Several years ago, a television interviewer asked Sophia Loren the secret of her success. The actress didn’t hesitate for a moment. “I am successful,” she replied, “because I was willing to give up being anonymous.”

It appears that anyone who ultimately achieves their dreams has a clear idea what the trade-off was that was needed to accomplish it. It’s a characteristic often lacking in those who attribute their lack of success to bad breaks, circumstances over which they had no control or lack of money.

Money, in fact, becomes a popular scapegoat in stories about failure.

Most often, however, our dreams are created out of time, not money. In Jean-Louis Servan-Schrieber’s The Art of Time, he makes this startling observation: “We think much more about the use of money, which is renewable, than we do about time which is irreplaceable.”

Here’s the fascinating—thought often overlooked—truth about what we get in life: everything we have, whether we are living our dreams or not, is acquired by making a trade.

We trade our time, our talent, our experience, our attitudes for the lifestyle we create. Sadly, many people also trade in their dreams, settling instead for a less than satisfying life because it may seem easier or quicker to achieve the ordinary.

Nowhere is this more poetically illustrated than in Paulo Coelho’s little gem The Alchemist. The hero of this tale is Santiago, a young Spanish shepherd, who has already traded in his parent’s dream for him of becoming a priest for his own dream of traveling.

Along the way, he encounters a wise man who prods him to achieve his personal destiny. To add motivation, the wise man points out a number of people who traded in their dreams for a seemingly secure life.

One of them is a shopkeeper who resists his lifelong dream of a trip to Mecca. At one point he says to Santiago, “Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored become a curse. “

What the shopkeeper demonstrates so poignantly is a universal truth. When we trade off our dreams for a lesser life, we are doomed to unhappiness.

On the other hand, if we trade off our fears and doubts for our own dream quest, satisfaction and joy that we have never known before are inevitable.

So is there anything you still need to trade in order to be living your dreams? Since all life is a trade anyway, why avoid what you really want? You’re already spending your time and energy doing something. Make it count.

Don’t you think dreams are a better investment than drudgery?

On Sunday afternoon, three-and-a-half-year-old Zachy and I were out in the backyard searching for bugs. All of a sudden he looked at me and said in his most serious voice, “This is Earth. Earth is our planet.”

I nodded solemnly. “We have to take care of it, don’t we?”  He nodded solemnly, too. We spent a little time talking about what that meant and things we could do, but I wondered what kind of a planet we are leaving for Zachy to take care of.

This is not a new concern of mine.

The most passionate environmentalist  I’ve ever known was Chris Utterback. To her, all offenses were equally serious whether it was defiling a public space with graffiti or chopping down a rain forest.

She cared deeply for the earth and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t feel the same sense of responsibility.

One day we were driving through the quiet Connecticut countryside where she lived and came across a pile of trash heaped on the roadside. She slammed on her brakes and we jumped out of the car, picked up the litter, bagged it and put it in the back of her station wagon.

As we got back in, I sighed and said, “Planetkeeping is a full-time job.”

Chris looked at me as if I’d said the most  brilliant thing and without saying so, we both volunteered to be Planetkeepers.

Planetkeeping isn’t just a full-time job; it’s a demanding one that requires vigilance and a willingness to do more than our share simply because it’s the moral choice.

Planetkeeping is motivated by a sense of responsibility to nature and other people whether we know them or not. It goes far beyond environmental causes.

It assumes that we’ll take care of whatever is ours to care for no matter how difficult or challenging that may be. Planetkeepers refuse to be influenced by the indifference and apathy of others.

Like courtesy, Planetkeeping is learned behavior. It becomes habitual behavior to those who have determined that they will, indeed, do what they can to leave things better than they found them.

It’s a practice that is worth a closer look. Imagine, for a moment, how quickly things would change if everyone went through their days actively working to improve everything they touch.

What would happen to road rage? To rudeness? To the environment? To self-esteem? To greed? To our communities? To litter? To hunger?

It may be a long time before the majority of world citizens take up the cause to make things better, but that shouldn’t stop us from raising our own standards now.

How can we as small  businessowners improve everything we touch? As family and community members?

Perhaps it starts simply with a willingness followed by a commitment to put such lofty thoughts at the heart of our activities and relationships.

Planetkeeping also demands that we stop withholding our own gifts and talents and put them to work in the service of making the world a better, happier nurturing place.

How to take up the challenge?

As Paulo Coelho reminds us in his marvelous book, The Alchemist, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve upon the present, what comes later will also be better.”

Zachy will thank us all.

Mythology and literature have frequently told tales of people who went on a journey and in the process discovered more about themselves. Some of these stories, such as Homer’s Odyssey (written in the 9th century BC) and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (from the 14th century), remain staples in literature classes. What these early writers show us is still true today: travel opens us to new insights as well as new experiences.

A newer story that uses this device is the lovely little book by Paulo Coehlo called The Alchemist. This popular favorite chronicles the adventures of Santiago, a young Andalusan shepherd who leaves home only to encounter obstacles, dangers and a fair share of mystical experiences. It’s one of the more poetic modern tales about the importance of following the dreams of your heart.

As in all stories of courage, we are reminded here that the road to our dreams is not without pitfalls. I carry around with me Coehlo’s insightful words about that truth. “Too often we decide to follow a path that is not really our own, one that others have set for us,” he writes. “We forget that whichever way we go, the price is the same: in both cases, we will pass through both difficult and happy moments. But when we are living our dream, the difficulties we encounter make sense.”

If you haven’t met The Alchemist yet, add it to your reading list and you may just find your own commitment to your dreams growing stronger.