One of my girlfriends is on her way to a great adventure. She packed up the house, the family, sold off what could be parted with and stored the rest. She’s leaving the Southern California rat race to stop and smell the risotto in Florence, Italy for as long as life calls her to be there.
How many of us would love to follow the call of our heart, or our frequent flyer miles? For most of us it is a fantasy we will never act upon. There are a million reasons—some would call these excuses—why it doesn’t make sense to abandon our life, even if the act of abandonment is a commitment to the life we dream of having. We learn early on that if we want to grow up and be responsible adults, then following certain kinds of dreams are nothing more than diversions from our grown-up reality. Making a decision for your dreams could be selfish and immature.
Years prior to my friend’s Italian pizza pie in the sky idea, she dreamt of becoming a writer. I met her before her two best selling books had been published so I know the gnawing self-doubt that she had to answer to daily. Now with a third book on the way, an app, speaking engagements all over the country, and many more ideas on the drawing board writing is the dream that manifested into her reality. No question, making one dream come true has given her the mojo to chase after her next dream some 6,000 miles away. She has the confidence in her abilities that comes from experience, but it doesn’t guarantee that she is heading in the right direction. It’s hard to know when we follow our hearts and our dreams if we are on our way or getting in our way.
Dreams always seem to include a mix of some part plan and some part leap of faith. My friend employs a non-plan, plan, which begins by taking the leap on Leap day and driving east until the road ends. The jumping off point is somewhere in New Jersey (many people’s jumping off point) after wrapping up a loosely organized book tour, a sort of author’s version of playing dive bars and honky-tonks. She plans to talk for her supper and sell a few books before cashing in a one-way ticket to Italy. After that, the Dream Firenze gets a little fuzzy and faith will have to fill in the gaps.
In between her anxiety of fitting the contents of her entire families’ life into carry-ons, she has had to field all those questions in her already overloaded brain like is she is doing the right thing for her career, her children, her marriage, and her sanity? After all, five months of living like gypsies with her husband and two pre-teen boys could threaten to blow anyone’s circuits. There are no adapters for this kind of emotional surge, which may result in blowing one’s mind after a very brief moment of very bright or fast operation.
There is a part of me that wants to suit up and get out there on the field of dreams right alongside my friend. After all, my dream is to return to my writing career, and I could use a little juicier material than what I’ve discovered lurking behind the orange curtain (Orange County), home to those self-important housewives. The OC is hardly the kind of exotic adventure that makes for good book material, although we do have those stiletto natives that live on Fashion Island to entertain us. From my seat here on the sidelines, I can see that my friend will be fine. I have clarity for her that I don’t have for myself. Or is it I believe in her dream more than I believe in my own? I can see that my brilliant girlfriend is just plate of penne away from penning the Erma Bombeck version of Eat, Pray, Love. Who else but a writer should be trekking to Italy with two tweenagers to search for una bella vita? No matter what she finds, it’s pure literary gold.
As for me, after a quick glance at the GPS of where-my-life-is-headed, running off to Italy with my family would most likely qualify as getting in my way and probably theirs too. It would be just the kind of detour that I’ve taken other times before and wound up getting lost. At least I’m wiser now than I was. I know when to pull over and ask for directions. It’s too bad they don’t have something like Google Maps to navigate you to your dreams. Type in your destination and Siri would pleasantly but authoritatively tell you how to get there. When you tried to take an off-ramp Siri would reroute you to make sure you got your life back on track. You could also decide if an arrival time of six years, three months, and two days is worth the journey.
It is ironic that most of us will follow the path of our most realistic dreams, if we follow our dreams at all. We design a strategy then apply probability to the outcome to see if it weighs it in our favor. It becomes a question of how much risk we are willing to take and what is at risk. The older we get, the more there is to lose and the less time there is to recover from any kind of loss. Plus, the older we get the more likely it is that we have other people depending on us, like our children, spouses, and even parents. It’s one thing to have your own life go off course. It’s another to drag your loved ones along for the ride.
Of course, there is always the enlightened path for following your dreams: there is no right way. Take of all the so-called wrong decisions you’ve made and let those be the lessons you learned that have changed you and made you who you are. I keep coming back to this revelation I once had: The Universe doesn’t have an opinion about what happens to my life. I am the one who gives meaning and makes judgments about the events that occur in my life and whether it was a good or bad experience. I decide that I went the right way because everything turned out the way I wanted it to. When things don’t go as hoped, then I am the one who decides I went the wrong way.
Maybe there is no right or wrong way. Maybe it’s just the way it is and nothing more. Maybe following your dreams is just the willingness to accept any outcome and find the joy in it. Your spirit of adventure might take you far away or it might stay close to home. Maybe the only thing that ever gets in the way of living your dreams is your opinion.