When you’re young it’s easy to hold onto a dream. You take all the lessons, you buy all the books. You pick your ideals and your muses, theme your bedroom with “stuff,” that reflects who you’re going to become and then you just sort of hold on to that. For as long as you can until it doesn’t make sense anymore. Or until, in your tiny human brain, it all comes to fruition.
I get why it happens. For your parents it’s like, “Oh my gosh, this squishy little thing just came into my world and what’s she going to like? Is she going to like Chess? Or maybe marine life? I don’t know… I do know she’ll be into politics. She’ll have at least two unique talents… obviously, there’s five people in the family that play guitar and Aunt Nancy always sang in the Christmas program. She’ll be unconventional and kind of quirky like Amy Poehler but not so quirky that she’s inaccessible to a large majority like Miranda July. She’ll have options; she could work for a small coffee shop that sells handmade goods, or she could fly under the radar with her weirdness at an advertising firm, because she’ll know how to conform just the perfect amount.”
We build our lives off subtle hints and then artfully craft who “we think we’re going to become.” Because, if we don’t attach ourselves to something, what’s the goddamn point? Evidence, whether real or imagined by ourselves, our families or our peers is how we choose the many lanes that could become available to us, so we can start flourishing. Or at least that’s the idea.
Any inkling of interest you show in anything starts to become your identity. You like horses? Sweet, now you’re going to get a horse for your miniature horse collection for your birthday every year until you die. It happens, because we have to feel like we have something to belong to, even early on. The hope is that, if you become the weirdo in the corner, or the stoner on the couch later on, your parents can say, “I put her in cheerleading, I don’t know what happened.” It’s insurance for inevitable guilt if you or your child ends up being a fucking failure. Speaking of failure, that also becomes relative the more your dream life shifts.
So, what happens when the “dream life you’ve imagined,” the one you’ve been built for, the one you’ve placed all of your hopes, identity, activity and value in… starts to just, change? Or rather, what happens when it changes and you don’t know what it’s changing into? All the vision boards, all the accolades, all of the adjectives you’ve used for yourself that support your personal identity start to slowly fade. The recognition of this process usually ends up looking a little bit like this:
1. The 180 Affect
Oh, you wanted to be a ballet dancer? Why don’t you try out being a staffing recruiter or a paralegal? This is what your brain says. Because, when your Dream Life starts shifting you wonder if you’ve missed the boat while you were busy practicing pirouettes, so you start – somewhat manically – clawing your way through other life possibilities that might make sense for you. This lasts for about a month and then you remember you’re still a ballerina, that you don’t really have the passion for any of the other costumes you’re trying on and you haven’t worn your hair down in the last fifteen years. You Google search, “Jobs that allow for buns.” And the cycle repeats itself.
2. Your friends think you’re Ghosting them
Who are you? What have you done with my best friend and why does she not like Mimosas and show tunes anymore? It’s an awkward phase when your friends who fell in love with you based on the identity you presented from years worth of perfecting start having to love the confused, morphing version of you. You start looking at them the exact same way… “Why are we friends again? Cause we had the same aspirations or because we had the same hearts? Because, my aspirations are changing.”
3. There’s a lot of staring at walls
There’s something cathartic about ceilings, walls, horizontal floor-laying. The blank slate is perfect for throwing all of your imaginary wild and crazy feelings on until it looks like a Jackson Pollock painting and then you get up and move on to another wall.
4. You’re crazy defensive
It’s a hard thing to admit. But when your life starts shifting, or you start questioning who you are and what you want all of a sudden, any and all questions from loved ones feel like an attack. When your Mom asks you about your weekend you’re like, “YEAH, I KNOW I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT WEARING NO CLOTHES. MY LIFE IS ON TRACK, WHY ARE YOU COMIN’ AT ME?!” You’re defensive because you’re scared and sometimes listlessly wandering is the best way to avoid the fear, or, you hope, allow the answers to present themselves in time.
5. You start to appreciate the little things
When the “super-big-dream-life” starts to morph, or seem far away you start looking at exactly where you are, right this very second. You start accepting the things that are already happening, the mini-dreams you’ve already made realities. The fact that you’ve kept this magical potted plant alive for more than three months, like the new friends you’ve made at yoga, your weekend adventures exploring your state. You start having more GRATITUDE in general. You find that when you do get the “big thing,” or your “Dream Life,” you still look around and love the little things you loved before all of it.
6. You ask for reminders
Nostalgia is a powerful tool. But it can be a paralyzing one as well. If you’ve wanted one thing for a really long time, get to the root of WHY you wanted the thing. What were the feelings associated with getting it, or working towards it? Whatever you’ve wanted usually has layers and other forms similar if you can get to the most basic core of the WHY. When you start to recognize the motivation behind the goal, you realize that feeling can come from a lot of different things… OPENNESS AND FLEXIBILITY are the most useful tools to carry with you.
7. Nature becomes your JAM
When you’re outside, surrounded by things that are alive and thriving or evolving at just the right pace, you start to realize, humans are the just the same. We grow in time. With proper care. We unfold, evolve, become just as we’re supposed to and sometimes, it doesn’t make any sense. Nature reminds you that there’s something so much more vast, completely out of our control and utterly magical than our minds can comprehend. Taking a deep breath and noticing the the tiny insects to the biggest trees is humbling beyond your perceived idea of what “life should be like.”
8. You let go
Not right away. This is usually the last thing you’ll do. It does come though. When you’ve exhausted all of your emotional resources, all of your connections, all of your possibilities… you just, let it go. You start realizing that there’s no amount of manipulating a situation that you can do to “get the dream life.” There is no secret formula. If there is, it looks something like this: work hard, have faith, sweat on a regular basis, be kind, love your family, make shit, surrender it all.