Why Everyone Needs An Unreasonable Dream

My life has been determined by a series of goals that I have set on a regular basis. These goals have sometimes been more demanding than others, but as I have got older, they have become harder and more stretching.

This may seem odd. Shouldn’t I be slowing down as I get older? Some of my goals have been making sure I have holidays booked in the diary for the family for the next year, having regular 1:1 date nights with my wife and making sure we have long weekends away, others have been more taxing like running a trail marathon or cycling from London to Paris in 24 hrs.

In my work life I wanted to be a Vistage Chair, then a Vistage Speaker, too, and for both to win awards for my Chairing and coaching and for my impact as a speaker. And then there was the TEDx talk…now that was a stretch goal!

Stretching ourselves gives us energy and excitement. Once we have stretched ourselves in a new place, new doors start to open up, that we couldn’t see before. As Audre Gide said “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.”

I have a simple model I use to explain comfort, stretch and stress zones.

Graphic showing comfort, stretch and stress zones

Our comfort zone is something we need to spend time in. It’s where we have down time. We watch Netflix, have friends for dinner, walk the dog or read a nice book. We can totally relax and recharge. However, if we spend too much time there it can get a bit boring. We can get complacent, we can start to feel that this is all we’re capable of. We all know people who are there. The more time we spend in our comfort zone the bigger it gets and the harder it gets to move out of it – we can become stuck.

When we move into our stretch zone and try something new and different we can’t be sure of the outcome. That’s the scary bit that stops some people moving. We can ‘fail’. Although, personally I don’t believe in failure only feedback. Failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of success.

Our stretch zone is where we learn and grow. We simply have to because it’s new and different. We often have to learn a new skill, read more widely or take advice and guidance from others in order to reach these stretch goals.

You’ll have noticed that there is a third ring and that is our stress zone. This is right at the edge of stretch and we really don’t want to spend time here if we can help it. Often we end up here when we haven’t prepared well to be in our stretch zone. Suppose I am doing a keynote talk in London to several hundred people (as I was doing recently on this very subject) and I hadn’t spent much time either on creating the presentation or rehearsing it. Then I’d be stressed, not only when I was on stage, but in the lead up, worrying about how it would go. Stress releases cortisol through our veins which disrupts our immune system and literally makes us ill. But stress can also come from being in our comfort zone for too long. Why? Because we start having thoughts like “is this it?” or “what have I done with my life?” And those are stressful thoughts!

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.

Now this is all fine and dandy, but what’s the destination? If I set off on a drive in my car and follow some nice roads, stop at some good cafes and restaurants and stay in some great hotels I’ll get somewhere, but where? It may not be a place that I really want to be. I need to put in a destination before I start.

So, it is the same with life. Where do we really want to end up? Try this. You’re 80 and sitting on a bench with your partner or best friend. You’re looking at a wonderful view and you’re discussing what you’ve achieved in your life. What do you want to say? What stories will you tell? Will they be stories that you’ve written yourself or will they have been written by other people?

I once asked one of my coaching clients what he was afraid of and he replied “not reaching my full potential.” So, what does that look like for you? You need to think about what you’d like to say on that bench and make sure your dreams (which is what they are today) are unreasonable. Because if they are reasonable you can do them now and they are certainly not going to be exciting and energising.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first democratically elected president of an African nation: Liberia. She held the office for 12 years. One of her great quotes is “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.” You see unless they are unreasonable you don’t have to stretch, learn and grow and without doing that with your life you’ll remain in your comfort zone, getting bored and complacent (and possibly a little stressed)!

There is one more vital question we need to all answer and that is what’s our purpose? Why are we here? And this has to be the first question, before our unreasonable dream. Without being clear on our purpose we will just do stuff! The good news is that we have all been on purpose, just not all the time.

What do I mean? Well, look back on your life. When have you felt totally fulfilled? Completely energised by doing something or being someone? That’s what you need to be doing more of. I use the Japanese Ikigai model to help people to discover their purpose as I think it’s a simple and neat way to to figure it out. Ikigai means ‘a worthwhile life,’ ‘a reason to get out of your bed in the morning’ and ‘the happiness of always being busy.’


A Venn diagram showing the components of Ikigai

Ikigai starts with what you love. One of my nephews is a pilot and he has always wanted to be a pilot; he loves it. The next stage is: does the world need it? Yes, the world needs pilots. Thirdly: is he good at it? Yes, thankfully or he wouldn’t have a job! And finally: can he be paid for it, as he has a family, a mortgage and a lifestyle he wants? Yes, he can and does.

So think about your Ikigai and what yours is and then figure out what you’re going to do with it in your life. My Purpose is ‘Inspiring Leadership.’ I get out of the bed in the morning to inspire people to be better leaders of themselves, their lives and their businesses. I want people to fulfil their potential, discover what they want and have the vulnerability and courage to go for it.

If you want a life that is worthwhile, that you can tell amazing stories about when you’re 80 sitting on that bench, find your purpose, stretch yourself and achieve those unreasonable dreams!

Are you in?

Want to be first to know about a new blog or episode of my podcast, The Gritty Leaders Club? Sign up for news, views and exclusive content.

I hate spam, too. I’ll never send any to you.