indy if you want to thank him in person! :)


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