“I‘m afraid that if I start dreaming, I’ll lose my way.” I wrote it in my journal just the other day and immediately saw the irony. When we stop following our dreams, isn’t that when we’ve lost our way and not the other way around?
“If I start dreaming, I’m afraid I’ll move away from what I’m meant to be doing, get distracted, and do something I’m just mediocre at, that won’t make me special. I’m afraid I’d start painting and drawing, and what would I do with that? I’m not an illustrator. I didn’t go to art school.” That’s the voice of my inner defeatist asshole. She dresses governess-chic and always looks as if she’s just come from the salon. Only her lipstick shade is always a little off, too coral, the poor thing.
Maybe it’s also the voice of my parents—the people who love me dearly, but who also live in a practical world of meals on tables and money to pay for heat, water, and premium cable channels. I was always told to follow my dreams, but then it was quickly chased with a, “You know, you’d make a great lawyer.”
Had I said, “When I grow up, I want to be an artist,” I’m sure it would’ve sent my father to the bowl with “The ‘rhea.”
“That’s fine,” he’d say two hours and one box of Tuck’s medicated pads later. “Do all that art stuff, you know, as a hobby, on the side. But in the meanwhile, take the job with the health insurance and 401k.” So I did both. I took the job in advertising that allowed me to be creative with a month of paid vacation, and two free pairs of eyeglasses a year, dental and medical. And I followed my passions on the side, taking night classes in figure drawing, in watercolors, in photography, and in writing. I did this for eight years, and then I left advertising to begin a new full-time job as a writer (who’d work from home, cafe’s, and a lot of bars).
It’s no “secret” that I strongly believe that when we follow our passions, doors open for us, to show us that we’re moving in the right direction. As long as we make ourselves open to possibilities and have the guts to risk, it can all come true. I’ve known and said this for a long time now. And yet. There I have it, in my journal: an expressed fear of following my dreams. Well WTF is that about?
“I’m afraid that if I start dreaming, I’ll lose my way.” I realize this is actually horseshit, given that you can have lots of ways. I wonder why, from such a young age, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up, and our answer, while it changes from day to day, mood to mood, year to year, usually contains an OR instead of an AND. “A princess,” or an “actress,” or an airline “stewardess,” anything ending in “ess.” Then we grow up and realize it’s actually “flight attendant”– how disappointing — choose one thing, dedicate our lives to becoming more skilled, in teaching others what we’ve supposedly mastered. Though none of us really feels as if we’ve mastered anything. Mostly we wonder when we’ll be found out, when the world will realize that we don’t deserve the awards, the promotions, the accolades because there are so many people out there with so much more talent, just not as much tenacity. And yet, so often we believe that one role we chose is what makes us us. People get laid off, and find themselves saying, “But this is who I am.” It’s what we know, but it’s such a small part of who we are.
Dreaming feels indulgent, like making five different desserts for Thanksgiving (and eating them all, naturally). There’s a fear in dreaming, that the reality of it will never be as satisfying as we’d hoped. It’s what I call “The Pillow Fight Factor.” People have pillow fights in movies, running through hallways of a house barefoot on wooden floors, jumping on beds, feathers slipping out, seesawing their way through the air. Then giggles, hiding behind a chair, threats of “I’m going to get you.” No one is ever allergic, and no one has to clean up the mess. Then you try it in your own life, only to realize PILLOW FIGHTS FUCKING HURT. They are not fun at all. Especially those Goose Down numbers that might as well be a sock, stuffed with flour, and knotted at the top, a weapon. The fantasy of it was so much more exciting than the reality of it, so what if that happens with my life? With this job, with this relationship, with this sexual fantasy I want to try out, with this huge decision I’m making? What if I risk only to later feel regret?
The eye-rolling kicks into high gear, followed by a yawn. Please don’t tell me “Then you learn” or “Then you can always change your mind.” That’s not enough. Here’s what is: Then at least you’ll know. In old age, at the very end, wouldn’t you rather say, “At least I tried. I didn’t waste my life too scared to live it.” It really does come down to a book of quotes about failure and success. And as cliche as they might be, they encourage me to at least try.
Why would I be afraid to dream? Because what if what I dreamed for now “derailed me?” What if it took me so far off course that I’d live to regret it with a “what the hell was I thinking?” years from now? I think I read somewhere that it took courage to dream, and I remember rolling my eyes. It doesn’t take courage to dream. It takes courage to follow them.