How To Go From Dreamer To Doer.

Written by Denise CornellFuture You

Learning to dream changed everything.

I’d like to say I set out on a grand quest and had a mountaintop epiphany. I didn’t. I came to my dream the long way around, but when I found it (or did it find me?) life got crystal clear, very simple and very focused.

Finding one’s dream is a personal journey so I can’t prescribe a formula. I will share my own process in hopes there’s something you can borrow and make your own.

Step one: Seeking clarity

There was something rising in me. I could only describe it as “its time has come” and the pain of keeping it to myself was greater than my fear of sharing. I wanted to explore who this “new” me was and I was especially curious how she might translate to my business.

I had no idea where or how to start this exploration. After many failed attempts, it was clear I wasn’t going to figure this out on my own. I turned to Chela Davison. Together we delved into my new way of being and how it might show up in my life.

The clarity I found through this work spurred me into action with a lot of experimenting and learning along the way. I expected to encounter resistance as a natural reaction to the change, but one roadblock in particular kept cropping up. It was the nagging little voice asking where all this was going, what was the point.

That question scared me because part of my new way of being was letting go of my addiction to everything in my life needing a three bullet point justification and an accompanying strategic plan of how to execute, measure and review.

I’d had enough of that and didn’t want to get sucked in again. So, I went back to Chela.

This time we sat together in my tiny vacation rental in Vancouver. We identified my top three personal and work goals and mapped them out in just enough detail to appease that inner voice while leaving plenty of room for improvisation.

And…it felt empty.

Chela must have sensed my frustration. Pointing to the big sticky notes posted around the room she asked the magic question: In service to what?

Long silence.

If she had asked why all of this was important I would have answered without hesitation: my family. Everything I did was for them. No equivocation. But this turn of phrase, in service to…

Those particular words, in that moment, kicked off a seismic shift. It was so much bigger than “doing for.” It was devotion.

What was I devoted to?

Step two: The one pager

The answer that spilled out of me eventually became the One Pager.

It’s the first page in my trusty three-ring binder. I read it almost daily. It’s my North Star. At least once a year I check in with myself to see if anything needs to be revised. The Expertise quadrant tends to change a bit with shifts in my professional interests. The others have remained unchanged going on three years now. When you go deep, it lasts. (Did you notice the second bullet under Checkpoints? “Is this Do worthy?” I wrote that 17 months before I started writing for Do Lectures. Funny how that happens, right?)

Last year I added what Tanya Geisler calls your Brand of Joy. This is the thing you seek in everything you do. For me it’s Welcomed. In everything I do I want to feel welcomed, to feel like I belong and I want to offer that same feeling to those around me.

Step three: The dream unfolds

The One Pager and embracing life in a more creative way were the beginning of a transformation, but at my core I’m a planner and I really needed a concrete answer to where this was all going. Yet, I didn’t want to default to my old ways of over-planning. So, I committed to three months of open ended exploration and curiosity. If at the end of that time I didn’t have a clear answer then something would have to change.

For three months I studied my One Pager. I shared it with trusted friends. I asked for feedback. I copied it longhand over and over again as a way of interacting with it, absorbing it. I read it aloud. Then I started dissecting every word, phrase and bullet point. I examined everything. What did family lifestyle mean? What would a welcoming home to gather family and friends look like? What kind of travel? How often? Who? Read what? Write what? Share how? With whom? And so on.

This exercise accomplished two things. It satisfied the part of me that loves the granular details and it gave space for a dream to be born. As I repeatedly asked, “What does this look like?,” the dream started to unfold. I could see exactly where all this was heading.

In the past, big goals had seemed somewhat obligatory. They were the things I was supposed to be doing: save this amount, buy the house, diversify your portfolio, achieve this revenue, accomplish these things. Arbitrary. This was different. This wasn’t a goal. It was a dream. The Dream. And it had been born from me, not from out there, not from others.

It became my fuel. My aspiration. My top priority.

Step four: From dream to calendar

I had a big dream but my head was most definitely not in the clouds. I was more focused than ever. More motivated. More excited. Devoted.

With The Dream as my top priority, life got a whole lot simpler. I evaluated everything against it. Does this idea/project/job/opportunity/expense support The Dream? Where can I focus my time and energy on a monthly, weekly and daily basis to move me closer to The Dream? The Dream showed up on my calendar and in my bank account — how I spent my time and how I managed my money.

If you’re interested in a system that shows you how to translate your top priority into your daily To Do I recommend The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Step five: Change as needed

Dreams that come from deep within us stand strong in the face of life’s ups and downs. But sometimes big changes happen. The ground shifts under you. It’s natural to want to cling tightly to your dream. It’s your stability in the storm. But I caution you not to hold on too tightly. Leave room for the possibility that your dream needs to shift too. I always go back to Chela’s question: In service to what?


The world tells us there are Dreamers and Doers and you clearly want to be a Doer. The dream can wait until you’re finished with the doing. I’m calling bullshit. Give yourself permission to dream, to find your dream. Then unleash it. Let it lead you. And watch in wonder as you become the kind of Doer you never thought possible.

Written by
Denise Cornell
Denise Cornell is a tech marketing veteran turned marketing consultant based out of Austin, Texas. She helps entrepreneurs to get cozy with their customers. But beyond this, she writes. She writes in service to the examined life, answering the creative call and her personal philosophy of Truth Over Strategy (which is also how she runs her business).

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