A dream that brought me to tears…

In last week’s newsletter I shared with you the 10 lessons I’ve learned from living & working in Hollywood for twenty years (here’s the newsletter if you missed it). I’m warning you in advance that today I’m getting heavy and digging into existential “meaning of life” kinda stuff. So if you’re expecting super light reading for your Monday, this isn’t it.

I’m happy to share with you all the tactics, strategies, and mindsets that I’ve developed over the years to get healthier, become more productive, and pursue meaningful creative work (without sacrificing my sanity in the process), but ultimately all of that is in service of one thing:

→ Helping you design a life that matters.

And while I may not have discovered the meaning of life, per se, I feel like in a recent dream the meaning of my own life became crystal clear…

I Woke Up In Tears…

Recently I awoke from a dream in tears (and this isn’t a dramatization, this is exactly how it happened), a dream that was so vivid I could’ve sworn it was real.

In the dream it was early Christmas morning and I had just woken up (still in the dream) to realize that I had forgotten to do my “Santa duties” the evening before. Literally nothing was ready under the tree for my kids. But that’s not why I was in tears.

I wasn’t in tears because I forgot to put the presents under the tree the night before.

I wasn’t in tears because I forgot to create a trail of “snow” from the chimney to the tree (“snow” created with flour, which btw my wife LOVES to clean up the next morning).

I wasn’t in tears because I forgot to put out my homemade peanut butter cookies (or at least the crumbs…you can guess what happened to the rest).

I was in tears because I realized my kids didn’t believe in Santa anymore. They were still asleep.

But to be honest that wasn’t even the saddest part of the dream.

The saddest part of the dream was realizing that nobody warned me that the last Christmas where my kids believed in Santa was going to be the last Christmas when my kids believed in Santa.

I woke up in tears because I realized how many meaningful moments I’ve already had in my life for the last time.

I took this photo knowing this was probably the last time I’d be putting presents under the tree as Santa.

Nobody warns you that the last time you carry your kids to bed (after they’ve passed out on yours) is the last time you’ll carry them to bed.

Nobody warns you that the last time your kids beg you to stop working early on Friday for their “movie night” is the last Friday they’ll beg you to have movie night.

Nobody warns you that the last time your kids ask you to read a bedtime story is the last time they’ll ask you to read a bedtime story.

Life gets busy, and these moments simply fade away. And often we don’t even realize they’re gone until months or even years later.

…and Realized What Was Most Important To Me

What this dream helped me crystalize in a single night’s sleep is the importance of moments. As I get older it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that our lives aren’t a series of minutes, hours, weeks, years, big events, accomplishments, or goals.

Our lives are nothing more than a series of moments.

And the key to designing a life that matters is creating as many meaningful moments as possible.

I guarantee that I will never wake up in tears regretting a weekend that I didn’t work, or overtime that I didn’t put in, or turning down a toxic job that could’ve at least been a good credit on my resume.

But if I’m not intentional about my choices I could wake up in tears a lot more knowing that I sacrificed meaningful moments because I did work a weekend, or I put in a bunch of OT, or I took a toxic job for the sake of career advancement (at the expense of my health, relationships, and sanity).

A story that I’ve told many many times via the podcast, articles, and even in this newsletter before is about what was perhaps the most important moment of my entire career up to that point. It was the moment I was putting my kids to bed via FaceTime for the 8,743,467th time while editing season 1 of Empire and my son said at the end of the call:

“Why doesn’t Daddy want to put us to bed at night? Why doesn’t he love us?”

That was a moment I never ever EVER wanted to experience again.

So the next logical question in my mind then became, “What moments do I want to create in my life?”

And while it took a lot of soul-searching, intense personal development, and help from friends, therapists, and coaches, I was able to distill the entire next phase of my career down to the single most important moment I wanted to create:

I wanted to be able to help my kids with their homework when they got home from school, and then put them to bed at night IN PERSON.

Simple, sure, but as far from easy as possible – and frankly impossible – given my current job, the hours, the commute, and [insert 50 other excuses here].

So I began a life-altering journey in search of the answer to a very simple question:

What about my life needs to change such that these moments become my new reality?

The career transition I’ve made since then and the work I do today is largely in service of creating this new reality.

I didn’t get here overnight (if you’re counting this is year 7), but ultimately every action I’ve taken, every goal that I’ve set, and every obstacle that I’ve chosen to embrace and overcome have all been in service of being available to my kids when they need help with their homework after school, and more importantly being there in person to tuck them in at night (which is another one of those “last times” I’m approaching at a pace far more rapidly than I’m ready for).

We have a very limited amount of time to spend with the most important people in our lives and create meaningful moments, and in fact it’s far less time than you might think. A student in my Optimizer program from Argentina recently posted this video in our Slack community that shares the grim reality of how much time we actually waste at the expense of meaningful moments with the ones we love. (It has subtitles but you’ll totally get the gist.)

What Moments Do You Want to Create?

I’d love to know friend, what meaningful moments would you like to create in your life?

I’m not talking about, “I want to be successful,” or even “I want to win awards.”

I’m talking about moments like:

“I want to be a successful author at a convention with other science fiction writers where a fan of mine comes up to me, gives me a hug, and says ‘Your book inspired me to follow my dreams to become a writer too. Thank you.”

Now that’s a moment worth working towards.

How about you, friend?

What meaningful moments would you like to create in your life?

I read every message I receive, so don’t hesitate to reply directly to this newsletter. In the meantime…

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

photo of Zack Arnold

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”