How am I doing, you ask? Oh, you know, living the dream. We toss it out casually, as if we don’t actually care. But how many of us are living the lives we long to live? How many of us even think we can?
I’ve been thinking often of dreams. When we have one, we feel like we’re lit from within. Our dreams shine through us, choosing us if we only turn our attention inward to realize that the light we’re looking for is there, waiting. Some dreams we wake from. Some, we live.
I can look back in my own history and trace my life back to a time when I believed in my dreams, as purely as I believed that the sun would rise in the morning. And I can see when that belief was shaken and destroyed—by educational institutions, by carelessly tossed out questions, by the doubt I’d see on the face of the people I loved.
I can see the timeline from when I believed until I “put away childish things”, as the biblical quote goes. And I look back and feel only love and sorrow for the girl who felt that living her dreams was a childish thing that could not survive adulthood.
For years, I lived inside the corporate box. I collected degrees and promotions like they were prizes to put on a shelf, to proudly display that I was, in fact, successful. I married early and had children only after I finished chasing the career I thought would give me greater stability. For some reason, I equated stability with freedom. Perhaps it does have a certain freedom, in its own way, but every day I lived that life, the box got smaller. Stress was the companion that I believed in as surely as I believed the sun would rise, and no amount of budgeting could make my paychecks stretch enough to make me believe that this was the life that I should be living.
And just when I thought I could break no more than I already had, I did. I fell apart completely. This isn’t fiction where the heroine of the tale experiences a graceful midlife crisis or a perfectly timed breakdown. This was every piece of the life I had planned coming apart. The career. The education I had accumulated but couldn’t pay back. The marriage I had, at one time, believed in. Everything I had worked for ripped at the seams, and there was no fairy godmother to put it all neatly back into place and set me on my course to the ballroom of my life.
There was only me. And this me had two small children and no sustainable income. But I had grit, and I had the vague memory of a dream that I once believed in with everything in me. I used what I had. I pulled on all of my inner resources, and I took the hard steps to dissolve my marriage, uproot my small family, and start over. And if I’m making that sound easy, know that none of it was. But it was possible, and a spine of steel and an incredible amount of grit can get us a long way.
Since then, I’ve been living the dream—actually living it. It took months for me to get the courage to share my work publicly, and doing so was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. But no one ever said that living our dreams was easy.
My story likely looks different from someone else’s, but the common theme is that many of us think that the dreams that we have aren’t possible. We choose the safe job or the safe spouse or the path of least resistance because we’re afraid of success as much as we are of failure. We accumulate things like they somehow project our worth, and we make our lives look perfect in case anyone is looking. We keep trying to measure up, and yet the bar keeps being set higher. We’re drowning in debt and fighting our stress, and we don’t seem to realize that this is anything but living the dream.
So how do we return ourselves to our dreams and make them a reality? How do we begin to live lives that reflect our deepest desires?
Here are a few ways to start:
1. We can start saying no. I’ve noticed this thing I sometimes do where someone will ask me to do something, and then I’ll do it begrudgingly because I don’t feel like I really have a choice. But I know that I would rather someone tell me no than do something with a poor attitude, and so I’ve begun to practice what I preach. If I don’t want to take on that extra task or accept that invitation, I just say no. Saying no is respectful of ourselves and our needs, and it also puts up necessary boundaries with others.
2. We can stop making choices based on money and status. Do we want that promotion and the stress that comes with it? Do we really want to take this particular job? Sure, I get it—we have to pay the bills and support our families. But do we need tens of thousands in credit card debt to maintain this lifestyle or can our children get used to smaller holidays and staycations rather than extravagant vacations each year? We need to make our lives the ones we want to live.
3. We can start finding ways to make our dreams a reality. I get that not every dream can be a full-time career. That doesn’t mean we can’t find ways of bringing our dreams into our daily reality. Maybe it’s a matter of signing up for a course or purchasing a few art supplies. Maybe it’s a matter of starting a travel fund. There’s some small step we can take to make our dreams real.
4. We can start being honest about our lives. They aren’t perfect. Everything isn’t coming up roses all the time. It’s okay to admit that things are tough. One part of living our dreams is being deeply authentic about who we are and what we want. When we get very raw and real, we begin to attract the kind of energy necessary for living our dreams. Putting up a good front won’t ever draw to us the energy that we need. It will only serve as a block to living the lives we desire.
I had a good life when I clocked in and out of the corporate world, logging work and class hours in equal measure. I had good days and good memories. But I also had mounds of stress and debt and a need to pretend that my life was better than it was.
I took a risk and made that leap with no parachute, and I’ve found a deeply rewarding life on the other side. The dream that I had has become my reality, and it is better than I had ever imagined. And one day, it will be better still. I’ve drawn into my life the kind of people who find resonance in my journey, and everywhere, there are signs from the universe that this is the path for me.
I can say that I’m living the dream now without irony. And I truly believe that we all have the ability to change our lives for the better with grit, persistence, and the unerring belief that our dreams are possible.
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