BEHIND THE BOOK
The Power of Knowing What You Want: Dare to Dream, and Dream Big.
I’m not really one for New Year Resolutions. I figure if there are life changes big enough to need a resolution I’m kind of kicking myself in the teeth by waiting until a specific date to begin them.
But I am really big on reflection.
There’s a ritual I follow each year as the calendar gets close to clicking over. Not that January 1st is a particularly special day but because the New Year works quite well for a reference point.
I don’t know how this tradition started exactly. I believe it was a result of reading “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen in which, if my foggy memory serves correct, they wrote about the power of allowing yourself to dream, and to dream without limits or reservations or the self-censoring expectations of having to figure out how to fulfill those dreams. They encouraged making a list of a hundred wants.
Far, far in the back of my notebooks is a handwritten list of wants that I wrote in 2004. That was the first I'd ever done.
I’d only been back in the United States about a year at that time, trying to establish a foothold on this thing called “real life.” My then husband and I were still fairly fresh out of the apocalyptic cult into which we’d been born and raised. We’d both been deprived of an education beyond 6th grade and had entered life cold, without any of the social structure or cultural and life awareness that most people in industrialized countries take for granted as part of just growing up. We had no work history, credit history, rental history—you get the idea.
As I’ve written elsewhere, "at that time, life being what it was, it was difficult, very difficult, to mentally project time forward to the point where I could see anything beyond the meager life we lived, beyond the struggle to get on our feet. In every way, life was an enormous challenge, and sometimes it felt as if that challenge swallowed me and became a symbol of what forever would be."
In that place of lack—lack of experience, lack of life, lack of money, lack of awareness of what possibilities lay ahead—writing a list of “wants” was a stretch—in fact, even wanting was such a stretch that the list that was supposed to reach 100 stopped at 21. Some of those wants were pretty lame, too, like “having all the pots and kitchen utensils we need.” That sort of gives an idea of how rough things were at the time.
By 2005 I’d gotten a little better at the whole concept of “wanting” and “dreaming” and finally grasped that it didn’t have to be realistic. Oh boy, didn’t it because I put some really outlandish stuff on there like, “become famous” (I blush as I write this, I don’t know what the heck I was thinking—maybe it was a throwaway to fill the list—but yes, I really wrote that down). The list of 100 had grown to a whopping 62. I’d gotten rid of some of the lame ones, but not all. Mixed in among the truly grandiose were plaintive cries such as, “to be able to afford DSL or cable for the internet,” that spoke to how rough things still were financially.
I wrote these things down, stuck them in a folder and forgot about them. But the experience of figuring out what mattered to me—what I really, really wanted, what I would ask for if a genie came along and granted 100 wishes, gave me a lot of clarity as to where I should focus my energy.
Life went on. I stumbled across these two lists a couple of years later and realized something quite astounding: Without ever having gone back to reread them or to work to make the wants happen, many things had gone from dreams to reality. Not the grandiose ones, obviously, but many of the simpler ones that at the time of writing had seemed as equally absurd.
Those lists and the experience of gaining clarity and vision morphed into what happened next: On New Year’s Eve of 2007 I sat down and typed out what I wanted for the next year in regards to work, family, relationships, health, and such. Unlike the original lists, these weren't dreams for one day or if I won the lottery, they were specifically for the coming year. And they definitely weren't goals or so called New Year’s resolutions because many of them were things over which I had absolutely no control other than to want them. This was pure dreaming, but for the short term. And then, as I’d done with the earlier lists, I typed out life as I wished it could be, and forgot about it.
The next December 31st, before I set out to articulate what was in my deepest heart of hearts for 2008, I looked back over the dreams for the prior year and experienced a bit of the same surprise as I had the first time: without ever having gone back to relook, wants had become a reality. Not all of them, of course, but many—and as with those original lists, a few that had seemed too outlandish to be possible had also materialized.
Even more, in reflecting back on those wants of the year prior, I grasped how easy it is to forget. Days turn into weeks, and months, and time marches on and blends all together and muddies memory and clarity. But in one long moment of reflection on what I'd written this same time last year, I was suddenly aware of how much had CHANGED; how much I had changed; how much what I thought mattered and was important had changed. The written documentation of wants had become, not only a testament to the fulfilment of desires, but a snapshot of who I was when I wrote that list. Knowing that one day, years from then, I’d probably return to read through it again and all I’d remember was what was written on the page, I documented want vs. reality and wrote the details of what had actually happened during the space of those 365 days.
Then I went on and dreamed for the next year and that became a ritual. Every December 31st, I open up the list of desires I wrote the year prior. I go back and look, and I find things I don’t even remember writing but which have happened, and discover amazing joys, and hopes that came close, if not exact, and sometimes things I thought I really wanted, but didn't, and of course the dreams that didn't materialize as I'd wished--sometimes there are those, too. I document it all, matching the past with the present, and then dream again for the coming year and close the book.
These want pages now document nearly a decade’s worth of change. They've gotten a lot more detailed over the years. They stretch for more of what's impossible and leave the possible alone. They're more specific, too. I occasionally go back and read from years past and shake my head in wonderment at the me then vs. the me now; at the life then and the life now. Sometimes I wish I would have been brave enough to want bigger things, more specific things, and stretched my imagination further—not because I have some magical power or magical pen that makes things put down on paper come true, but because of the magic that comes from truly understanding what the heart wants and then articulating and visualizing those desires.
I've learned that it's impossible to get what you want if you don't know what that is.
I want to give one specific example of the type of “magic” that can come through knowing, articulating, visualizing, and then letting life sort out the details--it’s the most extreme example I have though not nearly the most specific:
On the list of 2011 wants, which was after print rights to THE INFORMATIONIST had been purchased but before the book had been published, I wrote that I wanted the film rights to sell to an “A-list production company” for “the big screen (not made for TV, not direct to DVD).” To put this into perspective, I didn't even know if the book would sell on paper much less if anyone would want to make a movie of it. In retrospect it’s all “well, duh,” but at the time this want was neither realistic nor possible yet I dreamed of selling film rights, and I dreamed of selling them to an A-list production company for a big screen movie, and so that’s what I wrote down.
In reality, THE INFORMATIONIST received some A-level interest in 2011, but nothing that came to fruition. Rather, a number of solid film offers came in from reputable but smaller production companies. I was still so broke and needed the film option money bad, bad, bad. It absolutely killed me to turn those offers down, but I did because I knew what the dream was and those offers didn’t match it. I didn’t know if I’d ever get what I wanted but I knew that if I said yes to anything less, then the real thing would never happen. As far as this want, this dream, 2011 was a total bust.
I put it on the dream list again for 2012 and it seemed even less realistic the second time around because by then the big wave of interest had died and now all I was hearing was chirps and crickets. I figured this would keep coming back as a dream year after year until I died or until I got what I wanted, whichever came first. And holy crap, if the very end of 2012 didn't bring an offer from Lightstorm Entertainment, the A-list of all A-list production companies which belongs to James Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau.
A few years later when we had the opportunity to meet in person, Mr. Cameron told me that he’d discovered THE INFORMATIONIST in an airport bookstore and hadn’t expected the rights to be available because, typically, by the time a title has gotten that far there’s nearly always an option on it already. There would have been, too, had the previous offers not been turned down—and based on how broke I was at the time, those decisions could have easily gone otherwise had it not been for so clearly understanding the want and holding on to it.
And so once again we come around to December 31st, and no matter what other celebrations are afoot I’ll find time to pull out the binder and go over the wants of the year past, and reflect on what came to be, and I'll want and dream again for the future, and write it all down.
As we head into the New Year, I encourage you to think about this coming year, think about where you are—your struggles, your blessings, your dreams, your fears—and stretch forward into the great unknown. Dare to know your wants, to dream your ideal version of what might happen with those same struggles and blessings and fears, and then be that much braver and write them down. There’s nothing to lose, no possibility of failure, the worst that can happen is that you don’t get what you already don’t have but with the added benefit of being able to look back in amazement at the progress you've made in those 365 days.
Taylor Stevens is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling novelist who—by odds and expectations—should never have become either successful or published. Like many aspiring authors Stevens had no credentials or platform, and no direct route into the publishing world. But, unlike most, she was also limited by a life of cultural isolation and a sixth-grade education.
Born into an apocalyptic cult and raised in communes across the globe, Stevens grew up as a child laborer, cooking and cleaning for up to a hundred at a time, caring for younger commune children, or out on the streets begging on behalf of commune leaders. Books, movies, music, and pop-culture from the outside world were strictly forbidden, and she finally gained unlimited access to fiction after returning to the United States in her early thirties. Her books have since been published in over twenty languages, with The Informationist optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.