Recapturing Dreams Doing Meaningful Work

Greetings from Washington, D.C. where …




recapturing dreams doing meaningful work

Forty-four years of waiting are OVI! Congratulations to the Washington Capitals, to joyful fans, to owner Ted Leonsis, and to the family of the late Abe Pollin. He founded the franchise and nurtured it for decades; he was a class-act who gave to others far more than he took.

Last night, his dream came true.

Today, school is out, summer has begun, and my daughter’s thoughts have turned joyful. Next week, her work on the Connecticut Shoreline as a summer camp counselor begins.

And while she’ll have considerable responsibility to provide care, safety, and enjoyable experiences to her young charges, my daughter will also have opportunity to dream.

Just dream.

When she was a little kid, her dreams took life as scientific experiments. Bathtub time turned into playful study, involving her deliberate mixing of the contents of each shampoo and conditioner bottle within her reach. I learned, very quickly, to hide mom’s expensive hair care products and replace them with cheap dollar store alternatives.

My daughter’s play involved a lot of important cause-and-effect discoveries. She loved reveals, such as the ones that happened when mixing paint colors; our kitchen floors were carefully masked with craft paper for her paint projects covered a lot of real estate.

Ever since she was a young child, my daughter has dreamed of a career in medicine. Thankfully, she is not fixated on becoming a doctor, but rather on any career possibility that is arrayed across the broad health care horizon. There is so much that she can do if she wants to: medical technologist, patient advocate, clinical researcher, etc. The choices that she has to consider are limitless. And, my wife and I are not going to get in the way of her dreams.

She is motivated to help others.

Over the past couple of decades, our educational system placed too much emphasis on AP courses, picking the right schools and degree programs, and, chosing the best careers.

But, now, our motivations for work are changing. No longer do we measure success solely on money and workplace recognition. Instead, our dreams can take us to work that helps us achieve meaningfulness, to help people and the planet.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Dr. Richard Ezike, an amazing guest on upcoming episodes of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen. As is becoming a standard feature of the podcast, I ask Dr. Ezike about his earliest “what I want to be when I grow up” dreams. With joyfulness expressed in his eyes, he told me that, as a young kid, he thought of becoming an architect who designed beautiful buildings and built happy neighborhoods. His dreams were not technologically aided; as a child, Dr. Ezike never played electronic games like “Sim City.” Instead, his dreams of building beautiful buildings and vibrant places were organic, brought to life with pencil and paper and nurtured with the never-ending support of his parents who encouraged him to dream big, wonderful dreams.

We live in a world that relies inexorably on rapid technological advancement. Dr. Ezike hopes that autonomous vehicles may at last provide transportation equity to communities where subways and passenger rail lines have no stops and taxi drivers won’t pick up needy commuters.

Yet, Dr. Ezike relies not on technology, but on pure dream-like imagination to advance his transportation equity thought-leadership.

The content and quality of my writing and podcast producing are aided most by unplugging; as a teenager, I discovered inspiration in the writings of naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Being in nature, listening to the sound of breezes rushing through newly leafed-out trees and babbling brooks, restores me, my author’s voice, and my dreams. But, it wasn’t Thoreau’s work that inspired me most; my parents encouraged younger me to let my imagination run wild.

I thank them for giving me the permission to dream big dreams.

Sadly, so many people are detached from the sweet, vivid, joyful, empowering work dreams that they dreamt as kids. At the insistence of well-intentioned educators and guidance counselors, some professionals are rendered disappointed and disillusioned with career tracks that they were told would lead them to a lifetime of success, and the American Dream. Boundless creativity can lead gifted people to great professional heights, but often they suffer by so much pressure to succeed, to outdo their last best idea. Great artists and creative minds suffer the most. This week, we lost two great creative souls whose suffering overpowered their dreams and joyfulness: fashion designer and entrepreneur Kate Spade and chef, author, and television host Anthony Bourdain.

We fixate too much on learning STEM (science + technology + engineering + math) proficiency in school and not enough on STEAM which adds artistry to the STEM array. Great cultures foster great artists. Most of all, great cultures are built on dreams.

We need to honor, but also to nurture and celebrate, our artists who drive STEAM innovation. We must allow the-most creative among us the freedom to express themselves, but also the freedom to step away from the daunting structure that we placed upon them to succeed.

They are people, not machines.

Most of all, we must allow ourselves permission to dream about doing work that is profound, purposeful, joyful, meaningful, even transcendent. And to make sure that our brilliant and daring thinkers keep dreaming, we must reframe mental healthcare as healthcare. We must make it easier for our creative thinkers — many of whom suffer a lifetime with anxiety and depression — to accept and find the support and treatment that they need to thrive.

May my daughter — and may your sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, friends, loved ones, and YOU — find bliss and realize lifelong dreams of doing meaningful work.

When that happens, then our best days lie ahead.

DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the podcast, The Tightrope with Dan Smolen. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.

Image credits: Dreaming, Getty Images; Alex Ovechkin with Stanley Cup, John McDonnell for Washington Post; Richard Ezike, Ph.D.,