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Following Our Dreams

I have just finished The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I had read it years and years ago, and even so, I feel like I read it for the first time.  I think this time around I have lived enough life to understand it in a deeper and different way.  I am affected.  I am inspired.  I am sure that if you read it, you too will be moved.

The book is a story of a boy who leaves his life as a sheepherder to discover his “Personal Legend.”  It is rife with metaphor—actually, it is one big metaphor of the power and necessity each and every person on Earth has to follow his or her dreams/purpose/”Personal Legend” or whatever you call that still, small voice that is so present and clear when we are young, and that may grow muddy and almost imperceptible as we grow through Life and are afflicted by the myths of success in our society.

In his Introduction, Coelho says:

What is a personal calling?  It is God’s blessing, it is the path the God chose for you here on Earth.  Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend.  However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.

As an icebreaker for every one of my classes, I ask students to share what they would do in life if they knew they could not fail.  Often times, this question is met by wide-open eyes and squirming bodies.  Some people know, and others have no idea.  But I believe it is one of the goals of the classes I teach that the students re-discover their dreams so that they may move toward them.

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

-The Alchemist

But first, we must tune back into that voice that resides forever in our souls, that speaks to us through our emotions and through our experiences.

My two and four-year olds have been incredible teachers in my life.  They have given me the opportunity to understand the pureness, the simplicity of our human spirits.  When I am in a room full of their young and blissful little peers, I notice that children gravitate toward different things, take pleasure in different activities.  Some love to move and climb over any standing structure they can hoist their little bodies up and over.  Others sit and look at books and examine the pictures.  Some hang out around the easel and the art supplies while others are busy with putting together train tracks or stacking blocks or connecting Legos.

When I observe them, I see tiny little engineers and artists and future leaders.  I see little people who love to help others, who love to connect with friends, and I see little philosophers, thinkers, and leaders.  Being around young children, whose hearts speak clearly and whose dreams are unencumbered by doubt, my faith that each and every one of us on this Earth has unique gifts to give is strengthened.
So why, when we get older, do we waste our time comparing ourselves to others?  We are, in our very essence, totally unique.  Never before and never again will there be another one of you or me.

I have a vivid memory of one afternoon when I was seven or so years old.  I was in my basement reading “Ramona and Beezus” by Beverly Cleary.  I was so inspired that I took out a notebook and began to write a book.  I wrote a couple of pages and walked upstairs to show my parents.  My mom and dad were both sitting at the kitchen table watching TV and I handed them my notebook and declared, “I am going to write books someday.”

I remember them glancing at my writing, barely reading it, handing my notebook back to me, and turning back to the television.  I remember feeling let down and thinking they didn’t believe me.  In that moment a seed of doubt was planted in my being.  In the years that followed whenever I mentioned wanting to be a writer, my parents would listen and then remind me that a lot of people want to be writers, but I should pursue something that I can fall back on.

My parents came from practical roots. They came from families that worked hard to pay the bills and raise a family.  That was the focus.  There was no talk of realizing dreams within the walls of their homes or communities.

I remember my mom walking around the house on her tippy toes (she was 5’2’’) dusting or doing the dishes and singing.  She was always singing.  I didn’t know this when she was alive, but recently my aunt told me that my mom had always dreamed to be a singer.

My dad told me his dream was to get married, get a job, and make money so he could survive.  He began working at a grocery store after school when he was twelve, and when he was fourteen, he bought himself a 1953 Ford.  Eventually he went to Dunwoody and became a Master Plumber and as I grew up, he ran his business—the Brayman Plumbing Company.

While my dad did end up living his dream, he did not conceive of dreams that were more risky, less concrete.  My parents brought me to the door of forging something new for myself.  And though it has taken me almost 25 years to open the door, I am thankful I am sitting here at Common Roots with an empty bowl of buttersquash soup, with people coming and going, with this laptop, moving toward that mystery which lies inside of me.

It has taken a lot of journaling and vision-setting to yank out the doubt and plant seeds of faith.  My faith in myself and my dreams is growing.  And though I don’t know how to get there, I know what I want.  And that is enough for me to keep meeting the blank page and writing into the unknown.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” –The Alchemist

I think happiness, as you define it, is a clue to your soul’s longing, a clue that you are doing what you are meant to do.  In moments of happiness, our soul is alive and present.  I think this is a good place to start to uncover those dreams that have gathered dust and debris of years of self-doubt.

Writing Exercise: Open your journal to the next blank page and write at the top: “If I knew I could not fail, I would…”

Let go and let your dreams spill out—about places you want to visit and classes you want to take and how you want to live.  I believe there are signs—“omens” as Coelho writes—that speak to us in moments of lucidity and inspiration, in the people we meet who tell us of their dreams.  I also think there are signs in the difficulties we face, because in the soil of our challenges grow lessons and strength that we can and must share.

In other words, what we teach is what we have learned and are learning.  Thus, this blog.

“Follow your bliss, and doors will open where there were no doors before.” –Joseph Campbell

We do not need to know how to get to where we want to go.  We need to do what we love, and then let the mystery that is the Universe take over.

Janna Brayman Krawczyk is a writer and a teacher.  She has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Teaching from Hamline University.  She has been writing in a journal for over half of her life and has finally accepted that life is not easy, yet our struggles and obstacles are what inspire insight and wisdom.  For this reason, she must write as a way to understand herself and her life, stay sane, and dream big dreams.  She feels blessed to share this healing and illuminating practice with as many people as possible in her lifetime…

  1. Hi Janna,
    Well now, I have had this question before and I have always answered it the same way, or variations on the same theme. “I want to be a published children’s author.” I, like you, have always wanted to write. I have realized many steps of my dream (or variations, as it were) I have had a curriculum published. I wrote a column for two years (In the SouthWest Journal). I have had poetry and focus articles published in magazines. But, my children’s books are not yet published, nor widely read.
    However, I know that I have to work continually toward my goal in order to achieve it. It is the pursuit of our dreams that makes us happy. I have to take some risks and do some work to make my dream come true.
    But, I want to draw your attention to the things that make you happy – when you least expect it. Perhaps they are also dreams.
    I have always found being with young children quieting, fullfilling , interesting, and totally comfortable. I love little kids (OK the big ones aren’t so bad either). Teaching has come naturally to me since I was nineteen.
    At that time, I was trying to figure out what I would do with my life, what my life’s work would be. As I was sitting in church listening to our preacher speak about the Bible passage that says if you are a teacher….
    It was right then and there that I knew I was supposed to teach. Yes, I think it was an answer to prayer. I have been teaching something to someone ever since. And I love it. I still love teaching after twenty three years in ECFE.
    But, teaching has not diminished my dream of getting my writing published. Sometimes the time spent on teaching takes away from the time I have left to write. Teaching makes me happy, makes me feel fulfilled, and I believe it makes the world a better place. I hope the same could be said for my poetry, and for the children’s stories I would like to see published.
    In the end, I guess all we can ask of our life is that we make the world a better place by our work, our dreams and the work toward realizing those dreams.
    Thanks for your work, Janna.


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