Every day we have the opportunity to chase our dreams and live the life we should be living. It’s easy to realize when you are pretending to be happy with where you are in life because it feels incomplete. It feels like every achievement is hollow.
Other times the universe stacks the deck against the things you are trying to accomplish. Nothing goes right, and there is a disconnect between who you are, what you want, and what you are doing.
While it may be easy to recognize, it isn’t as easy to set the course right. However, when you stop pretending you don’t know what you want and own who you are, the possibilities are endless.
It starts with your dreams and aspirations
I believe dreams are the most sincere form of humanity. The very things that keep us waking up every morning. The force that is always enabling us to put one foot in front of the other; day after ordinary day.
A dream, by definition, according to Webster’s, is:
Something greatly desired; an extravagant fancy
Throughout my life, I have had many things that I desired with every fiber of my being. As a small child, my dream was simply to live with my mother. I often felt like they should have turned the story of my life into an ABC after school special.
Do you remember those? They were full of stories about being kidnapped by a noncustodial parent, a mother struggling with substance abuse, and teens dealing with trauma.
PBS also used to have a show that would address the statistical likelihood that children from certain situations would repeat those same scenarios. Every damn day it was like I was taking a test, one that I never had any chance of passing:
- Daughters of divorced parents have a 60% higher divorce rate in their own marriages
- Children of parents with substance abuse issues are more likely to abuse substances themselves
- Only 7% of children in foster care attend a four-year college
- Only 1% of children in foster care graduate from a four-year college
Despite all of that, I was grateful for my friends, teachers, and people who loved me. They encouraged my audacity to dream; I would grow up to be something other than a predetermined lost cause. I was laser-focused on achieving what I wanted and not what the paint-by-number picture ensured I would become.
These dreams felt insurmountable as a teenager: graduate college, find the love of my life, get married/stay married, have kids, and be happy and healthy.
I’ve never been one to do anything in small measures, so I graduated from college (with an AA) before I finished high school. I was one of only two kids to have done so at that time.
Initially, I was supposed to go to USF and earn a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. Instead, I ended up moving to Montana to finally live with my mother and enrolled in an Equestrian studies program at a different school.
My mother died less than six months later, and I abandoned that course of study and tried to fix my life. I met my husband at this college, though, and a year later, we got married. We had our first child a year later, and my husband was still trying to finish his degree in computer science.
I began my decades-long career in service and retail management as a way for us to survive. Years later, after he finished school, I finally went back and ultimately ended up with a degree in Business Administration.
Sometimes we realize our dreams, but they aren’t quite right
I had almost everything I had ever wanted, and I was grateful for all of it. However, in the corners of my mind, I still felt like there was more I wanted. I decided I needed to further my education with a Master’s degree.
Since I had been in management for almost 20 years, a degree in Management and Leadership made sense. The problem with that was I was still pretending I didn’t know what I wanted. I was about 3/4 of the way through the program when I joined a local writing group.
I told the lady running it, a local published author and teacher, that I wanted to write a book about my life, but I had no idea where to start. She told me to start writing a different book, and then I could write the one I wanted. This advice didn’t make much sense to me, but I took it to heart and started brainstorming.
After a series of strange events, I decided to write a book about what happens when you commit to doing something every day for a year; for me, that was a daily walk around the lake near my house. I would take pictures every day to document nature’s changes while writing about my own.
I walked. I took a picture. I reflected. I wrote. I did it every day for a month before realizing how much I missed writing, like deep in my soul. I came to accept that I was not happy with my career choice, and then I stumbled across Medium. This place where everything started as a blank page and anyone could be a writer.
I began to write pieces of the story I really wanted to tell. Then I got a freelance client, and another. and a few more. I walked. I took a picture. I reflected. I wrote and wrote and wrote some more.
When you get real about what you want, your life changes
After a few months of all this writing, something happened.
I stopped looking at things the way “most people” do. When I went to school to get those business degrees, I realized that wasn’t what I truly desired. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I don’t remember when I decided that being a writer required too much sacrifice.
Had I been afraid that I wouldn’t make enough money doing what I loved? Where was I when I decided it was ok to do so much less than I am capable of?
Do you remember the day you killed your own dreams? The sad truth is that dreams can only die at the hands of the dreamer.
The wonderful thing about dreams, though, is that they never really stay dead. There is always a way to wrest your plans back from the nothing where they go to die.
We can all achieve those goals that feel like extravagant fancy. You only need three things: laser focus, the knowledge that any other outcome is not an option, and belief.
Believe in yourself and your dreams. Stop placing limits on what you are capable of. Ignore things like odds. Paint your own portrait. Own who you are, and don’t be afraid.
How do you own who you are?
The first thing you must do is stop living small! I didn’t let my circumstances, past, and even my employers keep me from living a life that fits the extravagant fancy I craved. Not with material things, but the ability to say that I make my living as a weaver of words. I help and encourage others to be their best selves. That is no small feat.
No one else’s opinion mattered, not that of my parents, peers, or friends. It is my life, and I am the one who will be living it for a long time (hopefully!). Maameyaa Boafa gave a TEDx Talk called “Being the Real Me Without Apology,” Her words resonate deeply with what I believe owning who I was felt like. She said:
Little did she know that for this career
She’d have to do a lot of work
to overcome her fears
She’d have to grow a layer of skin so thick
it would not break her heart
and later recognize that she was set apart
This is the first part of owning who are and achieving your dreams. Realize that it is work to leave your old life behind and relearn everything you thought you had figured out. Fear of failure and success can be as crippling as the words of a hater.
I had to learn how to take critical feedback on my most private thoughts. I also had to learn to believe that I was a talented storyteller. It wasn’t easy. However, it was one of the most life-changing and meaningful things I have done in my life.
Are you pretending that you don’t know what you want? Please stop and have the courage to reach for it. Be you without apologizing, and live a life that you are excited by. One that you can’t wait to live every day. Own who you are! Leave your dreams in the comments below, and I will be cheering you on!