Dolly's Dreams

Big prayers, big goals and a big heart have all played a role in her rise to superstardom, and the wisdom of Norman Vincent Peale helped, too!

By Dolly Parton, Nashville, Tennessee

As appeared in

Y’all might not know this about me, but I read everything I can get my hands on. Self-help books, novels, biographies, religion, best sellers, anything that helps me see what makes people tick. When a friend says, “You gotta read this, Dolly, it’s a great book,” I do. You never know how it might inspire you.

That’s what happened back when I was on Porter Wagoner’s show. One of the musicians, Buck Trent, gave me this book as a birthday present by a preacher I’d never heard of. He had a long name and preached at a big church in New York City. But he knew how to talk to a country girl like me, used to Scripture on Sundays.

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“Dream big, think big, pray big,” this preacher said. Lord, I thought, that’s just what I want to spend my life doing!

My earliest dreams were born in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, just like I was. My mother was a big dreamer. She dreamed about having a houseful of kids, and talk about dreams come true, she had 12 of ’em!

Some of us might have seemed like nightmares at times, but she was great about not trying to mold us or shape us to be like anybody else. Mama wanted each of us to be who God made us. And boy, did he make me a dreamer!

I’d put a tin can on a stick for a microphone, jab one end into a crack in the porch of our cabin and sing a song that I’d made up.

All at once those weren’t our chickens listening to me out there in the yard. They were an audience full of people clapping and cheering. And that wasn’t a hand-me-down shift I was wearing; it was a silk dress aglitter with rhinestones.

Mama’s people were all musical. “Sing one of your songs,” she’d say, and I’d sing. My uncle Louis saw how serious I was about music, so he gave me a guitar, a baby Martin. Oh, I loved that guitar! I played it all the time.

I prayed my dreams. Lived and breathed ’em too. Maybe that’s why it never occurred to me they might not come true. The night I graduated from Sevier County High School, all the seniors got up and said what they wanted to do: go to college, get married, take a job in Knoxville (the closest city).

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I sat there in the fancy pink dress my aunt Estelle had bought for me and waited my turn. Then I stood up and announced, “I’m gonna move to Nashville and be a big star.”

Everybody laughed. I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t understand why they laughed. Years later I realized it was because they were embarrassed. They’d never known anybody who had the gall to dream that big and declare it out loud.

Dreams are never gonna come true if you don’t put wings on ’em. Not only wings–they need feet, hands, a brain. You’ve got to work really hard to make a dream come true.

That’s the difference between a wish and a dream. You can sit around and wish for good things to happen to you, but a dream is something you have to pursue, something you make happen.

Like all country kids I knew which bugs I could play with and which ones would sting. We’d put a string on June bugs and fly them like kites or put lightning bugs in a jar for a homemade flashlight (we released them later). But butterflies were the ones I loved most.

As a little bitty child, I’d get lost chasing them into the woods. Everybody hollered at me, but I didn’t care. I’m going to be like a butterfly, I decided. Spread my wings and fly.

You’ve got to be responsible for your dreams. You’ve got to take care of them the way you take care of your children, protect them, say no to people who want to remake them their own way.

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Your Comments (8)

I have a large family. We share our guideposts with each other. When we are through with each issue we donate it to the library at my mother's church.
I used to work in a nursing home and it was not uncommon to see a patient in a wheel chair reading an issue of Guideposts that was several years old.
I loved Dolly's article. My favorite songs were always The Coat of Many Colors and I Will Always Love You. I also love Dolly's dimples. Her face is so pretty and that smile-wow.
Reading, writing, and my horses have always been my passion. I love to write children's stories. I have written quite a few. I submitted some of them to the various children magazines on the market. They were rejected but yet a few months later my stories appeared in their magazine, changed some but with the editors name as author. I was devastated and quit writing. The dream still lives in my heart though. My children's stories are good and they each have a purpose of conveying a positive lesson for children. After reading Dolly's article my flame for writing started flickering again. I am sending this e-mail in the hopes that Dolly would be interested in looking at my stories and they might be found worthy of publication somewhere.
I have had a difficult life and that's ok because I have learned good lessons to pass on to others.
Please tell Dolly that I also love to read self-help or any good book. The book that changed my life is Heaven by Randy Alcorn; it is the most life changing book I have ever read.
Thank you for reading my e-mail. I hope to hear from you. Have a gratitude day. Sandy A.

Thanks for sharing the hope and inspiration you find in the pages of Guideposts, Sandra.

I've had Guide Books for years.Just love them.When I finish one I leave it in the Dr's office so others can read it. I give them as Christmas Presents to some of my friends. Alice.

Thanks for sharing the hope and inspiration you find in Guideposts, Alice!

Dear Dolly,

Yours was the first story I opened up when I turned on my computer early this morning - I'm an early riser too. What a wonderful way to start the day.

What an incredible lady you are; you're an inspiration to millions of people and have a heart as big as Texas. I read articles about you often and have enjoyed and learned from them. I've often wanted to tell you how much I admire you and now I have an opportunity to do that.

Years ago I dated a man who loved country music - at the time I had a tape you'd made and on that tape was a song about Mary going to Jesus tomb. The words were inspiring but the emotion with which you sang that song was so powerful that I burst into tears. I was driving home from work at the time and had to pull over to the side of the road while I listened to the rest of the song and then replayed it and listened to it again. My tape player and tapes disappeared long ago and I don't know the name of that song; I wish I did. Dotty, you have moved mountains. You are God's beloved child and I have no doubt He is incredibly proud of you. I wish I could go to your Dreammore Resort, but I'm afraid my old car (and old me) couldn't make it; so I'm just going to have to follow my dreams here in Suffolk.

Keep doing what you're doing with your loving, indefatigable, bouyant, beautiful spirit. You are truly one-of-a-kind and the world is a better place because you're in it. I don't believe you'll ever know how far-reaching your book program is and how you have (and continue to influence) the lives of children in a positive way; helping them to dream their dreams and achieve their goals. Bless you!

Loved this story. Never knew that much about Dolly Parton. I was fortunate to read "The Power of Positive Thinking" and it changed my life completely. Since I lived in NYC, I attended The Marble Collegiate Church and felt right at home there and loved to listen to Dr. Peale....I just felt like he wa speaking directly to me. That's the kind of person he was...down-to-earth..but full of positive thinking and spoke in a marvelous way.that I just listened intently. I thank God that I became acquainted with his philosophy and how well he explained the scriptures. Funny thing is he came from Ohio and moved to NYC. I came from NYC and moved to Ohio.

I enjoyed reading your Dolly's Dreams in the June, 2014 issue of Guideposts. I admire you greatly for your spunk, independence, and all your achievements. I tell you what I tell my seven year old grand daughter--you go for it, girl. (Not that I need to tell you that.) I was particularly intrigued by your paragraph dreams do not come true unless effort is put into them--words to that effect. You said hard work; I say put forth effort and want. I loved your distinction between wish and dream. Achievement does not just happen. One must make it happen. And, yes, it takes hard work, commitment, effort and the almighty want. In the great wisdom of my first grade educated mother and my fifth grade educated father I have confirmed in my life the truth they passed on to me in Spanish, (translated) "He who wants achieves more than he who can." And that is another way of distinguishing between a wish and a dream, a desire and a want. Education and wisdom. Faith in God and nonbeliever.


The name of the song is He's Alive.