Growing out of your dreams.
When I was ten I wanted to marry Raphael (I’d like to say I was referring to the Renaissance painter, but no, I do mean the ninja turtle), live on the Gold Coast, preferably in a high-rise condo, and drive a Lamborghini Countach. I would be a writer who acted and modelled in her spare time. We would practice martial arts on the beach and go on philanthropy sprees through Africa where we showered orphanages with toys and cash. My books would be bestsellers with unicorns embossed on the cover. The pages would be rainbow scented. In the absolute worst-case scenario, I would settle… and marry John Stamos and the books could smell like creaming soda.
Only a couple of those things happened. I’ll let you guess which. And you know what? I’m okay with that. These were real dreams I spent hours thinking about – and I let them go, with very little angst. I just moved on, grew up, tried new things, met actual human men… I just changed.
So why, in the name of all the unicorns who died to make my stories more dramatic, can I no longer let go of a dream? Something happens when we hit our twenties- I’m sure of it. We start to pour our dreams into blocks of concrete around our feet and just wait for them to dry – mafia style. Then we can barely move… and we certainly can’t go swimming. I decided when I was at University that I wanted to be a writer and a lecturer. I wrote these down in a journal and I have the image of that list imprinted deeply in my mind.
I persisted with those two dreams. I wrote a lot of things and published some of them. I studied with the zeal of an addict. And I found full time lecturing work at a great institution in a time when academic work and great institutions are very hard to find. That’s it then – I’m done. I’m here. Arrived via Lamborghini Countach at the John Stamos’ house. So to speak.
So here’s the thing. I’ve realised a lot about my dreams along the way. Some are soul amplifying and some… well let’s just say I’m in an abusive relationship with another.
Writing is easy for me, I love it and it fills my soul. It is one of those life long love affairs. I write things that won’t be published. I write things that no one will see and sometimes I just write things in my head. It’s like breathing to me. I have become a better, fuller person because of this dream.
And then there is that other dream. The one where I get to stand in front of a group of brilliant, confident and occasionally hung-over students and talk about Sparta, and about writing great stories and why the world will actually be a better place if we don’t buy two dollar t-shirts. It’s a dream job and I’m good at it – most of it. But over the few years of my academic life I’ve discovered that lecturing is only the smallest possible part of a lecturing career. Mostly I’m in meetings or up to my eyeballs in research and paper work. And as hard as it is to admit – I just don’t love academia and I suspect that many (many) academics feel the same way. It is surprisingly counter-intuitive for a creative. I don’t want to write long diatribes about works of literature and their value. I want to actually write works of literature. I don’t want to study the way teaching is evolving – I want to evolve as a teacher. I don’t like the politics of education. And I don’t really like rules and frameworks and guidelines, and Universities thrive on them. I have too much soul-deep anarchy in me to sit in meetings and be told what to do. The truth is I don’t want that for my students either – the status quo at this end of history isn’t as great as it could be. I don’t want their education to teach them to accept things as they are because it has always been that way and I certainly don’t want them to learn that research for research’s sake is more important that creating something new (and I’m not talking life-changing medical research here – I’m talking theory so dense that you if you accidentally wade in you get sucked down and discovered two thousand years later by archaeologists).
And yet – it’s my dream, isn’t it? This is what I wanted. I have created a strong sense of myself out of the gentle (okay, not always gentle) snobbery of being “an academic”. I should be happy and I certainly shouldn’t be wondering if it’s even possible to let it go. And as I keep shelving that argument I also keep asking myself – why is this dream cemented around my ankles? If we grow out of clothes and ideas and people, why can’t we grow out of the dreams we had when we were young? Why is it so hard to let them go? It is the nature of dreams to be come unreasonably attached to them. We have to, to find the strength to achieve them. But I also think it is the nature of dreams to be grounded only slightly in reality – it is also necessary to sanctify them, to make them almost holy, to make ourselves determined and strong enough to chase them – “fountain of youth” and “holy grail” style.
We have to dig them in and let them grow deep networks of roots throughout our brains and souls and even bodies. Which means that letting them go is a surgery and it is going to hurt and leave a hole.
These dreams are something we believed in completely, something we looked towards like the sun, something we based our whole identities on and then realised it just isn’t us anymore. It’s a breakup. None of the “chase your dreams” posters have that disclaimer – “And let them go when the time is right” - but they should. We need to know that it’s okay to grow out of a dream – even the really big ones. It’s not the same as giving up and we mustn’t confuse that. It’s changing. It’s knowing that something we wanted doesn’t serve us anymore and carving ourselves free to find a new one.
And it will be different for everyone – many folks are facing far bigger conflicts than whether or not they want to stay in a career. I know wholeheartedly that I am in the privileged position to be able to question my life choices. But we are who and where we are – and this is my small decision and my big philosophic change.
I’m realising that it is just as okay to grow out of your dream to be a doctor or an aid worker or a filmmaker or a lecturer, as it is to grow out of the Ninja Turtles. And I suspect that the result of this paradigm shift will be a realisation that new dreams are waiting to fill in that space. I’m not throwing in the towel; I’m just letting go of an idea and then seeing if what I do still works without it. If I don’t have to be a lecturer because I promised myself in high school that I would be, does that make a difference in how I approach my career? If I can allow myself to dream differently, does it change how I approach my work now – as something “for now” rather than an endgame. And more excitingly, what other things will come.