A few months ago, I was sent a book by an amazing woman named Amy Jameson, who used to work with my mother and now has her own agency and editorial consulting firm. A good friend of hers had published a book Amy thought I would love, and so on a chance, she sent it to me. Dare, Dream, Do is my kind of book: filled with inspiring and poignant stories of real women facing real challenges and pursuing real dreams, uplifting and encouraging quotations (you know I ate those up!), and practical, detailed, compassionate advice about how to be effective and tenacious in realizing our dreams. I was thrilled when Whitney agreed to answer questions I posed to her about the nature of dreams and how best to achieve them, work/life balance, challenge and resilience, her own strategies for maintaining optimism, and what people, books, and quotations inspire her.
Whitney Johnson is the president and co-founder of Clayton Christensen’s investment firm Rose Park Advisors, and author of Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream (Bibliomotion, 2012). A former Institutional Investor-ranked sell-side analyst on Wall Street, Whitney is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, was recognized as a top ten blogger by Marcus Buckingham, and is one of Inc Magazine’s 12 People to Follow on Twitter in 2012. She also serves as a senior advisor to the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, and is the mother of two children.
Dare, Dream, Do provides a three-step model for personal advancement and happiness. Whitney first encourages us to DARE: to boldly step out, to consider disrupting life as we know it. Then she teaches us how to DREAM, to give life to the many possibilities available, whether to start a business, run a marathon, or travel the world. She shows us how to “date” our dreams (no need to commit!) and how to make space for dreams. Finally, Whitney’s model brings out the businesswoman in her; she teaches us to DO, to execute our dreams. She showcases the importance of sharing dreams with others to give them life, creating your own “dream team.” Rich with real stories of women who have dared to dream, DARE, DREAM, DO offers a practical framework for making remarkable things happen.
1) Tell us how you came to write your book, Dare, Dream, Do, and what you hope to accomplish with it.
When I took a sabbatical from Wall Street in 2005, I was brimming with confidence at having risen from secretary to award-winning stock analyst. Having discovered my dream could come true, I began to ask others, particularly women, about their own dreams. While many of these well-educated, eminently capable women confessed to not really having a dream, often there was an unspoken, “I’m not sure it is my privilege to dream.” Concerned, but mostly saddened, I knew I had to do something. To build the case that dreaming is an inalienable right. I began my Dare to Dream blog in 2006, which eventually became the inspiration for Dare, Dream, Do.
2) What are the greatest obstacles or roadblocks to doing what we dream? How can we overcome them?
Whether you are plagued by perfectionism, or riddled by self-doubt, there are a number of derring-do hacks. First, persuade yourself you have the right to dream. Second, throw out conventional planning because dreaming is discovery-driven. Third, go ahead and date some dreams, lots of them – you don’t need to commit to every dream you date. Dare to disrupt yourself. Dream your very own dream. Do.
3) What would you say to someone who insists he or she just doesn’t have the time or luxury to dream, let alone dare, or someone who claims dreaming is for impractical and self-indulgent romantics?
When we dream, we make meaning of our life, discover the essence of ourselves, truly grow up, and most importantly model for our children how to dream. As we focus on our ‘to-be’ list, rather than our ‘to-do’ list, research indicates we’ll actually get more accomplished. Dreaming then, is anything but a luxury or a lark for the romantic (though it is that too), but rather a productivity-maximizing tool for the pragmatist.
4) What personal dreams have you not yet realized? are there some dreams better left unrealized?
The right dreams expand our hearts, binding us to those we love. They also enlighten our minds, as in ideas begin to flow. If it feels right in both our heart and our head, the dream becomes delicious. I love that word delicious: delicious pineapple, strawberries, cherries, apricots. Delicious dreams.
As for my still to be realized dreams, I have the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of working with one of the world’s most innovative thinkers, Clayton Christensen: he knows — and has encouraged me in my dream to one day have my own venture capital (VC) firm. I also dream of producing a documentary.
5) What do you rely on in your daily life to help you stay focused and centered, to help you do what you dream of doing? for example, meditation, a spiritual practice, special diet, support groups, etc?
We believe within the context of our deeply held beliefs: I’m reminded of those beliefs when I pray either alone or with my family, read scriptures, go to church on Sunday, journal, walk/run outdoors alone or with friends.
6) Tell us about attending to multiple dreams, or multi-tasking. How can we achieve a more sane and fulfilling work-life balance? How can we pursue our individual dreams and still make time for our crucial relationships?
According to Jungian psychology, our psyche is made up both masculine (power) and feminine (capacity for love) components. In order to dream, we need to develop both sides of the psyche, to handle power and to love, to learn to be a ship and a harbor. To “have it all”. The question, to me, is less about whether we can have it all, but rather what our definition of ‘all’ is. If it is vital to be both ship and a harbor, it means we have to make choices. For women, the choices we face may feel Solomonic; we simultaneously feel the tug of our ship full of dreams while trying to keep one foot grounded on the dock of family life. But a choice we have to make, trusting that we’ll know which are the right dreams for us. And only us.
7) How would you define resilience? What do you think are some good strategies for becoming more resilient in the face of life’s inevitable challenges, difficulties, and hurdles?
When plagued by fear and perfectionism, resilience = “never, never, never, never giving up” to paraphrase Winston Churchill. It means when you come to a challenge, rather than sidestepping, you make meaning of that challenge, asking, what am I supposed to learn so that I can do what I’m supposed to do next. Resilience is behaving as if the biggest lesson we can teach the next generation is to let them see us our mistakes, and gradually shorten our recovery time, such that every time we fail, we fail forward.
8) Who inspires you? (this can include public figures, writers, and people in your personal life)
In the public sphere, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Barbara Corcoran, Brene Brown, Gretchen Rubin, Joanne Wilson. In my private life, I have a core group of girlfriends whom I adore, and with whom I find respite, and of course my husband, and my two children – they are my harborhaven advisors.
9) What are your favorite books and authors?
I started to think about my favorite books, but then I realized that if I start wracking my brain, for anything other than top-of-mind, then the book is probably not my favorite. So here goes: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Enders’ Game by Orson Scott Card, The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, Personal History by Katharine Graham, and of course the myth of Psyche.
10) What quotation would you use to summarize you and/or your positive, inspiring outlook on life?
“You can bet your life, and that, and twice its double, God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed.” These lyrics from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, encapsulate what I believe about your life and mine. Each of us is exactly where we are supposed to be. So we can learn what we need to learn, accomplish what we are meant to accomplish, help who we are supposed to help. Where we are, who we are, and what we do matters.