Josh Levs

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Josh Levs: Birth of my son made me see life in a new way

He says parents realize their dreams for children are more basic than career goals

Parents have to make tough tradeoffs, but they're not really sacrifices, he says

Editor’s Note: Josh Levs has covered a wide range of issues for CNN and the CNN Wire, including politics, technology and the changing role of fatherhood. He is father to two young boys. This column is adapted from his TEDxTalk, “Breaking the System to Achieve the Impossible.”

Atlanta CNN  — 

What’s the first dream you ever had?

When I speak to groups and ask people that question – and emphasize that I mean an aspirational dream, not one they had in their sleep – they often say they wanted to be firefighters or princesses. Or cowboys, or ballerinas. Maybe superheroes.

That’s what a lot of us think, because those are the oldest dreams we’re conscious of, the first ones we remember formulating.

But before that – before we ever imagined ourselves rocketing to outer space or drumming in a rock band – we had other dreams. The first ones we ever felt.

If we rediscover those, a lot of us, particularly those of us who are parents, just may find the “sacrifices” we make for family a lot easier to accept.

I rediscovered mine after my wife skipped labor and I had to guide my son into this world.

On the phone with 911, I unraveled the umbilical cord that was snaked all over his neck.

In that moment, I saw life – its fragility and its opportunity – in a new way.

As I wrote in my column, “what matters most – my real values and priorities – became crystal clear. Nothing else even existed.”

A lot of people have asked me about that. What did I see – and what didn’t I see?

When I was preparing to give a TEDx Talk about chasing big dreams, I realized the answer.

What I saw, in that moment, was my real first dream, and my son’s.

I live by my dreams. Throughout my career, instead of following traditional paths, I’ve come up with new ideas for what I wanted to do and found ways to make them happen.

I’ve been fortunate. Those dreams have brought me to the places I’ve wanted to be.

Everyone should chase big dreams. It brings a deep sense of satisfaction. And it makes the world better. We have advanced societies, stronger buildings to withstand storms, medical discoveries, technology, entertainment and so much more because dreamers pursued their visions and worked hard to make them happen.

But dream-chasing can also be addictive. Some people become so obsessed with making one idea happen that they stop focusing on what’s most important in their lives. They stop spending time with their families and friends. As with any addiction, they pay a price.

In the moment my son was being born, all my professional dreams ceased to exist. In that room, it was just the four of us – my wife, our then 3-year-old son, the baby, and me. Family and fatherhood were all I saw.

Life was shining a spotlight on my original dream.

The first dreams we ever had were to be held. And loved. And to explore this amazing world with love in our lives.

We dreamed of seeing, touching, and experiencing the world around us, with the happiness and comfort that comes from family.

As adults, many of us dream of building a family, and do so.

It’s the day-to-day realities that don’t always feel so dreamy. We get busy, exhausted, and overwhelmed. We’re changing diapers, cleaning up spills, searching for a jolt of caffeine to keep our eyes propped open until we can fall face first into a pillow.

Along the way, we sometimes see some work dreams take a back seat. We worry they may slip away, that we may never get back to them.

There are tough tradeoffs that moms and dads have to make every day. But since my son’s birth, I’ve stopped seeing those tradeoffs as sacrifice.

Because when we give up something for a time to make sure we’re putting enough focus into our families, we’re not giving up dreams. We’re committing to our biggest, deepest ones.

We’re prioritizing the dreams that make up who we are.

I hope you will chase your dreams. Trust your instincts to find them, and commit to them. Then, “be the cups and ice.” (To understand this, check out the video. It involves a brilliant clip from a classic sitcom.)

Make those dreams happen. And don’t let anyone make you think you can’t.

But along the way, keep in mind that the best, most amazing, most rewarding and, ultimately, most fulfilling dream is the first one we all ever felt.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Josh Levs.