I’ve noticed that a lot of people aren’t doing what they think they’re doing. What I mean is they think they’re heading in a certain direction – a goal, or a dream, or a lifestyle – but what they’re doing is actually not taking them in that direction at all.
The striking thing is when you know what you’re doing on a daily basis is not taking you where you say you’re going. But you keep on doing it anyway. I think there can be a lot of sadness in the space between who you are on a daily basis and who you want to be in your lifetime.
Take, for example, someone who talks about being rich and having a lot of money – something my high school students always used to do. But for a lot of them their daily choices included ignoring school or work in favor of instant gratifications like TV or skipping school to be with friends. Did they think these things would make them rich? Of course not. Did they think they were going to be rich? Of course. Cognitive dissonance was at play.
I think everyone starts out with lofty dreams. Everyone has a different arena for lofty dreams. Some might want to be movie stars, or major league athletes, or famous novelists. Others might want to rise a humble tax bracket into the middle class, or be the best doctor in town, or marry a wonderful match and have 8 kids. Then difficulties of real life get in the way, because that’s part of being a person.
What these dreamers might be doing on a daily basis, instead of pursuing those dreams in any way, is working an ordinary 9-5 unrelated to their passion, or dating a nice enough person who happens to be around, or staying somewhere familiar that they got used to. But there’s no set date when the dreams stop being a part of who you are, so they’re probably still there, and you might still think you’re going to get them. Cognitive dissonance.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting a humble or uncomplicated place. That’s probably one healthy way to be. But if on the inside you wanted something, and you don’t do anything to get it, you won’t be able to lie to yourself about it. Trying and failing gives you satisfaction in its own way. If you blind yourself to not trying until one day you wake up and the opportunities all passed, well, regret’s a sad place to be.
We all have to work 9-5s sometimes. We all date nice-enoughs sometimes. We’re all in a place we don’t want to stay for long periods, or a place where we’re too busy to think about our big-idea “lives,” or a place where we just can’t get a leg up out of the mundane or frustrating or even worse. But I think at some point you have to look inside yourself and decide to let go the things you never really gave your best shot to, or give them your best shot.
Not every dream is worth pursuing, especially not in retrospect. If you can reach a place where you say, “That old dream isn’t something I really want to go after now,” then you’ll find peace with that – even moreso than you would if you chased it out of stubbornness without pleasure, or a false sense of responsibility to a former self. Douse that former camp fire site.
But you’ll probably also come upon some dreams you aren’t willing to let go. And just because you’re not in the ideal situation with the ideal time and the ideal freedom to pursue it doesn’t mean you can’t start feeding that fire a little bit. Or at least start looking for some more kindling. If you just fool yourself about it, and never try that spark, you’re throwing your flint away. You’ll miss it when you need it. Keep it somewhere dry.