Why Dreaming Small Is Way Better Than Dreaming Big (A Child's Wisdom)

I made my daughter’s dreams come true.

On an ordinary Thursday afternoon, Caitlin and I went to the drug store with her older brother Quinn to pick up a prescription. We had to wait for it and, surprisingly, the waiting wasn’t a total disaster. The kids went to the toy aisle and no one ended up in tears about plastic nonsense I refused to buy them. Then, we went to the candy aisle, and they endured my lecture about diabetes with preternatural patience.

I was so pleased, I bought them each a roll of Mentos.

As I drove home, prescription in hand, they opened the candy in the back seat. Caitlin gently unwrapped hers—first pulling out one Mento, then a second—before breathlessly saying to her brother, “Look, Quinn. The first one was yellow, and the second one is yellow too. It’s my dream come true.”

Conventional wisdom says that kids dream big and adults dream smaller and smaller until they quit dreaming altogether. But what if the opposite is true? What if, when we are young, we actually dream quite small, but as we grow up, our dreams get bigger and more grandiose and more unrealistic? What if that’s why we big people eventually give up on our dreams?

And what if we all started dreaming like a child once again?

Most of the time, our little ones have relatively small, ordinary dreams. They want two yellow Mentos in a row, or they want to become a firefighter or a veterinarian or a schoolteacher. Last November 9th, I told Caitlin she still had a chance to become the first female President of the United States. To which she immediately replied, “I do not want to be President.” I looked at her incredulously and asked why not. She looked back at me even more incredulously and said, “That is way too much work.”

What if kids are the realistic ones, and we adults are the ones lost in fantasy?

Kids who paint paintings don’t want to become Picasso, they just want to become themselves. They don’t need their work hung up in a museum, just on the fridge. Though they may dream of winning the World Series someday, they also dream of winning the next game of kickball in gym class, and they are totally satisfied when they do.

Quinn recently wrote his first book—twenty pages of lined paper filled with little kid scrawl and stapled together down the left margin. He presented it to us proudly. There may have been some copyright issues with one R.L. Stine, but my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Our enjoyment made Quinn’s dreams come true.

Bestseller lists are for adults; kids dream about hugs from mom and dad.

What happens between our small, ordinary childhood dreams and the grandiose dreams of adulthood, which eventually become so big they cave in upon themselves? Shame is what happens. Somewhere along the way, we become ashamed—we begin to believe who we are isn’t good enough—and so we try to prove we’re good enough by doing something that no one can dispute is more than enough. We dream about saving the world. We dream about reaching the top.

We dream about doing it all and having it all, until we dream so big our dreams eventually pop, like an overly ambitious bubble of Big League Chew.

When I was in seventh grade, I wrote an essay about my special place—a small island in the north woods of Wisconsin, owned by my aunt and uncle, and a vacation destination from time to time. When I wrote the essay, my dream for it was small. I hoped my teacher would give me a good grade, and I hoped my aunt and uncle would smile when they read it.

That was three decades ago.

Now, I’ve written my first full-length book, and the voice of shame in me wants me to have extraordinary dreams for it. But I want to dream like my little girl dreams. I want to dream small and ordinary. I want to dream Mentos dreams. I want to be able to say, “Hey, one person was comforted by it, and another person gained clarity from it—my dream come true.” Because, for the little one in me, my dream has already come true:

I get to write, and people get to smile about it.

What does the little one in you dream about? Listen for his or her voice in the backseat of your mind, whispering with awe about what he or she wants. Listen, too, for the voice of shame, blowing up that dream into something unrecognizable and unattainable. Then…

Dare to dream small.

Dare to dream ordinary.

Dare to become your truest you.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.