What Josh Kaufman taught me about growing dreams

During the past two months I’ve been privileged to write a number of stories about Blacksburg High School graduate and winner of NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ Josh Kaufman.

Prior to this if you’d asked me if I liked reality TV, I would have told you, “Yes. It’s called sports.” But once I began following Josh, that changed.

Part of this was because I got to know a large portion of his family and quickly realized they were all stellar individuals. Honestly, I probably wanted Josh to win more for them, as I did for him.

But another big part of my enjoyment stemmed from watching the realization of a dream occur before my eyes. There was just something about watching the 38-year-old father of three, who was working as an SAT tutor and playing local bars in Indianapolis before the show, finally obtaining his dream job that captivated me.

Dreams are powerful like that. They can motivate our efforts, fuel our work, and perhaps best of all, grow a sense of hope in our day-to-day lives.

I think God created us to have dreams, passions, and desires, for those reasons, as well as because he also knows the impact living out our dreams can have on the world.

So I took some time and thought about the things I’d learned while watching Josh turn his dream into his reality. Naturally, I put them in a list.

(Full disclosure: I’ve never had the opportunity to talk to Josh Kaufman about the majority of these subjects, so must of what you read is either my observations or things I’ve learned from his family. One day, however, I’d love to chat the dude up about all this though.)

1. Dreams have to be grown.

I think dreams are a lot like seeds. You can have a ton of them, but if you don’t treat them properly, they’ll likely never yield fruit. Growing dreams takes work and patients.

When I sat down with Josh’s mother and step-dad in March to talk about their son, it quickly became very clear Josh didn’t just decide to pick up a microphone and climb on stage the day he auditioned for ‘The Voice.’

He’d grown up performing and even appeared in three episodes of Star Search during his high school days at Blacksburg. While I don’t know all the specific details of his post-high school musical adventures, I do know he remained in pursuit of his dream and became a beloved regular at Chatterbox jazz club in Indy.

I’m sure there were times during this period when it was difficult to see past the daily grind. Heck, there were probably even time he thought the stage at Chatterbox might become his final landing spot. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that in hindsight, during that time, he was plowing a field, pruning crops, and growing his dream. I’m sure it was often fun, but I’m also sure it was work.

You have to put in that type of work if your dream is ever to become a harvest.

2. Don’t just grow your dream.

Dream are great, but they can also be dangerous.

Sometimes they can consume us to the point that we forget to also grow the other things we need to survive. It’s kind of like if a farmer focuses so hard on growing the perfect watermelon, he forgets about the beans, corn, and potatoes. Those might not win a prize at the county fair, but those are what you will sustain you.

During the times when I got to hang out with Josh’s family, the one thing his step-father always emphasized to me above everything else, was the priority Josh had placed on his wife and children. At times he seemed more impressed by that, than anything he’d seen Josh do on stage.

If you watched the show, that’s probably evident to you as well. When Josh won a car as a part of advancing to the finale, the first thing he said was that he had to call his wife to see which style the family could most benefit from and when he chose an SUV he commented that it was because the kids could all fit in it.

It’s clear the dude spent some time growing his family. It’s clear he spent time making sure those relationships were healthy. And it’s also clear to me that he very much enjoys what he’s grown in that area.

I mean, his step-dad showed me a photo of Josh braiding his daughter’s hair. Very few men braid hair minus an absolute love for the person whose hair they’re fixing up.

I don’t know this for certain, but I would wager a fair amount of money those are the relationships that sustained Josh when perhaps things weren’t going so great musically.

I do know, by way of his mom, that it was his wife who encouraged him last summer to go to an open audition for “The Voice.” So in reality, growing that relationship really became a game-changer for his dream.

Growing your dream is important, but never let it distract you from growing the other important things in life. Those are the things that sustain you while you work away at your dream.

3. Don’t fear harvest time.

With every dream comes opportunities to step up and make it a reality. Sometimes these opportunities are clear and sometimes they are a little bit fuzzy, but regardless, I think they are always a little bit scary.

Josh’s time came with this season of ‘The Voice’ and while I don’t know for certain how he felt about it, I’d guess there were at least a few moments it was a little daunting.

But every single time he took stage in front of a national television audience and four extremely famous performers, he did it with confidence.

Maybe it was because of the time he’d put in working on his craft. Maybe it was because he’d also grown his family and knew regardless the outcome that would sustain him. Again, I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that he stepped on stage in front of the world, again and again, and each time killed it in his own way.

When the dream is ripe and you have the opportunity to pick it, sometimes you have to put all doubts aside, step up, and snatch it.

4. Everyone’s harvest calender is different.

OK, so this one isn’t all that complicated. We live in a world where 13-year-olds are already building their resumes and if you’re not a success by 25, people start to ask why you’re throwing your life away.

There is no industry in which this is more evident than entertainment, so I’m guessing the line of people waiting to place bets on a 38-year-old dad having a breaking out on the pop music scene this year was pretty short.

But for Josh’s dream, this was the season for harvesting and his time for shining.

Don’t get caught up measuring the growth of your dream against the growth of other’s. Each dream has it’s own calender.


So those are the first few things I picked up about dreams while covering Josh this season, but I saved the most important for last. That’s why it doesn’t get a number, it gets to be the closer.

One of the most important things I think we need to remember about our dreams is that they aren’t just about us.

Over the past two months I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to that have been impacted by Josh’s success on ‘The Voice.’

Some knew him in high school, others knew his family members, and still others had no connection with him at all. Regardless, there was a commonality and a bond in the fact that what Josh was doing both excited and inspired them. You could tell in just talking with them, seeing the reality of his dream was not only bringing them joy, but was stirring their own passions.

I have no idea if what Josh did will change any of those folks’ lives, but if nothing else, for a brief moment, he caused them to believe that dreams could become reality.

That type of believe is powerful. The type of power that can not only change people, but can be used to change worlds.

Thanks, Josh.




About travman44

I work as a reporter for a newspaper in southwest Virginia. I play as a writer specializing in deep thoughts on shallow, and occasionally not so shallow, subjects. I'm also a former history teacher, bible college alum, and lover of the NBA and kids' breakfast cereals. It's a delicate blend. -- @TravisKWilliams on Twitter
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