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A song from the faraway days of my youth urged us to "dream a little dream for me." How many of us had great dreams in our youth? I did. Perhaps you did too.
As keeper of the class records for the Combined Freehold Regional High School Class of 1965, I know that at least 35 of my classmates have gone on to their reward. They were people who had goals and dreams. Some died far too soon to make any progress toward their goals. Others were on the way, but then left us too soon. For the rest of us, the journey continues.
Think back to your days in high school. Think back to that joyous moment when you finally graduated. Did not the world seem to lay out in front of you like a vast, uncharted plain? That is the way I remember that time.
As a youngster, I hoped to be an Army officer. I wanted to follow my military service years with a stint in law school, then perhaps return home and practice law. It was a nice little dream that I created during my senior year in high school. It was the dream I took to Philadelphia, where I began my studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to my future. I flunked out of Penn. This was not a good thing at the height of the Vietnam War. In fact, it was considered a one-way ticket to Vietnam. To me, it seemed as though a wooden stake had been driven through the heart of my neat little dream.
As I look back, that dream now seems strangely odd and unfulfilling. Did my failure stop me from dreaming? Not on your life.
From the moment I entered the recruiter's office in Asbury Park, NJ, in June 1966 until now, I have been privileged to live a life that has been almost dream-like. I wanted to become a fireman; I became a fireman (of course, later I became a firefighter). I wanted to be a fire chief; I became a fire chief. I wanted to be a college graduate; I did. My educational success has been beyond my parents' wildest dreams. I wanted to marry Jackie Miller of Adelphia; after years of hoping, dreaming and scheming, we were married. She and I wanted children; we have three great kids.
It's easy to skip over the hard work, road blocks, bad bosses, and other miscellaneous disappointments and setbacks I faced, but I got to where I am today because I set goals and created plans to reach them. I persevered in the face of controversy and pushed on when people told me that I could not. This too should be your plan.
I am a dreamer. I revel in this approach to life. I think there is a better world out there for our fire service, and I want to help us all reach that world. I suggest that you need to be a dreamer to succeed in this world. Let me suggest to you that if you are a leader, you need to create an organization of dreamers around you if your organization is to succeed.
According to the Reverend Scott Brown of the Colts Neck Reformed Church in New Jersey, five types of dreamers exist in our world. You need to understand them and learn to work with them. You need to nurture and cultivate them so that they can strengthen your organization.
Scott spoke of people who have no dreams. He suggested that they grew up without love and guidance. They were never taught that they could have dreams. There are people who have been so beaten down by the ways of the world that they feel that there is nothing at all for them to dream about. These people exist within your organization and you need to help them. Support, nurture and guide them. These folks may then become more productive. You should live a life that serves as an example of what hope and dreaming can bring. This is not easy, but it can be extremely rewarding.
Those in the next category have a low level of dreams. They usually live day to day and believe that they should not expect much out of life. This sort of behavior comes from experiencing disappointments early in life. They just stop setting high goals. This lets them avoid failure and live comfortably average lives. They get things, but not great things.