In June 2013, I found myself struggling with the toughest career decision of my life.
I was trying to choose between two very different options. One was to stay in my current job, which provided lots of reliable income and benefits, but it wasn’t work I was particularly excited about doing.
The other option was to become a full-time writer and speaker, something I was truly passionate about, but that provided no long-term financial security and no steady paycheck.
I figure you’re never too old to benefit from someone older and wiser, so I wrote my eighty-year-old father a letter and asked him what I should do. But instead of just giving me advice, he shared a story about himself as a young boy that I’d never heard before.
My Father’s Amazing Letter That Changed My Life
His letter said, “Son, when I was 5 or 6 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a singer—yeah, a singer—like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, or Tony Bennett.
“My mother always had the radio on listening to all the popular music of the day, and I listened. And I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
“By the time I started 1st grade I knew all the popular songs—words and music by heart. During the second or third week of school, the teacher asked if anyone in the class had some talent like dancing or singing or doing magic tricks—things like that.
“Well, I put up my hand and said I could sing. So she asked if I would sing a song for the class. Despite the fact that I’d never sung in front of anyone except my mother, I said yes.
“I picked my favorite song, and I did it. I sang the whole song—all the right words and melody. I still remember the song. It was ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’ by the Ink Spots.
“When I was done, the teacher and students applauded. And that’s when I was certain that’s what I was destined to do with my life.
“Well, that turned out to not only be the first time, but also the last time I ever sang in front of an audience. Life got in the way. But it really remained my dream for the rest of my life. I just never had the courage to pursue it. One day, son, you’ll wake up and be 80 years old like me, and it will be too late.”
And as if that story by itself wasn’t enough to motivate me, my father closed the letter with two sentences that literally took my breath away and changed my life. He said:
“I’d love to see you pursue your dream. But that doesn’t mean in your lifetime, son—that means in mine.
The Importance Of Following Your Dreams
Those words hit me like an unexpected kick in the head. Everything stopped except for my heart, which was now beating out of my chest and loud enough to hear.
My father had laid down the gauntlet in front of me and challenged me to pick up. Not sometime in the future, many years down the road, but right now.
More importantly, my dream was no longer just my dream. It was now my father’s dream too. At this point, he’ll probably never achieve his dream of being a professional singer. But through me, if I have the courage to go through with it, he can enjoy the closure he never had with his own dream.
I can think of no more inspiring and worthy challenge. The man who in 1967 gave me life forty-six years later gave me the courage to truly live it. The week after reading those words from my father, I walked into my boss’s office and resigned from my twenty-year career to pursue my dream.
Many of us harbor a secret dream we’re too afraid to pursue. And as long as we are the only one we’re disappointing, I suppose that might be okay. But we all probably have someone in our lives we care about who also wants to see us pursue our dreams. That might be a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, coworker, or child.
Whoever that is for you, if you won’t pursue your dream for your own sake, do it for that person. You’ll make two people happy in the process.
Paul Smith is a bestselling author who’s newest book, Parenting with a Story, documents 101 inspiring lessons like this one to help you (and your kids) build the kind of character anyone would be proud of. He’s a keynote speaker and trainer on leadership and storytelling based on his bestselling book Lead with a Story. You can ﬁnd Paul at www.leadwithastory.com and follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Photo by svenstorm