Last week I wrote about Getting What You Want and the necessity of showing up and doing the work.
It resonated with a few people and I got the usual array of comments agreeing, adding two cents and discussing personal connections to the topic. I’m always encouraged when some of what swirls around in my brain turns out to be just what someone else is looking for on a random Tuesday morning. But then, I got this comment, from Kerri, and it stopped me in my mental tracks:
“When you were knee deep in diapers, fishing fisher price people out of the toilet (again) was your dream a whisper, or was it always a shout? When you measured the distance between here and there did you ever ask “is it worth it?” Or “what if I do all this work and it still feels the same?”
Here’s what I appreciate about Kerri:
- She recognizes that I’ve lived several lives, including the toilet fishing one
- She understands that there are phases to life, and not all of them are mountaintops
- She gets that dream building is a long road, and it’s hard
- She acknowledges that there is risk in chasing a dream and no guaranteed outcome
I really love that she’s not afraid to admit that there’s self doubt and fear along the way.
I replied to Kerri that I’d write a whole post in response to her questions, because I think she’s asking what lots of people feel, but can’t quite put words to, or don’t want to say out loud. She’s brave enough to articulate what lots of us who are mired in the dailiness of life feel and what often keeps us from showing up and doing the hard work. Perhaps this post is just for Kerri, but perhaps it’s for you too.
It seems to me that there are two parts to these questions, the part that asks how to survive the soul sucking stage of motherhood where life is one big blur of diapers, and discussions of what does not go into the toilet (vs. what you wish with all of your heart would) without losing your dream and then, secondarily, how to keep hearing your dream, how to build it, and the great worry of what you’ll find when you get there. If I get this wrong, Kerri, please feel free to correct me, and I’ll try again.
A few notes on motherhood and dream building
As most of you know, I have four children, two years apart. Do the math and you’ll note that I was pregnant or nursing for almost a decade, all the while swimming in the colorful, noisy, messy, sticky, simultaneously mundane and full of wonder world that is toddlerhood. I chose not to outsource any part of that job and so that meant that, for that first decade of parenthood, my children, and all that came with them, were a bit, how shall I say it? All consuming.
Except, of course, that they weren’t.
I think it’s a big mistake to dive headlong into our children, to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t think it’s good for the kids, or the moms. It’s certainly not good for the partners who are relegated to third or fourth place in the new priority structure. Doing this parenthood thing intentionally means self sacrifice, and less free time, and a whole lot of compromises for the greater good. But it can’t mean losing yourself in the process, or what will you continue to have to give?
It is our belief that living our dreams is one of the best things we can give our children: a vision of what is possible and the belief that they really can do life on their own terms and live from a place of passion. I want my children to see that adulthood is a great adventure and that life just keeps getting better as we grow up and over and through things. I don’t want to burden them by causing them to think that they are all that I have, or all that matters to me. No one can live up to that sort of heavy mantle. On the other side, I don’t want them to think that they are a burden, or baggage that holds me back from the things I’d really rather be doing, because, of course, that’s not true either.
For me, the key to getting through the difficult days when I was knee deep play dough and reading the same book fifty times in one afternoon while answering a thousand three year old questions and nursing a baby while teaching basic addition with dried lima beans on the kitchen table was remembering two things:
- 1. This is the dream
- 2. Life comes in phases
Perhaps the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we can have it all. To no one has this lie been perpetuated with more pernicious results than to young parents. You cannot have everything and do it all well. You will have to make choices. You have made choices. The trick now is to create your dream out of those choices. It felt, for years, like I’d never get off the merry-go-round of toddlerhood. Sometimes, I loved the ride, the lights, the pretty ponies, the gentle up and down. But the constant round and round made me nauseous and the calliope music is enough to make even June Cleaver use profanity on the eighth year in. But here’s the thing: we can either rage at the machine and demand that it stop, only to have the horses keep grinning while we puke over the edge of the ride, or, we can choose to remember that in five short minutes the magic will be gone and we’ll be dumped back out into the dirty sticky carnival world that is life and no matter how much we want to recapture it, we’ll never be able to get that moment back.
When my kids were little, Kerri, and I was drowning in life and doing a lot of the hard part alone (Tony traveled a lot) I got through it by remembering that THIS, this moment right now, was my dream. Having kids, having the time to raise them myself, that was what I’d intentionally set myself up to be free to do. It was our gift to me, and to them. Did that make every single day fun? No. But it did make it worth it. Dreams, even when we get them, are not always a joy. Sometimes they are work. Also, nothing lasts forever. Recognizing that my kids would be little only for a little while was key to helping me to live one dream with them while simultaneously working on creating the next dream for all of us. We have to simultaneously live the life we have made while making the life we don’t have yet.
It worries me a bit when I hear people talk about how to keep a dream alive through something hard, like childcare, or eldercare, or a tough but necessary work situation. It’s an indicator that someone might not be actually living their life right now, but is, instead, hanging all of their hopes on a nebulous someday. There is no someday. There is no later. There is the ubiquitous now.
The key to living your dreams is a choice in this very moment. There is nothing else.
On nurturing dreams
There are times when it is hard to hear our dreams over the clamor of everyday life. I think maybe this is what Kerri is getting at when she asks if my dreams were ever just a whisper, or whether they’ve always been a shout. It has been our experience that the decibel of our dreams on a daily basis is in direct proportion to the intensity with which we nurture and work towards them. If I don’t feed my dreams, they are happy to shrink into little raisins on the sidelines of my life. If we talk about them, dedicated time and effort to them, and make them a part of family life, then they are at the center of everything, even if their fruition is months or years away.
And yes, we wondered, in the two years that we were both working the equivalent of two full time jobs to launch from one life into another, whether it would be worth it. There are no guarantees in life. It is, well and truly, what you make it. We didn’t know how the kids would do with full time travel, even for the year we’d planned to be away. We didn’t know what it would do to our career possibilities. We didn’t know what we’d do when we got back. We didn’t know anything other than that we’d massively regret it if we didn’t take the chance and chase this dream of big time world travel with our kids. Regret is a terrorist we refuse to negotiate with, so we shushed the unanswerable fears and followed our hearts.
The thing we continue to learn, with each scary leap towards a dream that we take, is that it’s infinitely worth it, even when you fall on your face. Pursuing your dreams is always worth it, you can take it from me until you’ve proved it to yourself.
What if I do all of this work and it still feels the same?
That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? What happens if we get our dream and we secretly feel disappointed? I have two things to say about that:
When you get your dream, the one thing that will remain a constant… is you. All of your struggles and insecurities are going with you, as surely as all of your strengths and passions are. Getting your dream isn’t going to make you a better or different person, it’s going to free you to do the things you were born for, but you have to show up. You have to do the work. You have to be willing to fail. You have to get real about who you are and your own limits and either be disappointed by those, or learn to break through the barriers and exceed them.
There will be days that will feel “the same” because living your dream is not some sort of magic that elevates you to another plane.
Living your dream just means that you’re making the most of this life you’ve been given and doing your best to raise the bar, personally.
2. Your dream is now.
My friend Nancy and I teach a class about this sort of thing, about how to get from “stuck” to “living your dream.” One of the fundamental and mysterious truths about this whole “dream building” thing is that the very moment you commit, and I mean 100% sell out, to the idea that your dream is non-optional and you WILL create it, it’s a done deal. The outer circumstances might take a few years to transform themselves, but the inner circumstances are instantly vastly different. It’s about how you’re thinking, more than how your outer self happens to be living at the moment. Hard, dirty, ugly, mundane work becomes what you’re dying to dive into because you understand that it’s the very mud that you’re going to pat into bricks to build your dream house with. If you have a real vision for family life as part of your big dream, then a two year old who’s driving you crazy wanting to “help” is all of a sudden a golden asset and a partner in crime. You’ll stand that kid on a chair and teach him to use a butter knife to chop lettuce because you can see the 18 year old you’re building together.
Likewise, if your dream is to walk the Camino, like my friend Jade’s is, then you’ll spend two years saving store coupons to buy your backpack, and walking the orderly streets of your suburb in ice and snow to build the endurance you’ll need for the Pyrenees, and you’ll start the day with a workout that looks silly to your kids, but you’ll need to sling a pack for five hundred miles. You’ll trade birthday parties for money in the bank towards your goal and you’ll show up, every day, to do the work that gets you there. All the while, you’ll be living your dream, one day at a time, without ever leaving your neighbourhood.
This year includes some big dreams for our family: I’m going to walk that 500 miles through France and Spain with my friend Jade. Hannah is going backpacking for a couple of months with a friend. Gabe has at least three months set aside to intern on a hydroponic farm that he’s interested. Elisha is going to begin branching out with a solo trip of his own, split between grandparents. We’re taking our first cruise in July. We hope to criss cross the continent again and see some things we’ve never seen: Tony hasn’t ever been to the Grand Canyon. We’ve got plans to winter in Central America again. It all sounds fantastically exciting, doesn’t it? Those things will happen, because we’ve decided they will and we’re doing the work to make them a reality, but none of them matter. They are not the dream, not really.
Today I will bake a loaf of cranberry orange bread with cranberries we got at the winter farmer’s market on Saturday. I’ll play Settlers of Catan with Ezra, who has been pecking at me for a game for several days. Hannah and I will begin to disassemble a bag full of thrift store clothes and upcycle them into a cool jacket she’s dreaming of. Elisha and I will continue to work on the writing piece he’s developing based on the book he just read. Gabriel and I will take a walk. He seems to be catching the walking bug from me. We’ll do some laundry, music and art will be made. I’ll do some work. I’ll make a point of spending an hour reading one of my books. I’ll invest the time in my Spanish class. Perhaps I will write (oh wait, I’m starting the day with that!) This is the dream. This is MY dream. It’s not anywhere out there in “the next big thing.” It’s right here, on the inside, in the quiet day I have with my children.
So tell me, what’s your dream?