Zak of All Trades: Follow your dreams, as long as they're ones worth following

Growing up, I wasn't much of a dreamer.

And by that, I don't mean that I didn't have all kinds of dreams — I wanted to be all sorts of things and go all sorts of places.

What I mean is that I never had — or more accurately, never remembered — dreams while I slept.

The few dreams that I did remember were ones that startled me out of a deep sleep, and those dreams were always terrifying.

I remember one of them that was recurring, and in that dream, I was
on a skateboard fleeing from this dark, mysterious figure.

This dream was odd to me for two reasons. First of all, I could never figure out who the figure was, even when I saw his face.

Oh, and secondly, I didn't know how to ride a skateboard, so I didn't know what that meant, either.

Luckily, that dream — or more accurately, nightmare — either faded into nothing or faded into my subconscious so deep that I don't notice I'm having it anymore.

But, needless to say, with this as my only real recollection of dreams while I was sleeping, I had decided that dreams were something I could do without — until, that is, I discovered the second definition for a dream: "a strongly desired goal or purpose."

Once I found out that dreaming was something that I could do and asso-
ciate with a positive tone, I had all sorts and kinds of dreams!

I dreamt of being President of the United States (a dream I'm glad
didn't come true now that I think of it); I dreamt of playing Major
League Baseball while I tossed the ball off my shed and missed grounder after grounder between my legs (a sign of why I didn't make it!); and I dreamt of a life where I lived "happily ever after" in all areas (a dream that's still playing itself out, though with more lumps along the way than I'd expected).

But dreaming — a word that had been associated with such negativity as a youngster waking from a nightmare — had a new tone, and it was a positive one.

I was able to make something out of my dreams if I was willing to put my nose to the grindstone and work hard.

I dreamt of being all sorts of things, but quite ironically, a writer was never really one of those dreams until I was in college.

I dreamt of being a teacher; I dreamt of working in higher education on a different level than teaching.

I had all kinds of dreams, and it felt good to dream, because these dreams were all good dreams to have.

I interviewed three different folks this week for feature stories — folks who I have known for a while and consider good friends — and as I was interviewing each of them, I realized that in the excitement they were showing, their dreams were coming true.

In their vocations, each of them had come to a point where they were able to look back and say, "Wow. My hard work and some doors opening at the right time have led me to this place. And even if it's not where I thought I'd be or how I thought I'd get here, this is a dream come true."

And their dreams are just getting started! Each one of them has just stepped into that realization, and living and dreaming big have become realities in the present, in addition to their desire to keep growing into that life.

Now, there's a caveat. If your dreams are the type that are "do what makes you happy" kind of dreams, I would encourage you to test and try those dreams first.

Our dreams should never become a stumbling block to someone else's pursuit of their own dreams just because we're dreaming them.

Many dream of being billionaires, while they don't realize the impact of the wealth disparity in a world that sees many suffer.

Many dream of reaching the top of the corporate ladder, but fail to take into account that there's a good, fair way to do so, cheating their way to the top.

Those aren't the kinds of dreams that I'm talking about. In fact, those are much more like the nightmares that woke me from a deep sleep when I was a child.

All dreams should be tested and tried. If the only reason my dream prevents someone from reaching his or her dream is because I got the job and they didn't, then that's not the kind of dream I want to have.

We should all have a fair pursuit of those dreams and remember that not all dreams are good dreams.

I told you before that I'd never dreamt of being a writer until college.

That's very true, and one day, out of the blue, in the middle of earning a math degree, the crazy thought "I should write a book someday" popped into my head.

Not knowing where the thought came from or what I'd ever write about, the thought was stored away as an odd, but very interesting one.

Three years later, the idea to write about the brokenness of humanity had come to mind, but I didn't know why. I even had a title: "in a cracked mirror."

But I had no outline. Then, after my grandpa got sick, I started putting together the book, which came to me in small pieces, and in the end, my first book — and my open door into the world of writing — came out as a tribute to his life.

This week, we celebrated my grandfather's birthday without him. And while we did, the fulfillment of that dream came to mind.

His getting sick was not the pathway I'd expected to follow to reach my
dream. That was more of a nightmare.

But out of the nightmare came a dream. Sometimes, dreams can bud out of the storms of the dark nights, too.

If you have a dream, test it and try it. And if that dream is one that is worth having, pursue it with everything you have.

Without dreams, we quickly fade into the night. The dark figure chasing us quickly catches us. But with them, there's a whole world that's been opened and revealed to us.

And if you're in the middle of a nightmare, keep on running from that dark figure. Whether you're scared awake out of the dream or you just end up outrunning him, it may be just what you need.

Even the dark nights can have gorgeous sunrises just around the corner.

If they couldn't, there'd be no use in dreaming.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit.