The English words “dream” and “vision” can have many meanings, but here I am using them to mean “thoughts or hopes about the future” (somewhat consonant with “plan”). They do have significantly different meanings from one another, and it’s those differences I want to explore in this post. Let me start with “plans” first, though, and work from there. In a previous post I mentioned my acronym GPA, which stands for Goal, Plan, Action. This is one of my many guiding mantras. Action of any significance is not much use without a plan, and to make a coherent plan you need a goal in mind first. So, my plans in life are always in pursuit of a goal. The thing is that I have not had an awful lot of luck with my plans in the past 5 years or so.
The long-term goal that I established for myself 7 years ago when I was living in Buenos Aires was to live on a different continent for 2 years at a stretch in a location that would provide me with a job, but would also be within easy reach of a lot of places I wanted to visit. It was a broad goal inspired by the fact that it is hard to get much of anywhere outside of South America without significant effort. Whilst living in Buenos Aires I had traveled a lot both within Argentina and to a variety of countries in South America. Those trips, even to Easter Island, were manageable. But Buenos Aires is not a hub for major airlines, and the most common routes were to North America and Western Europe. To get anywhere other than those destinations required trips to them first, which were lengthy, then one or two more changes before you got where you were going. I looked into going to Hong Kong or Singapore and they were three-day trips each way. I had been in the habit of going on 7 to 10 day trips, and spending 6 days in transit was not going to cut it. I figured that if I lived in Hong Kong or Budapest or Nairobi or wherever for a couple of years I could use those cities as springboards to travel around in the region before moving on. So far so good – sort of.
The goal was a good one, I felt, but the plans went awry almost straight away. I landed in Hong Kong, couldn’t find a job that would get me a resident permit, so moved to Kunming, capital of Yunnan in SW China. I stayed there for 18 months working at various jobs that did not give me much chance to leave Kunming. Then I caught a lucky break – I thought. I got a job at a university that gave me 4 months’ paid vacation. Perfect. That way I could travel to Myanmar, Cambodia etc. But . . . the government had an issue with the fact that I entered on one passport but wanted my university work visa in another (because the university insisted and checked with immigration before acting). The fact that the university had got prior approval did not matter. I was given 10 days to leave. My hopes of traveling in SE Asia, journeying the Silk Road through Central Asia etc, went up in smoke. In fact that was the start of 4 years of planning that kept going off the rails that I won’t bore you with. Right now I am in the middle of plan Z.2.6 – sitting in the airport in Bangkok en route from Mandalay to Phnom Penh.
My point is that my general goal is in place, but the execution is not all it might be. This leads me back to goals. We can use various words such as “dreams” or “visions” or “goals” and they all have rather different emphases. The thing is that I don’t have any dreams. I think of dreams that are BIG and very difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish. They are things young people have. I had dreams when I was younger. When I was in my 20s my main dream was to write books on anthropology and become a published author. I saw that as my path to immortality – of a sort. I might die, but my books would live on. Well, I’ve done that. I’ve accomplished all of my dreams; I don’t have dreams any more. I do still have goals, though. Goals are of a different order from dreams. They are manageable, obtainable – even if they take effort.
I see visions as a subset of goals: how I envisage my goals playing out over time in specific ways. For example, I worked in Italy for 2 years and in the summer I traveled to Slovenia and Austria as well as around Italy. That’s one set of plans that actually worked out. After 2 years I wanted to move to SE Asia and a job opportunity opened up in Mandalay in Myanmar, so I took it. It was a little impulsive. I had planned to spend my summer meandering along the Silk Road from west to east, ending up in Myanmar, but the job came up some I skipped the Silk Road – AGAIN !!! My job in Italy ended at the end of May and the job in Mandalay started in June. Not ideal, but I figured I could travel at the end of the school year in March.
I did have long weekends when I was able to travel around Myanmar a bit, but I couldn’t go very far. The time between terms was only one week also, so I’d have to work for 8 months straight before traveling (with no summer holiday before starting). This September I ended up with some unfortunate contract talks with my boss, so I quit, and worked out a way to live in Cambodia for some months. As I left Mandalay this morning I was rather melancholy. The reason is that I had had a vision of my life in Myanmar, but it did not turn out as I had envisaged. I was expecting to stay for 2 years, mooch around a lot in the cracks, then leave for some new 2-year destination. Instead I am moving on after 3 months. I’m fine with the decision. I could have stayed for 2 years. My boss did not want me to leave. It’s just that the reality did not match the vision. It was not a dream; it was a vision related to a larger goal. And . . . it failed. It’s not like finding a dream falling apart. It’s just a vision that did not pan out. My world’s not going to fall apart as it might if a life dream fell apart. When you DREAM BIG (as an old girlfriend put it to me – in caps), your life is completely guided by it. This was just a vision of a component of a goal this is still a work in progress. I’ll survive. But it is sad when visions fail.