This article is being re-printed for non-commercial use as approved by GRAPEVINE,
A Volunteerism Newsletter.
To subscribe -- $25.00 per year --
via Volunteer Sales Center, CAHHS, P. O. Box 340100, Sacramento, CA 95834-0100.
Credit card orders: (800) 272-8306.
Rules for Dreamers
Ivan Scheier .
The role of Dreamcatcher was described earlier in
this series, defined generally as "helping people make their dreams come true, where
dream' means a goal, purpose, or positive vision for enhancing life in a
In five years working as a dreamcatcher at the VOLUNTAS residence in
Madrid, I picked up some pointers on attitudes and approaches which seemed to help people
achieve their dreams. I shared these thoughts with people who came to the residence in
search of their dreams and I share them now with you.
- Nothing much happens anyhow, at first, so stay with it. Good things hardly, ever hurry
and inertia erodes hope. Don't let it. One thing you can do is live close to your beliefs
- Nothing happens exactly as first visualized, either. Don't expect it to. Reality is too
complicated and surprise is half the fun.
- The only constants are the values which underlie the vision. Keep compromise to minimum
on these, even when compromise is called nice names like "team building,"
"negotiation," or "consensus." None of these were invented in aid of
imagination. On the other hand, keep listening. Even though "creative" rarely
wins an argument with "safe," you might always hear a good idea from a
- Someone else might end up doing it, too, and you should even encourage that. Seek
cooperators in the dream. Look for overlap in yearning and purpose. Dreams rarely survive
their solo origins without evolution to broader ownership. So get your ideas out there in
the universe and see who they catch fire with.
- If others choose to work with you, fine. If not, just hope they "do it right,"
and be pretty sure they'll do it differently. And don't spend too much time hoping you'll
get sufficient credit. People who crave credit tend to stick with safe and easy things.
Dreams are rarely either. So get comfortable with vicarious victories and secret
satisfactions. Remember, the most important thing by far is that the dream will happen
somehow, somewhen, somewhom - not that you alone will make it happen and get the glory.
Only hope that whoever gets the glory is someone you can like and respect, but don't count
on that either. (This gets pretty hard, for sure.)
- If it's any comfort, remember that no one has ever figured out a way to patent dreams.
Chances are that you stole the idea from someone else, and can't even remember where or
when. If it's really a good idea various versions have probably popped up previously and
are being promoted now somewhere else. Find the people who are doing that, if you can, and
when you find them, help them. My finest hours occur occasionally, when I help someone
else achieve "my" dream, join in the applause and free up time for other dreams.
- Don't just "share" owner- ship; plot and scheme on ways to give it away. Don't
just exhort people to participate; find people- sized things they can do, especially
things they suggest.
- Be flexible about implementation as you are uncompromising on the beliefs underlying the
vision. Get there any way you can, as long as it's legal and ethical. As for ethics, the
end does not justify the means, especially tactics that violate the values in the dream
itself. Remember the CIA. Some of its methods for "defending" democracy have
been credibly accused of betraying it.
- Question every conventional assumption about implementation. Among other things, avoid
tight planning like the plague; you know, where The Plan becomes an end in itself and
narrow receptivity to opportunities in ongoing experience. A plan is not a prison; it is a
platform for growth. This doesn't make chaos a precondition of creativity; flexibility is
what we want.
- Try not to lock yourself in, in any way. Why should success depend on a single specific
location when other places might do as well or better? Generally, don't make success
contingent on other agendas, such as professional positioning, a relationship with another
person or organization, financial security, ego gratification, etc.
Indeed, maybe we shouldn't get too hung up m "success" in any sense. Most of
the winning dreamers I know are not at all afraid to fail. It's not just that they don't
let fear of failure intimidate them; it's that they learn from failure, even capitalize on
it, in ways which transform setback to success. So, make plenty of mistakes, but try not
to repeat the same ones too often. Always look for creative new mistakes.
- Speaking of creative mistakes, it's sometimes supposed that money is the main ingredient
of dream achievement. I doubt it. Maybe as an individual you should free yourself from
major money needs, insofar as this is possible and reasonable. The less money you need to
live on, the more choices you have in work directions and the fewer people you have to
tell you "no." A few people still see this as an important benefit of being a
volunteer. And more and more people using the New Road Map Foundation's coursework in
achieving financial independence to place themselves in this choiceful position.
So cultivate a certain modest tolerance of poverty but don't glory in it. Poverty snobs
are prone to get uncomfortable for lack of basics. And you're not usually too effective in
a survival mode. (Author's aside,: this is the point at which I usually pass the hat.)
- You may be tempted to pre-explain failure by setting sights too high. That's a copout.
Thinking small at first is a good way to achieve largely later. Outside of the Grand
Canyon, big is hardly ever beautiful. Large organizations, for example, are typically
status quo oriented, followed closely by small organizations -and medium-sized ones! So,
you may be doing a fair amount of freelancing and/or building your own vision-responsive
work frame- work. In any case, when you sense that the real purpose of an organization is
to preserve the organization, get out of the organization. Quickly.
- You'll want to cherish the precious few who share your dream, or at least seem to
understand it. But please don't scorn the rest out of frustration, loneliness, or anger.
People who don't see your vision aren't necessarily insensitive or stupid; they may
actually be right and in any case have the right to be wrong, the same as you do. As for
those who see the dream and don't join you in doing something about it, they may not be
jealous or gutless. They may just be busy with their own obsessions. Offer them the same
empathy you hope to have for yourself. While differently obsessed people or organizations
rarely cooperate, they can at least commiserate, or tolerate.
- Poverty, loneliness, frustration - all these can make you martyr-prone. But don't feel
sorry for yourself. Instead, pity the poor pathetics who never had a dream or never knew
there was one there, waiting for them, somewhere.
Either as martyr or hero (self-declared), don't take yourself too seriously. I dread
the day when I'm no longer able to see myself as just a little bit ridiculous (not always,
- Try laughing now and then. A suspiciously large number of world-changers had a good
sense of humor about themselves and the world. For starters, try Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor
Roosevelt, Gertrude Stein, Sojourner Truth, Ghandi, Einstein, and Golda Meir.
You needn't laugh so hard it hurts. Just be sure that when it hurts too hard, you
That's a maxim you might need because, typically, pain is the price of dreams.
Isolation and frustration have already been mentioned. Then you sometimes beware stake-
holders in the status quo. Usually, they vastly outnumber riskers-for-change and are far
more powerful. If they see your dream as a threat to their status quo - and it often is -
they will do everything possible to block you. In so doing, they can be both fierce and
pious (consciously or unconsciously). And until you've had a good friend as one of them,
you don't know what pain is.
- Hang out with optimists rather than disaster-oriented thinkers (known by all the time
they spend with lawyers, accountants, and insurance agents). 'Don't mistake me; we should
all consult such experts, enough to prudently forestall realistic threats. Only be sure
prudence doesn't get out of hand and raise hell with faith. At that point, "cover
your tail" becomes the only game in town, and you rarely see a dreamer with a
well-covered tail. So if you hear the word "liability" more than twice in ten
- Keep as sane as you can, but don't overdo it. The primary pursuit of mental health and
self- healing is probably not for dreamers. Similarly, "the balanced life" is
more for people whose main purpose is to feel good and be comfortable. For you, there is a
kind of fierce focus which may alarm your friends until they see how meaningful it makes
- When you get the blues - and dreamers do dont look forward; look backward.
Looking ahead only reminds you of how long the dream is taking to come true, and how many
dreams are still out there unrealized. Looking backward reminds you how many dreams have
actually happened over the long haul. It's also one of the few things that gets easier to
do as you get older.
- Confucius, via my friend James Holmstrand, said it well: "Clearly, goodness is not
necessarily rewarded with acceptance. To concern oneself only with acceptance is not to
look into the distance. To learn and unceasingly endeavor, does that not give
satisfaction? And if companions come to you from far away, is not that too a ground for
rejoicing? And to not grow embittered if people do not applaud you, is that not too noble?
I will not grieve that everyone does not know me; I should grieve only if I did not know
So, don't calibrate your visions on the applause meter. On the other hand, just because
creativity is deviant in its own time, don't be deviant for its own sake, just to shock or
gain attention. People will think you're deviant enough without any special effort on your
part. And, by the way, people who smile when they call you crazy" are excusing you,
not affirming you.
- The irony is that dreamers 'may be the most practical people in the world, because, as
Harriet Naylor said, "We need imaginative inspiration to dream of what could be and
all the implications of what is now." We need it, now and in the future. Indeed, the
only future worth worrying about is the product of yesterday's dreams and the promise of
tomorrow's. As Jose Ortega y Gasset said: "Life is a series of collisions with the
future. We are not so much the sum of what we've been, as what we yearn to be."
That yearning is the stuff of dreams, and it doesn't work according to formula. So, it
may have been a bit catchy to talk about rules for dreamers but it's also probably
somewhat of a contradiction in terms. Strictly speaking, there are no rules for dreamers.
All we have is information, expectation, hope and passion. Why should we expect more? And
how can we accept less?
Earlier versions of this essay appeared some years ago in the
Journal of Volunteer Administration and, more recently, in 'Once Volunteering was for
Dreamers" (VOLUNTAS, 1993). It, and the essay "On Becoming a Dreamcatcher,"
which appeared in our last issue form part of a book in preparation, provisionally
entitled "The Midwifery of Dreams."