Dear Rachel,

My problem is I dream big. I don't recognize limits of possibility. For me, it's as realistic to plan a trip to the moon as to Ohio, to date royalty as the boy next door, to strive for a career in Hollywood or the UN as to become a teacher or secretary. My friends say I'm not realistic, I'm out of my league, the chances of achieving my dreams are almost nil. And then when I don't realize my dreams, I'm inevitably disappointed and frustrated and feel like I'm a worthless failure. I'm still young, but I feel like I should just throw in the towel and aim for a mediocre life.

Big Dreamer

Dear Dreamer,

Your problem was faced by no less than Joseph. The Patriarch Jacob's favorite son had dreams (literally) of grandeur for which he was scoffed at by his brothers, who later sold him into slavery for his grand aspirations. Joseph did later realize his dreams by becoming Chief Viceroy of Egypt, but not before he spent 12 years in a dungeon prison. In other words, there are ups and downs on the way to realizing your dreams, and even if people ridicule them, they still can come true. As the saying goes, “Reach for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

So let me address your question point by point.

  • Dreaming big is not a problem. Most of us dream big when we're children, but the great achievements in the world are accomplished by people who didn't stop dreaming big when they grew up.
  • There are no limits of possibility. History has proven again and again that people who face extraordinary obstacles can still achieve their goals. Rabbi Akivah was an illiterate shepherd who started learning Torah at the age of 40 at the behest of his wife, Rachel. He grew to become one of the greatest Talmudic sages of all time. The human spirit knows no boundaries, and G‑d can make anything possible.
  • Don’t get discouraged by statistics. As far as I’m concerned, everything has a 50/50 chance of success—either it will happen or it won’t. Statistics are limiting and meaningless. They just discourage and frighten people and cannot predict any individual's success.
  • What matters is what G‑d wants from you. Take a look around at your life and your circumstances. You are where you are for a reason. As a Jew, you already have a predesigned life purpose. It doesn't mean you can't become an astronaut, but you have to ask yourself, “Is this what G‑d wants from me? Is that why He put me here?”
  • You are not a failure for not achieving your goals. And it certainly doesn't mean you're worthless. All it means is that this is not the destiny G‑d has in mind for you at this time, and He has His reasons.
  • We measure success differently. If you look at the kinds of things the world today lauds, you will see that secular society is very superficial and often completely at odds with Jewish values. Beauty, fame and fortune are not what a Jewish person is meant to strive for. Beauty of the soul, wisdom, love and kindness are the greatest measures of success.

I suggest a five-point plan for realizing your goals and actualizing your dreams while also aligning yourself with G‑d’s will:

  1. Evaluate your dreams. How do they measure up to Jewish values and the talents and skills that G‑d gifted you? Follow the dreams that are in sync with those values and talents.
  2. Be flexible. Notice the road signs along the way to following your dream, to see if they're pointing you in the right direction. If your best efforts are not bearing fruit, consider whether this is the path G‑d wants you to take. Even if you have to change direction, you aren’t “wasting time”; everywhere you travel on the path of life, you have the opportunity to impact others and make a difference.
  3. Find a mentor—someone you trust and respect to help guide you to the realization of your best dreams and destiny.
  4. Celebrate your small successes. Bringing a smile to a friend's face is no less valuable than being a stand-up comic, and writing a touching letter is no less important than writing an award-winning novel. The world celebrates big. But G‑d is heard in the still small voice.1
  5. Accept that failures are prerequisites for achievement and success. Joseph's father Jacob dreamed of a ladder with angels ascending and descending. This dream has many interpretations, but one of them is that there are inevitable ups and downs in the most successful life.

A person can't achieve his dreams if he has none to begin with. So do dream. However, our dreams must be in harmony with the greatness G‑d has in store for all His children. As you say, you're young, and your dreams will transform and change over the course of your life. That's a sign of growth and maturity, not failure. Believe in your dreams, but be open to creating new and different ones as you gather life wisdom and tune in to what G‑d wants from and for you. G‑d has a dream for you too, and only you are capable of realizing it.

Wishing you the sweetest of dreams!