The Duty, the Dream, and the Difference

by  Glen Gaugh  |  Self Leadership


There is a graveyard of dreams out there, where abandoned ambition has breached its hull on bare rocks and run aground, never to be sea-worthy again. But we aren’t going there. No, the conversation I hope to have is a little more nuanced than that.

There are the doldrums of duty, in which the repetitive and repressive are a perpetual motion machine that becomes the norm, and is accepted because what you’re doing is important and necessary and must be done by somebody. But we aren’t going to loiter here. No, the place at which we need to arrive hints more at significance than this state of mind does.

There is dissonance that screeches out from between the touching points of dream and duty, cringe-inducing dissonance that you notice from time to time in silent moments when you ask yourself, “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I capable of more? Has my ship sailed? Is it too late? Where do I go from here?”

When the dream looks more like an end result you are attaining to, and less like a station in life you are trying to reach, then you can be content in the way you are bringing about the dream right now, whether you are inspiring large crowds or cleaning a toilet.

When the duty is recognized as a launch pad for new and exciting ways to achieve change and add value, rather than the place you are stuck until X, Y, and Z can happen to move you up the ladder, then you can be enthusiastic and open to the possibilities as they present themselves.

Perhaps your present situation is just a transitional phase on your way to something greater. Or maybe, due to conscious choices or uncontrollable situations, you wish you could retrace your steps and create a totally different life than the one you are living now. The dissonance will ease when you are able to:

  • Reconcile the difference between the duty and the dream
  • Find contentment
  • Recognize the true impact of your work
  • Stay open to the possibilities
  • Add value to what you are doing and the people you are working with, and
  • Live up to the potential that you know is inside you.

Is there a difference between what you are doing, what you want to do, and the impact you hope to make in life? Can you see the significance of where you are and what you are doing right now? What must change about your situation or your mindset to reduce the dissonance and help you make the greatest impact in your profession and your life?

Photo: Glen Gaugh, 2012

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Jon Mertz  |  12 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Glen, This is such an important question to answer: ” Can you see the significance of where you are and what you are doing right now?” At times, we lose sight of where we are in relation to what we are striving toward. At other times, we may determine we have lost our way and need to determine how to make the adjustment. Great sentiment within your post, which we need to stop and think about…. Thanks. Jon

Glen Gaugh  |  12 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Thanks, Jon. It’s a place I have been in, probably most have been in- where doubt may threaten potential if not compared with reality. Most of us can do more good where we are personally and professionally if we take a hard look at what holds us back. And maximizing our potential where we are can propel each one of us forward. Again, thanks for the comment and the support.

Christina Lattimer  |  13 Oct 2012  |  Reply


I love the picture your writing paints in a way which so aptly describes (for me) those moments when I’m doubting my path and my choices. There is a problem with dreaming about the future and reviewing the past (although I do this a lot :)) in that the past is no longer relevant and in the future you never know truly what life is going to bring. For me the reconciliation is how you feel in the moment. If its not a good place to be then you need to ask “what will make me feel love, joy and gratitude” and aim for that. And being aware though its never external stuff which gets you there, its your inner dialogue and you can be doing the least fulfilling job ever and still feel all right with the world, but it takes some practice. Thanks again Glen.

Glen Gaugh  |  13 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Thanks for your transparency and your insight! This post was an attempt on my part to express a little bit of where I’ve been recently in a unique way, so it was a little tough, being vulnerable like that. But I think it is a condition many leaders have in common, and I’m glad it resonates with you! I always enjoy your comments!

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