The Human Freedom to Plot a Path to Somewhere Great

It has often struck me that one of the major ways we differ from other animals is our ability to see a longer term vision and plot a course to get there.  Unlike squirrels or dogs we do much more than react on-the-spot.  As artists, we can envision a finished painting, song, or book, and then it can unfold.  Like good chess players, we can anticipate, see opposition and plan accordingly. And when we set such goals and lay out plans, amazing things happen.  It has been the mysterious norm in my experience that if I begin with a good endpoint in mind, e.g., to be on the radio, finish a book or a marathon, or raise self-sufficient and contributing adults, all kinds of crazy things start to fall into place to help me achieve it. Things happen I could not even have imagined . . . but with a vision comes a new openness to possibilities.  The vision of the end is absolutely key, the planning is vital, and yet there’s that something else that happens when we listen to our deepest purpose.  It’s as if the world wants us to manifest that.

 Julia Cameron described this in The Artist’s Way: “the universe falls in with worthy plans and most especially with festive and expansive ones.  I have seldom conceived a delicious plan without being given the means to accomplish it.  Understand that the what must come before the how.  First, choose what you would do.  The how usually falls into place of itself.”

So, just decide on the “what,” the vision, the endpoint, right?  But here’s the kicker:  Humans find it mightily hard to exercise this incredible freedom to decide on and commit to an endpoint.  I have my suspicions why it’s so hard to fix on what Cameron describes as “worthy…festive and expansive…delicious” plans.  I think we’re afraid of change, afraid of selecting the “wrong” vision, or afraid we’ll go after what we really want only to find out that we can’t accomplish it.   So we don’t get our hopes up, resign ourselves to fate and hope good will come.  But what a waste!  Life, as we know it, comes around once.  Why not go for it???

A new year also only rolls around once, so I invite you to make 2010 a “10” in your life.  I am hosting two retreats at the beginning of January to offer people a chance to really pay attention to their own life and their dreams, and to set some worthy, exciting, important three to five year targets in place.  Then you’ll have a chance to plot that out, with targets for this year, and action steps down to what you’ll do in the next 2 weeks.  You’ll get incredible feedback and gain allies who can help you move forward.  I have offered five such retreats so far, and they have gotten rave reviews.  The Detroit retreat will be Thursday-Friday, January 7-8 at the Atheneum Hotel in Greektown; the early bird cost for the retreat is just under a thousand dollars.  The following Thursday-Saturday, January 14-16,  I’ll host a second retreat at the Avenue Inn on Saint Charles (the streetcar) Avenue in New Orleans.  This one will especially target leading in challenging times.  The early-bird cost for New Orleans is $1699.  Complete information is on the Retreat page on my website.

Think about a plan, maybe giving yourself this time with me and some great colleagues to help you step back, think big and

Lead with your best self,


  • Good to know that you are helping people develop their New Year Resolutions by hosting two retreats, Dan.

    Every year, we gain a clearer understanding that without positive change, decline is inevitable. The challenge is to recognize that what we are now doing can be reinvented by paying attention to our intentions. Yet, it is very hard to bring about significant change without changes in behavior.

    Implementing what participants learn from your retreats within two weeks is critical in moving toward positive behavioral change.

  • Dan,

    Your column is a worthy and uplifting essay. I like the thought of “dreaming the dream” and then, making it come true. However, I am daily reminded of an old saying: “When you are up to your a$$ in alligators, it is hard to remember that the original intent was to drain the swamp.”

    Maybe it was fear and/or lack of courage, but I always found that my dreams took a back seat to putting food on the table, shoes on the kids, and a roof over our heads. It would seem that humans also have the capacity to abandon worthy, festive, expansive, and delicious plans to accommodate the equally worthy, but substantially less festive, more restrained, and hard to swallow facts of life. Perhaps the true heroes are those whose reality checks do not destroy their dreams and their vision, but perhaps temper them with repeated doses of humility and selflessness. After all, humility is not thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less.

    Julia Cameron sounds like a very lucky woman, to have seldom had a delicious plan and not be given the means to accomplish it. I am put in mind of the fellow who prayed that his dream would come true and when it did not, complained to an old friend that God had not heard his prayer. His wise old friend told him that he had it wrong. It was likely that God had either denied his request or was simply asking him to wait awhile. Sometimes we are not “given” the means to accomplish our dreams, and sometimes we have to wait. It does not mean a plan is not worthy, expansive, or delicious. John Lennon said that life is what happens to us, while we are making other plans. Following a dream is a fine journey, but if you forget to feed your face, it will be a short one.

    Worthiness of a dream is not dictated by whether or not the “universe” falls in line and supports it. Perhaps it is the journey that is worthy, whether or not the universe decides to help. A fine and useful education for all our children is a terrific goal, dream, and end point for our efforts. Working toward that goal is a worthy journey. That the universe, whether Republican or Democrat, currently seems hell-bent on blocking all paths to that goal, is immaterial. It is a worthy goal. I agree we should go for it. Just don’t expect a deus ex machina — just a hard climb against our own worst enemy — us.

    I applaud those who work toward that goal, for the sake of the goal and not for political or personal gain, and those who understand it is the search, the climb, the journey which constitutes a life well spent successfully. Failure to actually reach the goal at any one point in the journey is merely a snapshot of success, not an image of failure.

    Your retreats sound wonderful. Fortunately, those of us on budgets still have Reading for Leading as our weekly retreat. Thanks for the thoughts.

    “We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glowworm.” ~Winston Churchill

  • Mick,

    As usual you help to complete and correct a picture. I was not reflecting my own views if I made it sound like: Have a vision and it happens. Instead, I’d say: Have a vision, commit to it, and then keep your ears and eyes open. I believe the vision is what we need, but the manifestation of the vision may not be at all what we think it will be.

    You are an awesome writer, and I urge you to keep letting yourself see where that writing might take you – especially in terms of the contribution you can make to others. Try to clarify a picture: a Michigan Notable Book Award or a National Book Award that does ____ for people who read your work. I believe that if you hue to that path with intensity, you will get better, and the universe will speak to you. It may lead you in some other direction that touches different lives, or sends your message through different channels. But I’m pretty sure that working hard and wanting to find one’s vocation – one’s calling to contribute – will lead them to where they are supposed to give.

    I believe my wife is EXACTLY where she’s meant to be. There’s some serious velveteen rabbit about it, as angry and hurting people hurl their verbal tomahawks, aiming to take off her ears, head or fur, generally. So, it’s no dream in any ego-sense, but it sure is an incredibly opportunity to give her best every day in the hopes of helping Yoopers and Trolls to find a new lease on life in 21st Century Michigan.

    I’m cheering for you and the Governor. The world needs your gifts.


  • Great message, poignantly worded. Here is the message I forwarded with this to my network of colleagues to discuss this.

    We were all built for something great. It’s my personal belief that the hardest, but most worthy thing you could spend your biggest energies on is working out exactly what this great thing might be. Then once you’ve found it, act on it tenaciously. Let’s remember too, that ‘great’ doesn’t necessarily mean fame and fortune – you can be a great father/mother, or a great servant, or a great husband/wife, a great worker in a job.

    In fact, at the risk of this becoming a dissertation of it’s own, discussing it has prompted me of another of my favourite all time quotes from a great man:

    “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

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