By nature, I’m a romantic.
My earliest days were spent starry-eyed and tirelessly imaginative. As my parents lovingly (and just a bit teasingly) recall, I existed in some version of Dreamland in which everything was real and nothing was impossible. And while this sounds like the beginning of a charmed tale of my childhood, that’s not necessarily the case… because the enchanting, make-believe world I thought up simultaneously spun a darker, less playful side, too. After all, if everything was real and nothing was impossible, the nightmares I had and the grimmer stories I conjured up could just as easily exist.
It’s no surprise, then, that by nurture, I am a realist.
I’m certain this is a byproduct of the many, many, many times my imagination ran wild and my parents had no choice but to reassure me things were not always as I might’ve believed them to be. No, the Leprechaun would not sneak into my bedroom on St. Patrick’s Day and retaliate for the traps we’d set at school earlier that day. And the tornado that my classmate swore was coming to wipe us all out was highly unlikely where we lived in Southern California. And no, the plots of Jumanji and Jurassic Park were not of this world, so it’d be a waste to worry about carnivorous vines coming out of the fireplace to eat me whole or raptors hunting me down to take a chomp out of my chunky little leg. I could go on and on (and on and on) about all the instances my parents patiently and carefully dished out consolation to calm my wild visions (thank you mom and dad), but the main takeaway is that at an early age I learned how to separate fantasy from reality.
Until recently, I never considered this pragmatic approach to life a negative one. I’ve instead been sure to thank it for getting me safely from point A to point B. The decisions I’ve made have almost always been made practically, leaving little room for uncertainty — which was (and still is) my least favorite way to feel. I noticed, however, that in all the effort to avoid uncertainty, I’ve also left far too little room to dream, which, in turn, prevents me from reaching what might be my full potential.
This surprising recognition arose a few weeks ago while sitting in traffic on my commute home from work…
Between the time I leave the office in the suburbs and arrive back at my cozy little house near downtown Nashville, I drive by countless mansions that could pass as manors or chateaus of wealthy royals from another country. One in particular has caught my attention and held it tightly for the past four-or-so months. What started as an empty dirt lot quickly developed into something of a dream home to me — a big, modern farmhouse, painted white with dramatic peaks, a dark tiled roof, natural wood accents, gas lanterns… the front lawn stamped with a pair of towering trees and outlined by a beautiful wooden fence that I witnessed getting installed panel by panel and painted over the course of three days from my stopped car. I find myself staring longingly at this house, contemplating the empty lot it once was and what it has become, and I get a bit carried away as I imagine the people who get to live in it — what they must have accomplished to be building their dream home in the first place; the clothes they will toss haphazardly around their rooms as they decide what to wear each day; what a lazy Sunday might look for them and their family. “Far different than what mine is and ever will be” is typically the conclusion I reach as the traffic lightens up and I’m on my merry little way.
Far different than what mine is and ever will be. It’s a half-true statement and one that I don’t pay much attention to as I think it and then un-think it. Before I know it or realize that I’ve thought it in the first place, it’s gone. But the damage is done.
That statement is a total dig at where I’m at now, and a complete disregard to where I’m heading. By thinking it and believing it, two things are happening at once: I’m inviting in the idea that my life now has less value than someone else’s by comparison (Far different than what mine is…), and I’m innately rejecting a future in which I could accomplish something I deem worthy of accomplishing (… and ever will be.).
Just like becoming a realist was a byproduct of my fantastical childhood, this negative self-talk (as harmless as it might seem at first) is an outcome of thinking too sensibly and leaving little room to envision something greater for myself.
Reflecting on the last few years of my life, this way of thinking has stopped me from going for and potentially attaining countless things — some as major as applying for a dream job and others as silly as talking to that cute boy at the bar. Before I’ve even given anyone the chance to get to know me, I’ve already made up their minds for them that I’m not exactly what they’re looking for. In saving face… in sitting it out… in making the assumption that I’m not worthy of time or space… I’m settling for a life that isn’t all it could be.
That’s why this year, this decade, and for life, I’m making a little bit more room to dream. I’ll talk to myself differently, and invite in the reality that I’m actually worthy of a lot of great things — both in my personal life and in my career.
Maybe I won’t one day live in a huge mansion in the suburbs of Nashville. But also, maybe I will. Maybe I won’t write a bestselling novel. But maybe I will. Maybe I won’t get every little thing in life that I once hoped for. But maybe, just maybe, I will.
Before I do good on accomplishing those things, though, I have to first believe that I can.
I can dream big. I can love and be loved. I can find purpose and I can be happy. I can be fully committed and go for it, I can attain it, and I can surely survive if fail. I can live an inspired life. And I can do it all while being totally, completely, unapologetically me.
Yes, I can.
Cheers to you, 2020.