Dream Big or Stay Grounded

In 2009, I went to my very first writing conference. I sat in a banquet hall in Denver, surrounded by hundreds of other writers, listening to Debbie Macomber give the key note speech. She talked about dreaming big.

It was 100% inspiring. 

Now here I am, three years later, on the cusp of my first ever book release. Wildflowers from Winter hits shelves in twenty-one days (insert hyperventilation here). And most of the time, I find myself playing the part of a giant pendulum.

Swinging back and forth.

Picturing a career like Karen Kingsbury one minute. Grounding myself in reality the next. Climbing imaginary ladders that reach into the stars. Then curling up into a ball on the ground, afraid to dream of anything remotely grand.

I won’t lie. 

The balance between dreaming big and staying realistic is not an easy one to maintain. 

On one hand, it’s important to dream big.

Because big dreams inspire us to reach for something higher than ourselves. Big dreams motivate us to work hard. Big dreams fill us with excitement and possibility.

You don’t accomplish big things by dreaming small. 

But on the other hand, big dreams can be dangerous. 

Because those dreams can set us up for disappointment. They can lead to discontentment and disillusionment. They can become idols.  

So what’s a writer to do? 

Rachelle Gardner told me something once that really stuck with me. It was at the 2010 ACFW conference. We were having a little chat and I remember her saying this:

Big dreams are great. It’s when those dreams become expectations that we get ourselves into trouble.

Let’s Talk: How do you maintain this balance? Are you more prone to dreaming big or are you more prone to staying grounded?

Julie Cantrell is interviewing me on her blog today. Stop on over and leave a comment for a chance to win an advanced copy of my book!

29 thoughts on “Dream Big or Stay Grounded

  1. Kathy B

    Love this post, as it reflects so many of my own questions. Being in Christian environments, we’re so often pressed to believe that God is going to do ‘beyond the impossible’ with us if we have enough faith. And the expectation comes that if he’s in this, great success will surely follow. Yet…biblically, there are also stories where the God-following experienced failure. (Of course, not with your book!) On a side note, I really like the dress the girl in the picture is wearing, and I kind of want to tell her to please stop lying in the mud. It looks like dry-clean only.

  2. I am definitely one of those reach for the sky types. And I agree that dreaming big, while motivating for an overachiever like me, can also be heartbreaking. And I have been broken before. But that is when we need to trust God with our dreams. After all, he put them there to begin with, he knows what to do with them. Loved this post, Katie!

  3. I loved that conference! Do you remember the little yellow cue card she had us fill out with 5 goals. I pulled mine out last week and check-marked #4. It was cool to see how they were each reached in God’s time…I did what I could to attain them (finish the mss, make them the best they could be) and then waited on the Lord for the rest. Thank you for sharing Rachel’s wise counsel. I don’t ever want to lose the wonder of seeing dreams come true.

  4. Jennifer Major

    Have you ever seen a redwood tree? They grow BIG. But their cones are the size of a thumbnail AND growth will only occur if the cone is exposed to fire. Not heat, but fire. Flames are what refines the cone to grow as high as the sky. Reminds me of refiner’s fire in us. Our dreams are given by God, and no one understands a creative mind like the Creator Himself. We may feel the flames, but just think how big our dreams and gifts will take us when we surrender to His will.

  5. Oh wow, that quote is 100% awesomeness. I think I might print it and frame it. 🙂

  6. Love this, Katie. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned something about big dreams: many times they don’t look like what I thought they would – less glitter & glitz according to the world’s standards – but in God’s economy they are grander than I could have imagined. Whenever lives are touched for eternity, whether through something we’ve written, done or said, that’s huge. And truth is, we’ll never know this side of eternity how big they really are. A seed planted here, another planted there, can take root and reach farther than we could ever hope or imagine. Kind of like your Wildflowers from Winter. 🙂

  7. I like to dream big with my feet firmly planted on ground. I dream of being a full-time writer, but I know it’s not possible yet. I dream of my books changing lives. I may never that answer. I dream big for my family, but keep my expectations in check.

    I totally hear you about the pendulum of emotions. Been there. Holding your debut novel in your hands is an amazing feeling. Don’t let the enemy destroy God’s work in your life.

    So thrilled for you, Katie!

  8. do you remember her index card exercise? write 5 things down that you’d like to see happen? i still have that index card. what’s amazing is that many of your items have come/are coming true!

    now if i could just get ted dekker to give me his freakin’ manuscript to edit….and thanks a lot to allen arnold for leaving me high and dry…..*sigh*

  9. Maria

    Love that quote from Rachelle Gardner. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. I’m naturally a pretty grounded person, but writing dreams sure are a lot of fun. I just commented on Jaime’s blog that I try to hold my writing career in open hands. This way God can pour out more or He can take it all away. I’m not always great at keeping myself from trying to grab hold of it, but that’s my goal.

  11. I’m so glad you mentioned the pendulum. It’s something I often use as a symbol with my kids when explaining the danger of extremist thinking. Not to say that we can’t have big dreams or anything, but we also have to recognize our limits (as other commenters have said). It also doesn’t mean we’re destined to end up in the middle of the pendulum’s range, but rather, we’ll swing high and other times low, but with God as the maker of our pendulum’s range of motion, we’ll always be exactly where He ordains us to be. 🙂 And I don’t think it’s a point to “reach” either; it’s all an ongoing process of learning to hear His will for our lives.

  12. Connie Read Burris


    Great post about dreaming Big!

    Thanks for sharing the story of your writer’s journey from first writers conference to published author. It is exactly what I needed to hear today.

  13. Hey! It’s the second blog on dreaming I’ve read today AND the chapter in my devotions this morning was called Elegant Dreams. Yes, God, I’m listening.

    I’m a big dreamer. I love what you said Rachelle said, though…keeping dreams from becoming expectations. I mean, I think we can always expect God to do awesome things. We can expect Him to have an awesome plan. But we can’t expect that His plan is always going to perfectly match our plan. And that’s when I get into trouble. So, I want to dream big, but expect God…

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Love these thoughts, Melissa.

      We can always expect God to do BIG things. Amazing things. We just don’t always recognize them when they’re happening.

  14. Oh good topic and one I blog about regularly! I’ve learned the hard way that when my dreams become expectations I get hurt and disappointed. Do that over and over again and you eventually learn to be hopeful without too many expectations because ultimately God is in control. You can only do what you can do which for me is write and be genuine in my online relationships and the rest will come in time…not my time, but God’s!

  15. Jennifer Major

    At first, our “what if’s” are the size of a grain of sand. But then the “what if’s” gather and stick together, then we have a beach. Add some hopeful sunshine? We have ourselves a place of beauty and the “what if’s” have turned into a big dream and place where everyone wants to be.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Now if we could all get there….

  16. I’m a dreamer and a fighter. I like to achieve my dreams. I’ve been told my whole life that I can do anything I want to do. But I’m beginning to understand a new reality: that some things are just out of my control. But that’s OK…because they’re under God’s control.

    Thanks for the honesty you always show here!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      It’s a big comfort knowing God’s sovereign, isn’t it? We should give it our best and keep that truth close to our heart.

      Thanks for being equally honest in your comments. 🙂

  17. I find that expectations are a continual wrestling match for me. If I don’t keep an eye on ’em they can get the best of me. And having a reliable “safety net” of friends who help me stay grounded — and remind me of the truth & the Truth — that makes all the difference.

  18. I know what it’s like to get a little carried away by “What if …?”Following that thread of thought can suck breath out of me. Usually all it takes to bring me back to reality is the jelly stuck on the kitchen counter that no one has wiped up, or the heap of stuff on top of the dryer that no one ever deals with. The glamorous life of a writer.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Yep! Me too. Reality is crumbs on the counter and a three year old who might as well be a tornado.

  19. I GET this. 😉

    We are such tweezers today…both quoting our agent extraordinaire. 😀

    I feel like there’s this wild fight that takes place inside me. Discouragement rears up. But then faith and hope smack it down. All the while I’ve locked entitlement in a cage and I’m feeding expectation only enough to keep it alive.

    ~ Wendy

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Yes – entitlement. Keeping that puppy locked up is key! Love the imagery here, Wendy.

  20. I am dreaming big for you too! I will ditto everything Keli said…she says everything so well!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      That’s because Keli is awesome! I can’t wait to read her book when it comes out this July!

  21. I am a huge advocate of big dreams. If nobody had dreams to chase after, nothing would change really. Many of us dared to dream of being published one day. What if we had listened to that voice inside our head that told us it was just a dream and would never happen? Discernment comes when we separate our ‘fun’ dreams from real dreams. Sure it’s fun to fantasize about becoming a best-selling author, but realistically, that doesn’t happen to everyone. Would it be great to have your book made into a movie? Sure, but realistically… So I don’t make my fun dreams goals. My goals are things I can try to accomplish, like landing a contract with a bigger publisher, selling more copies of my next novel, establishing myself as a known author within CBA with a strong reader base…those things are possible, not entirely out of reach. Getting a call from Steven Spielberg’s office? Not so much. 🙂 But I will hold onto that little dream anyway, just for the fun of it.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      You make really good points here, Cathy. Have big dreams, but set realistic, challenging goals that we can strive toward. I like that balance.

  22. I empathize, Katie. Emotions run high the closer a release date gets. Not only that, but they can fluctuate as quickly as a twister can change direction.

    I can understand your reluctance to dream big dreams for your book, but I’m dreaming some for you. I’ve read your story, and I know how good it is. You’ve got oodles of talent and a real gift for putting a lot of heart in your work.

    I anticipate a flood of rave reviews and brisk sales that will make your publisher happy. More important, though, I feel certain Wildflowers from Winter is going to touch lives in profound ways and convey the love of the Lord to those who desperately need it.


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