On my left is a cliff that drops 500 meters. On my right, another which drops even farther. The knife’s edge ribbon running along this ridge is a single-lane road, no wider than our van, and with no significant barriers. One wrong twist of the steering wheel would send us all careening into the ether and a long, silent drop to the rocks below.
The island is Madeira, and rising steeply above the city of Funchal are little villages, carved into the steep, volcanic mountain ridges. Many houses are so inaccessible that their owners must walk scores upon scores of switch-backed steps to get to their homes. Nothing goes up or down that cannot be carried on one’s shoulders.
And yet, among all of this impossible terrain are small villages and communities. Roads carved out of volcanic rock, levadas, or water troughs, bring water from the mountains to the people below. Even the rustic, straw-roofed huts have indoor plumbing, and electricity is abundant.
How could such civility be created in this foreboding terrain? How could these complex stairs, roads and connections have come to be? How could the mountain cliffs have become covered with homes from which a step off a porch could mean a step to one’s death?
The answer is simple: not all at once.
When this island was discovered in 1419, it’s unlikely that the explorers looked up to the tree-covered cliffs and saw a future civilization of such complexity and abundance. It would have seemed impossible at the time. Still, that didn’t keep some from dreaming.
Personal goals are often like that. We create a picture of how things might be some day: a bright and shining city on the hill. But then reality sets in and slams its thick iron door on the image. You come to believe that it really was a pipe dream. It was too big, too impossible, too unrealistic to share comfortably with others.
But wait a moment. The island of Madeira wasn’t created overnight. These roads, terraced hillsides and homes weren’t built in a day. They came as a result of many smaller dreams. One dream on the next. One stone on the other. One shovelful at a time.
And without their dreams, I’d be sweltering among nothing but laurel and mahogany trees as I write this.
My hope is that you will allow your biggest dreams all the room they need to grow. Don’t let the huge iron door of “reality” keep you from seeing them come to fruition.
Dream your dreams. Then get started with the first step. Then the next. Then the next. Before you know it you’ll be at the top of your mountain, looking down on what would have seemed an impossibility.
How do big dreams happen? Not all at once. They come to be as the result of many smaller dreams, many “possible” dreams which inched their way toward the inevitable reality which you created, and kept alive all along.