It’s on coffee mugs, notebooks, t-shirts, and splashed across the pages of Etsy and Pinterest. It’s made an appearance in far too many Instagram captions and motivation speeches in movies about an underdog sports team. “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” Even writing those words right now causes me to cringe a bit (Especially at the thought someone will type it into a google search and among the false citations and posters for sale they’d see this blog post. Petty, I know.). A dream can mean different things to many people; a complex word that’s difficult to unpack in a single sentence. Dreams vary from pie-in-the-sky to compact enough to pull you out of bed in the morning. From owning a vintage car to running a marathon in every state, quitting your job and moving to a foreign country to starting your own company. We all have dreams, or goals if you will, for every aspect of our lives.
Ask someone what their dream is, actually ask a few. Some will reply back with great enthusiasm and a list of dreams. Others are reluctant to share; afraid they’ve dreamed too big or too small or that maybe you’d laugh. (One of my biggest dreams growing up was to become a “CEO scientist” then be rich enough to buy myself all fake teeth. It’s good to laugh at ourselves sometimes, right?…..anyway) I’ve had the pleasure of listening to people’s dreams across the spectrum of backgrounds. It’s beautiful and captivating talking to people who have a certain gusto for their dreams, headstrong to accomplish them at all costs. They’ll sacrifice money, time, accolades, routine, relationships, friendships, stability. Hearing or witnessing people doing this can motivate and inspire you– heck–oftentimes others’ accomplishment of a dream can build us up to make it our own.
“If only…” Syndrome
Yet, too often the conversation seamlessly shifts from one about dreams to lamenting thoughts about the monotony and ennui of one’s daily life. We follow along with adventurous souls who appear to have given up the “normal life” to pursue their dreams with reckless abandon. It is the inspiring dreams and ideas of inquisitive minds that encourage change in our lives. These people become our Instagram-inspirations in a highly curated online life. Viewing along, making us wonder while checking social media in our cubicle or behind the counter at a coffee shop, “What am I doing and why?” Does dreaming grand, immediate dreams rob the joy of daily simple pleasures? It can, if one lets it. We’re often quick to judge people’s lives, subconsciously, for better or worse. We impose upon these images thoughts ranging from admiration to self-pity to envy.
The quickness of praise bestowed upon those who take immediate action on their dreams is warranted and large. But therein lies a problem. The grandiose dreamers can outshine the rest and lead to a lack of appreciation for the accomplishments and goals for those who don’t fall into that camp. A simple life well lived doesn’t translate into as many likes on social media as a perfectly filtered scenic overlook also showcasing your lovely significant other (insert curated grandiose adventure pic here). I could dive into the paradox of stylized adventurism in current society at length, but another time.
There is no GPS for your soul (barf, I know) to find how to be content with hard to achieve comfort of daily, small joys when a world of “choose your own adventure” surrounds you. It’s easy to believe a different locale, a new car, a trip, a career boost, a dream fulfilled will bring you that which you’ve been striving for –a change in feelings and emotions. We dream ourselves into a Catch-22 we don’t even realize is happening, robbing ourselves of that even more important and hard to reach a healthy balance of dreaming and daily appreciation.
One of these things doesn’t dream like the other
There’s an interesting juxtaposition in my life: I am happiest when out in the middle of nowhere, in the forest, desert, or wilderness with my dog, yet I live in a 500 sq ft apartment in central Austin and work a 9 to 5 software job for the Texas government. View either of these in isolation, and you’d have a different idea of who I am and my happiness level. I think a lot of people fall into this same dichotomy. Maybe you’re not seeking the same outdoor adventure as me, but instead, spend your weekends perfecting your stand-up act or nailing the guitar riff you’ve been working on for months. Maybe you spent younger years full of wanderlust and find yourself now in the town you grew up with a family and career you didn’t expect in your life. Or maybe you look at others around you and wonder why they never pursued their dreams without asking them that very question. Ultimately, where is the balance between diving into the reckless abandon of pursuing a dream and living the life you’ve been given?
Plugging away countless hours in a job you hate or slogging through a daily routine that drains your energy and makes you miserable is just as cringe-inducing to me as clichéd motivation quotes. Falling prey to the tedium of daily life is easy and swift. It’s easier to not quit the job you hate out of fear; to stick with the devil you know versus the devil you don’t. It’s easy to be a self-saboteur, always searching for or believing there are greener pastures, failing to recognize the blessings in front of you until they’re gone. Dreams and daily life can feel like a pendulum swinging between escapism and realism. Yet, advocating for complacency and planning for a dream are often lumped together. I often judge myself that way. We view a friend or an Insta-famous person living out a dream on large scale, but fail to realize a few important pieces: 1) we ourselves are not failures for not yet achieving a dream, 2) more often than not, a lot of hard work and sacrifice went into making that dream a reality, 3) you don’t have to make a jarring life change to start living out a dream and 4) you’re never too old, too young, too far along in a career or life to make a change.
Potential v. Simple Pleasures
I once read that “…a dream worth pursuing is a picture and blueprint of a person’s purpose and potential.” Just as a picture is made up hundreds of brush strokes, can’t a life well-lived be made up of many simple pleasures? The realization of a dream or of one’s potential can be found in these seemingly small moments. When we learn to love the outdoors so deeply that a long solo hike in a seemingly insignificant place can bring a smile to our face that no photo could capture or bucket list destination could best, we often fail to recognize this dream-come-true. We can find potential in the repeatable patterns of daily life when we stop to recognize subtle pleasures. But, do we limit our true potential by not abandoning all we’ve worked for with a belief that until we’ve reached a grandiose life change we’ll have never reached our “life’s true purpose”? I’d like to believe that’s not true. But really, who knows.
There is no absolute truth when exploring dreams and potential. When talking with a friend on this subject, their thoughts summed up this idea best:
“We cannot know the precise balance of present work and future potential, big dreams and small victories. But each of us knows in our hearts what motivates us to work or move forward, to save up or get up each day. Each of us has a dream, and no two are alike. That’s what makes them so beautiful and, at times, so hard to grasp.”
But No Elephants!
To one day live close to a national or state park on an acreage big enough for a few dogs, some chickens, a couple of goats, and if I’m lucky a few cows, too. (Pie-in-the-sky dream: I essentially want to end up like the lady in the children’s book ‘But No Elephants!’.) As surely as I carefully manage my spending and finances with a plan in place for my dream to one day come true, I meticulously search which state or region of the US would best suit my humble farm to visit next, and research recipes for goat’s milk ice cream. If every person with a new and seemingly crazy idea was to throw it away as an unachievable dream, there would be no progression or improvements to be made. Grand dreamers and adventure seekers alike motivate me to sacrifice sleep for long weekday trail runs and build up all my PTO to adventure. But having a roadmap to make what some may view as my “small” dream come true and taking little steps to make it a reality does not lessen the reward at the end. My dream, as most, does not carry with it an expiration date or disappointment for each passing year that it’s not my reality. Until it’s reached, I’ll be a weekend warrior, adventuring with my dog to destinations within an hour’s drive of my home, and admiring the dreamers who inspire me to get out do so.