Something about faith.

I’ve been thinking about dreams, and commitment, and faith. About heart and head, yin and yang, art and science. About how paths wander apart and then reconnect in ways that aren’t always predictable.

Taking that last metaphor forward, today’s post is a trail that diverts a little from the path we’ve been on here recently:

A long time ago, 25 or 30 years maybe, I wanted to start a clothing company, making and selling tennis clothes in organic cotton, manufactured in a sustainable way. I was going to hire all local women – mothers, actually – and pay them an above-market wage to sew.

It was a good idea, I thought, good enough that I scheduled lunch with an entrepreneurial friend who had (still has) a thing for start-up ventures. The idea spilled out with more excitement than polish, as I watched his face for signs of affirmation. He was a serious person, quick to find flaws in ideas. So before he could poke holes in my idea, I did it for him. After describing the idea and giving the rationale, I listed every reason it would fail, ending with a statement to the effect of, “I think it’s a good idea, but I can see how it might not work.”

He said: “You’re right; it won’t work. But not for any of the reasons you listed. It won’t work because you’ve already talked yourself out of it, before you’ve even begun. If you really want to do something, if you’ve got a spark of fire in your belly, then you have to believe so strongly that you don’t listen to anyone who’s trying to talk you out of it, not even yourself.”

I was thinking all weekend about my friend’s long-ago advice and how it continues to ring true.

I thought about it on Saturday when I was at a party capping off a year-long celebration of the landmark 1971 Supreme Court decision that blocked the interstate system from destroying Overton Park. May we never underestimate the power of dreams shared by “little old ladies in tennis shoes.”

I thought about it yesterday, at a luncheon with my daughter and her classmates who are six weeks away from the end of their high school days. May the disappointment of old cynics never cloud the dreams of youth.

I thought about it last night when I read Wendi Thomas’s article celebrating the 5th anniversary of MLK50, the award-winning, innovative journalism project she launched the year before Memphis, and the world, would mark 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination.

Thomas wrote:

“Every time a grant application was rejected, when I couldn’t seem to make a dent in my to-do list, when stories didn’t quite come together like we’d envisioned, I thought: Maybe Jim was right.

“I mean, you were the Harvard professor, you invested in successful startups, you picked winners – and you said it wouldn’t work.” 

“To the Harvard professor who said MLK50 wasn’t viable: Look at us now.” Wendi Thomas, MLK50.

(Quick side note: You, too, can support MLK50 with a donation.)

Chasing dreams, as I’ve written and as I believe with all my heart and soul, is risky business. Dreams need feeding — with money, with encouragement, with time — in order to come true, if they come true at all. A support network of family, friends, and advisors creates lift to counter the drag and keep the dream from crashing under its own weight. The bigger the dream, the greater difference a support network will make. Those supporting players will also help the dreamer find clarity if (when) the line between passion and pathology gets blurry. Everyone needs a mirror in this regard. Everyone.

Chasing dreams, as I’ve also written (exactly six months ago, as part of my “write something every day for 56 days” challenge), requires putting in the work. It requires an unfailing commitment, a willingness to get back up after every fall or setback.

But at the deepest root level, in the darkest and most challenging times, sitting alone and wondering whether or not to just give up, chasing a dream requires an unshakeable belief that the dream is worth chasing, worth trying one more time, worth preserving.

Chasing any dream, large or small, conventional or outrageous, requires faith stronger than doubt.

This is what I need to remember today. Maybe you need it too? Maybe we all do.

So, here’s to chasing dreams with abandon, because life is short and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, including ourselves.