One overcast Saturday afternoon, Louie and I were enjoying our favorite things—I was writing, and Louie was napping. As I watched Louie, I noticed he was dreaming. But this was not his usual dream where his legs twitch, and I shake him awake. Instead, his legs were moving in slow motion—almost like he was running gracefully. And rather than his usual abbreviated breaths, he breathed deeply and looked like he was smiling. I watched for several minutes as he kept “running.” For a brief moment, I was standing on the sideline watching my pup with a long, sleek body and long stretched-out legs, running gracefully around the track as I yelled his name while he neared the finish line. I could hear the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in the background. I dared not wake him because he clearly was enjoying the dream.
This reminded me of another runner named Louie, whom I read about some time ago—Louie Zamperini. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie or at least heard about his story depicted in Unbroken. I read the book first because I think my imagination is better than a Hollywood replication.
Though I have yet to see the movie, I understand it is excellent. Louie began his life with very little hope. He was a petty thief and well on his way to a dead-end life of crime. But his older brother saw him run and realized that running might be Louie’s way out of his circumstances.
Louie ultimately competed in the Olympics held in Munich. He set his sights on the next Olympic games, determined to bring home the gold medal. But all that changed when WWII broke out. It was during those dark days of first being lost at sea for more than a month and then held prisoner by the Japanese that he began to dream. His dreams actually kept him alive: he remembered what it was like to run and win a race; he dreamed about the next Olympics; he recalled the scent and flavor of his mother’s pasta; and he encouraged his fellow prisoners to dream as well.
The human spirit cannot be easily broken, but at times it takes something beyond our own capabilities to dream what may seem impossible. With a clean slate, we may be tempted to be discouraged by dreams that started with a “what if” and faded into a “maybe someday.” We must renew our passions and revisit our dreams if we want them fulfilled.
I dreamt long ago of being a writer. In fact, in seventh grade, I gave my sister a book of poems only to take them back because I wanted to improve upon them. I’ve written many stories and worked on projects in my younger days and realized my dream of writing a book could come true. So, I started to take the steps to learn how to write well. And, as in any story, there’s a villain! A dream slayer is someone who does not want you to realize your dream. They mean well, I suppose. My dream slayer was someone who was incredibly critical of many things, but especially my writing. I am not talking about constructive feedback—we all need that in our lives—rather, this person looked for ways to criticize my writing and then let everyone else know about a mistake I made.
Another dream slayer is our own self-doubt. As the dream begins to formulate and take shape, our minds tell us, “You could never do that,” or “You’re not that good; no one wants to read your writing.” But we have the power to change our thoughts and do away with doubt altogether.
I’ve also been blessed by people who cast vision for me; those who planted the seeds of a dream before I even saw it. They recognized a talent and passion and encouraged me to follow that dream. One of those people was Ken Blanchard, who loved my book ideas and eventually endorsed them. I am so thankful he encouraged me to take the next step in realizing my dream.
Thankfully, the people who have encouraged my dreams outnumber the ones who have tried to slay them. And similar to Eric Liddell when he referred to running in his famous quote from Chariots of Fire, I truly believe I feel God’s pleasure when I write.
As leaders, we must be intentional about seeing the talent and passion in others and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Louie Zamperini held onto his dreams and had hope for a better day. That was all he could hold on to, and it helped him survive grueling, inhumane circumstances. We all need to dream and reach beyond our capabilities, as it says in one of my favorite verses, “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” (Proverbs 29:18). Beware of the dream slayers on your journey. They will disappear as you take the next action step in realizing your dream.
My little Louie finally woke up from his afternoon nap. As his tongue rolled out of his mouth, punctuating a huge yawn, he looked at his paws stretched out in front of him. He looked up at me as if to say, “Mom, I think my legs are just a bit longer, don’t you?”
I just shook my head and smiled.