My friend Tony had always wanted to be police officer. Even as a child Tony's dream was to wear the uniform, and proudly serve the community. The only usual thing about Tony's dream is that Tony is a girl, or more precisely, at this point, a 33-year-old woman. Her dream wasn't typical of the girls who she grew up with, most of whom had more conventional desires, like becoming rock stars, models, actresses or mothers. But Tony can't remember a time in her life when she didn't want to be a cop.
When she met Ray, the man who would become her husband, she told him about her career goal and Ray thought that was a pretty cool thing, and his response was "that's great! I think it's a terrific idea. You'd be great at that."
But as we all know, talk can be cheap, and while it's one thing to encourage someone to pursue their dream, it's another thing altogether to actively support in fulfilling their vision particularly when it means making sacrifices yourself.
But Ray's support didn't waver, even after Tony completed the very demanding application process and was accepted into the police academy. Even while and after her life was completely consumed with the demands of the training during the nine months of the program. Even after having to hold down the fort and pick up a lot of the slack at home with their two kids while Tony was struggling to manage circumstances that were more challenging than any she had ever encountered before.
In a program with fifty cadets, there were seven women. Only three of them would eventually graduate. Tony was one of them. Tony told me that the four women who left the program were all strong, capable and intelligent, but the changes that they went through and the demands upon them destabilized their relationships to the point where something had to give. In their cases, it was the job. Tony thought that the partners of these women felt threatened by their growing strength and found it difficult to support them in their commitment. Without that crucial support, successful completion was impossible. What separated Tony from these women was the presence of a network of loving, committed support.
Ray wasn't her only cheerleader. Tony lived in a big house, inhabited not only by her, Ray and their two pre-school daughters, but both of Ray's parents as well. Not only that, but Ray's aunt, his mother's sister and her husband Jim lived nearby. Close enough so that they too, could be active members of the support team. And they were.
While it would have been easy for any or all of these people to complain about Tony's absence and the stress that it put on the rest of the family, none of them seemed to mind the extra work that her time away was requiring of them. The all pitched in to allow things on the home front to run smoothly and to help Tony to fulfill her dream. They cheered her up when she got discouraged. They continually reminded her of how much they loved and believed in her. They did the dishes, took out the trash and helped manage the household and family responsibilities. They created a seamless network that allowed Tony to focus completely on her commitment to successfully complete the training program.
While in the training, Tony left home at 5:30 in the morning and often didn't return until after midnight. It was a grueling experience, but she took enormous comfort in knowing that the kids were in good hands and that everyone in the family was helping out, not simply to do her a favor, but out of love for her and from the awareness that everyone would ultimately benefit from Tony's success. It was an exercise in "enlightened self-interest"; the ultimate win/win game.
Dozens of Tony's friends and family attended her graduation celebration. They all knew that it wasn't just Tony, but the whole team, the whole family, that had earned this achievement. It was an especially moving moment for Tony and her family when her Uncle Jim, who himself had been a law enforcement officer, stepped forward to pin Tony's badge on the lapel of her uniform at the ceremony.
Tony is currently employed as a fulltime police officer and she loves her work, which she characterizes as "being in service." Her supporters have completely recovered from any hardships or sacrifices that they experienced during her training period and they all are thriving. Tony's sense of self-respect and pride has grown enormously out of this experience, and continues to grow as she takes on new challenges in her personal life and career.
If you have a big dream and have been holding back from going after it, it might be that you have not yet created the platform of support that is necessary to fulfill that desire. It's easy to feel discouraged or fault ourselves when we fail to fully commit to the fulfillment of a cherished vision, but sometimes what is lacking has less to do with our own capability, than it does with degree to which our life includes the believing eyes and supportive words and actions of those who affirm our possibilities.
When we are possessed by a passion for something and we fail to honor it, the consequences are a diminishment of our self-trust, and a sense of dispiritedness, that leaves us feeling remorseful and incomplete. The presence of a strong network of support is an essential aspect of the fulfillment of any dream, and no one has ever been successful in fulfilling their dreams without it.
If we wait until we are clear about our vision before we create or join a community of mutually-supportive partners, it will be too late. The time to begin to build this kind of a network is always NOW. And the key word in making that happen is "mutual". It's not just about getting support, and neither is it just about giving support. It's about exchanging support; being reciprocal partners in a process that involves a mutual commitment to each other's greatest good. It's about being committed to each other's success and well-being in ways that are manifested in our words, our actions, and our willingness to make our partners in that commitment a high priority.
Practicing this kind of generosity of spirit will not only promote the creation of this network of shared support, but it will help to shape our own character in ways that predispose us towards success regardless of our chosen intention. This practice may be the single most important factor in the process of meeting the challenges that are always inherent in the road to success, in whatever area of life we've defined it.
Like Tony, we can do things that my seem beyond our reach if we have people who believe in us, cheer us on, remind us that we can do it and are there for us in meaningful and sometimes very practical ways. By being the kind of person that we wish to have on our own team, we will attract into our lives kindred spirits. While it's possible, or even likely that not everyone who is the beneficiary of our generosity of spirit will reciprocate, many will. Those who are most highly motivated and appreciative of this kind of relationship will stand out in the crowd and be easily recognizable. And it's important to remember that it's not so much about the quantity of players that we have on our team, but rather about the quality of engagement that we have with each other. Two solid friends are much more valuable than two dozen half-hearted ones.
While you may meet some new friends in the process of building your support community, many of the people who are qualified to be a part of it are already in your life. Think about who they might be, and then take the first step to let them know how much you value your connection with them and how much you want to deepen it, not just for your sake but because you want it to be at least as meaningful and valuable for them as well. Let them know what you have that you want to give them and why, and what it is that you see about them that makes you want to have more of them in your life, and why. And then see how they respond.
What have you got to lose?