Do – Do Not Just Dream

Much is said, written, and pushed about “goals.” That is good, as far as it goes. People and societies advance – at any age – only with goals. But goals alone – without the resolve to work for them – amount to an unread book, unridden bicycle, unworn shoes, of little use. To dream is common; to realize a dream divine.

Years ago, a friend encouraged me to run – just try. I admired epic runners like Roger Bannister who broke the four minute mile, John Landy who once rescued a fallen runner and won the race, Billy Rogers a New England kid who blew the doors off the Boston marathon.

So, I tried. I ran a mile. I hated it. I had a stitch in one side, decided this was not for me. The friend came back. “If you want to be a runner, you have to condition, it hurts. Then, one day, you will find, if you stick with it, you will love it. Give it … two weeks.”

I groaned. Not wanting to be a quitter – another expectation worth re-upping – I said to myself, “Okay, why not, suffer two weeks for the satisfaction of telling him I did it, and not for me.”

So for two weeks, I set an alarm, got up, shuffled a mile, and called it done. The dream of being as happy as Bannister, Landy, or Rogers – tough on the road, tough on myself – was a distant thing, out of mind, my whole focus just surviving those breathless steps to complete one mile.

On the night of the 14th day, a weird thing happened. Headed to bed, glad to be done with something I hated, able to say “I tried” … something happened. My inner ticker, something way deep down, stopped me.

It caught me and asked, “Not setting the alarm?” Silently I said, “No,” and went to bed. Could not sleep. “What the heck?”  I rolled over, set the alarm, thought “what’s one day?”

Next morning I ran, not because I had to, but because I weirdly wanted to. I did that the next and next. Soon, I was testing two miles, oddly happy in the accomplishment. I had no speed, legs hurt, but … something was changing. I could feel it.

What was changing was this: I had nursed a crazy vision, the endurance and enlivening contentment of people like Bannister, Landy, Rogers, also Shorter, Prefontaine, and Liddle … They obviously loved running. I had only imagined loving running.

But in just two weeks, something – a tiny brushfire – caught inside me. After two weeks, I felt the flicker of something. I had not the heart to abandon that flicker, to just let it go out.

That little flicker is the feeling you get when you make little steps toward a dream, when you resolve to DO, not just THINK about doing, when you dig, grab the thing that was lying there all along, resolve to lift it, heave it up, and get it in motion – when you resolve to DO it.

By college, the flicker had grown strong, was generating warmth, feeding other needs, making me better, able to take the heat, convert pain, produce things by doing. What I once hated, I now needed. My friend was right.

For 1000 days in a row, snow or sun, I ran – never missed a day, shuffling if sick, doing. Crazy? Maybe. Why? Wanted to see if I could. “Doing” was now firmly lashed to dreaming.

Dreams, goals, whacky ideas were now something different. Having seen “doing” produce an outcome, watching the “doing” multiply, my whole attitude evolved. “Doing” was the key.

Rather than trying to avoid “doing” I looked for excuses to do. The limit became the dream, imagining the goal, not the resolve to do a thing I could imagine. And so it went.

At 20, I ran my first marathon, respectable – not Billy Rogers, but filled with contentment. Then I ran another dozen, in the French Alps, India’s heat, subzero in Maine. The contentment once imagined, now came. For a time life was defined, got its texture, from the daily crunch of shoes on gravel, in early morning light and blackest night.

Running – something I had vehemently not wanted to do – pushed open a giant door. Suddenly, I saw the big picture, knew how to do. So, to dream is fine, but to do is what counts.

In an age of distraction and diffraction, encouraged to live fantasies not by doing but imagining we are doing, one truth will hold. The future does not belong to the weak, but to the bold. It is not the dreamers, but those who lash their dreams to hard work – doing – who own the future.

And the future they own, will be the one they make. Just as the future we own is the one we make, not by imagining what could be – but by seizing the moment and making it so. Most good things take time and to dream is fine – but to rise and fight, gut it out, win the day, feels divine.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman2 for AMAC.

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