When your dream comes true, says Charles Handy, remember that you’ll have to do the work
We were having a celebration dinner. Our friend, David, had got what he long desired – a full professorship at his very prestigious American University. He was going to be the professor of Leadership Studies and we wanted to celebrate his success. He said, “thank you very much folks but the place is a shambles. I am going to apply some of my leadership ideas to putting it right.”
Sure enough, in due course he later became president of this great university. So we had another dinner to celebrate that.
But then everything started to go wrong. Apparently lots of the faculty resigned, the students revolted and the money ran out.
So we had another dinner to commiserate with him while he told us all the terrible stories.
Eventually one of us, Richard, said:
“I hate to say this, David. But the real trouble was you wanted to be president but you didn’t want to do president.”
The same could be said of many of our leaders around the world today. But also I suppose of me. One of my readers reminded me that I used to say, “what you are matters so much more than what you do”. I still believe that but I should have added: “the trouble is, what you do very much influences what you are.”
I see myself very much as a writer, or to be strictly honest, as a thinker, though that seems a bit over-the-top. “Charles Handy, the writer” is already engraved on my tombstone in Norfolk, waiting for my body. If I wasn’t writing or thinking about writing, I feel I wouldn’t be worth anything.
I exist in order to think in order to write. Take that away and I am nothing. “Nonsense,” my late wife, bless her, would have said. “You are still Charles Handy.”
Yes, but I am reminded of Voltaire, the French thinker and writer, who once said, at about my age, “I know that whatever I do will have no importance at all in the world but it is terribly important to me that I do it.”
I feel the same.
I know that my thoughts, including my Idler pieces, are no use to anybody (if anybody gets around to reading them), but they still are the reason I get up in the morning, useless though they may be to anyone else.
So thank you my friends for reading them – if you do. You are my excuse for living.
I am all in favour of ambition and dreams. Without ambition, there would be no change, no progress. So dream on, but when you get to the office that you dreamt of at the top of the hierarchy, just remember there’s an in-tray waiting for you, and you have to get round to doing it. So be careful what you wish for. Aim high, spend a moment to take in the view from the top, take a photograph for the family album but then turn to the in-tray. Unless you deal with it, you may find yourself sliding down the way you came up. Because your future will be defined by what you do, now that your dreams have become real.
Charles Handy’s books on management have sold over a million copies and have changed the way we view business and society. His latest book, 21 Letters, is now available in paperback and on audiobook. Read more here. Charles suffered a stroke in 2019 following the death of his wife in a car crash in 2018. This piece was dictated to his carer.