I am a dreamer… always have been. My grandmother told me that as a very little girl, I’d sit for hours on the floor of the closet with the door partially closed. When asked what I was doing, I’d say “just thinking.”
This has been a virtue most of the time, but not always. When I was five years old, I spent many hours creating a palace out of the forsythia bush in the front of our old brownstone house. I painstakingly cleared the ground beneath the arching yellow branches and smoothed the dirt so that it was easy to sit inside, unseen by anyone else. And there I would do just that… sit. In my mind, I could clearly see my surroundings: lush velvet curtains, deep purple carpets, red velvet furniture, a four-poster bed, and crystal chandeliers. I loved sitting there—the proper spot for a budding princess. However, one day I happened to invite a little neighbor girl to my palace. I enticed her with my lavish descriptions—explaining in great detail how the chandeliers hung just so. She eagerly grabbed my hand and away we went to have tea on the chaise lounge. As I parted the boughs of the forsythia and graciously waved my arm in invitation, I heard her gasp. “Ah, she’s impressed”… I beamed. But, instead, she backed out quickly, told me I was both stupid and crazy and then teased me the entire year of first grade.
I would love to tell you that I learned my lesson from this experience—that I have learned to curb my billowing imagination, my exuberance and my ability to see what is yet to truly be. But no.
Instead, I charge through life being dogged by an uncomfortable yin-yang mental battle. I was hard wired to wear rose-colored glasses. I see the potential in everything, including people. My mind constantly leaps ahead, seeing and actually believing the possibilities, rather than the reality. Lucky for me, modern leadership thinking is currently embracing imagination and creativity… but this has not (for good reason) filtered down to the hard bottom-line realities of business.
I am like so many entrepreneurs—filled with vision and passion and desperately keen to turn this into a reality that others can share and understand. But it is not easy. I have a long track record of trying to explain the potential of an idea, only to have others look at me with consternation and then ask me to show them the numbers, analyze the data and create a profit model.
So, how does a dreamer keep the dream alive and walk forward with confidence in a business world that is driven by spreadsheets and analysis? I have learned four strategies, which all of you who work with me will recognize. I also encourage my clients, as fellow dreamers and entrepreneurs, to consider doing the same:
- I out myself from the start. “My name is Lisë and I am ever the optimistic visionary…please interpret my enthusiasm as just that… enthusiasm!”
- I have to clearly paint the picture for others and start by seeing the canvas from their perspective. If I had done that at five years old, I might have anticipated that my neighbor would only see dirt.
- I ask for a lot of advice. I do this by surrounding myself with people who think in a different way than I do and who will not be swayed by my abundance of glee. I need people around me to say “not so fast,” but in a way that doesn’t crush the idea, or me, and instead opens up new options to explore.
- I wait. I have to be careful not to take action too quickly or to act upon the possible before I really understand the practical.
Do I always do it right? No. I am still a dreamer… but if I am to keep the dream alive, I have to be able to turn it into a reality, and for this, I need others. This is also why I rely on you, my friends, colleagues and our national network. It is only by working together, testing reality, that we can bring the dream to life.