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Dream Big, Plan Smart: A Systematic Approach to Accomplishing Dreams

I’m a HUGE believer in taking Baby Steps to achieve Big Goals.

Because, Big Goals are be intimidating and can easily become daydreams, because we don’t know where to start.

So, sometimes, we never take action.

But, with a simple shift in mindset, a Big Goal can become just a series of small manageable tasks.

For example, My Child has a REALLY BIG GOAL for himself.

My Son’s REALLY BIG GOAL is to be “The First FAMU Head Drum Major on the Autism Spectrum.”

So, when he told his extremely pragmatic mom those exact words, as a freshmen in high school, I told him, “That’s a dream”.

Then, I explained to him that goals that are more than four years in the future are dreams.

Therefore, at the beginning stage of his journey, his really big goal is a dream.

Dreams are good to have. And, I want My Child to visualize his really big goal in his mind’s eye.

But, that’s where it should stay...for now.

He is not yet prepared to obtain that really big goal. Therefore, I don’t think it is a good use of time to focus on his really big goal, right now.

Because, he can’t do anything about that really big goal, today.

However, each day he wakes up with 24 hours in front of him and how he uses that time will determined if he is positioned to obtain his really big goal in the future.

He can work to increase the probability of his dream becoming a reality by ensuring he is prepared to turn his dream into a reasonably obtainable goal in the future.

Let’s, break that down.

When SDYM told me his really big goal, he was a freshman in high school.

Now, we all understand that a freshman in high school cannot be the head drum major of a world-renowned university band.

So, that’s a dream.

Therefore, I asked him, “What goal can you set now that will get you closer to your dream?”

He didn’t understand how to answer the question.

So, I had to simplify it for him.

I framed my simplified explanation by using the framework of Backwards Design, an instructional planning approach used in education.

Backward design involves starting with the desired end goal or outcome of learning and then working backward to design the curriculum and instruction to meet the objective.

So, I started with his dream (desired objective/outcome).

To be the first FAMU head drum major on the autism spectrum.

Then, I asked him, “What must you do before you can even audition to be a head drum major in The Marching 100?

After some discussion, he came to the realization that he must first be a drum major in The Marching 100.

Next question: What must you do before you can even audition to be a drum major in The Marching 100?

Again, after some discussion, he came to the realization that he must first be a member of The Marching 100.

Next question: What must you do before you can even become a member of The Marching 100?

With a little less discussion, he came to the realization that he must first be a student at FAMU.

Next question: What must you do before you can even become a student at FAMU?

He got the hang of it and told me he must first get accepted to FAMU.

BOOM!!!! We’re getting it!!

Next question: What must you do before you can get accepted to FAMU?

He answered, “Get good grades!”

Then, I added, the requirement of test scores, extracurricular activities, and civic contributions.

Now, we had something to work with.

So, I flipped it and made the last thing he said first and the first thing he said last.

1. Do exceptionally well in all domains of high school.

2. Apply and get accepted to FAMU.

3. Audition to join The Marching 100.

4. Audition to be a drum major.

5. Audition to be head drum major.

Next, I told him if he successfully completes all those things, then he will have positioned his future self to go after his Really Big Goal…his dream.


It doesn’t stop there. Because that is just a basic framework and it needed to be fleshed out into actionable baby steps.

So, I broke it down into levels.

Level 1: Grades, standardized testing, extracurricular activities, civic contribution, band camp, physical fitness, preparing an application for college, and acceptance.

Level 2: Freshmen in college, grades, living independently, physical fitness, being an excellent euphonium player, learning the band’s culture.

Level 3: Sophomore in college, grades, physical fitness, student organizations, accepting and thriving in band leadership responsibilities.

Level 4: Junior in college, grades, physical fitness, auditioning and becoming a FAMU Drum Major, thriving in band leadership responsibilities.

Level 5: Senior in college, grades, physical fitness, auditioning and becoming a FAMU Head Drum Major, thriving in band leadership responsibilities, preparing applications for graduate school, acceptance, and graduation.

He now understands that he is four or more years out from Level 5, which is the gateway to him realizing his dream.

So, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about being a drum major or head drum major at Florida A&M University.

Because that’s a dream. And, we have a plan with goals and an actionable baby steps.

I’ve told him we have to work our plan everyday, because a plan without action is daydream…and daydreams seldom come true.

Additionally, it’s very frustrating to focus on something that is so far out because it’s very difficult to measure progress.

And, without concrete evidence of progress, people can give up because it becomes difficult to continue to see their dream as obtainable.

Therefore, we live in Level 1, with the understanding that his future self will live in Level 5.

And, that’s the version of SDYM, who can audition to be a head drum major.

Future YOU!!!

But present you (Level 1) must work to master the requirements of Level 1 ONLY…those are your current goals.

So, right now, everything he does is to obtain the goals of Level 1.

Consequently, our energy and resources go into maintaining his high school GPA, practicing his music and artwork, test prep tutoring, contributing to his high school community, and training and conditioning to be an improved drum major in band camp.

He understands that his present self is doing work so his future self can have the opportunity to realize his present self’s dreams.

Additionally, I impress upon him that if he does not work to complete a level, there is a very slim chance that he will get to the subsequent level.

So, don’t focus on (daydream about) Level 5 and fail to complete Level 1.

With that, it has become relatively easy for him to maintain a high level of motivation, because he’s taking baby steps and receives immediate gratification, whenever he successfully conquers a baby step.

And, the greatest motivator in world is results!!!

While, I did this method of planning with My Child, it works for adults too.

Start with the end in mind.

Then, work your way back to your present self.

Next, flip the steps to create a framework to achieve your dream.

Finally, flesh out the framework by putting it into levels and creating detailed, actionable baby steps for each level.

Assess progress and tweak the plan as needed. BOOM!!!!

Since SDYM was three years old, he has recited the mantra, “I can be anything I want to be, if I plan and work hard!”

SDYM lives by that principle.

And, I tell My Son EVERY morning, “Make sure you give at least one gift to your future self today” to remind him that his future self needs his present self to show up and do the work, to ensure his future self has a shot at realizing his dreams.

We all deserve to have our dreams come true and live our Best Life.

So, what gift are you going to give your future self today to increase the probability of your dreams becoming reality?


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