I grew up in a tiny town in the middle of Missouri’s farmland. Homeschooled, a music student and book-lover, with no friends outside of church and homeschool group, my internal world was just as tiny as my surroundings. So I dreamed. While mowing our 3-acre lawn, I physically ached to hike through the Welsh Marches, to roll on the Scottish Heather. I pictured myself a professor of literature, wearing a tweed jacket and discoursing learnedly on obscure topics. My reality-years passing as a small-town music teacher-and my dreams didn’t match, and the disparity hurt like a wound. Jealousy ate at me. I felt trapped and hopeless.
Somewhere, something changed. It took me longer than I’d like to admit, but I started living my dreams–modified versions, all of them, but soul-satisfying still. Now I travel with my little family constantly through the United States (international travel will come, I know) and I write for a living. I finally earned a degree in English. I wake ready to face the challenges ahead of me, and excited about life.
Strangely enough, I constantly meet people who feel as trapped as I once did. “I wish I could travel like you,” a friend said to me in a coffeehouse in Kansas City last week. “Well, you’re single and just finished a degree–now’s the time!” I pronounced, as if just by saying it he could catch a little of my enthusiasm. His response surprised and disheartened me. “Yeah, or I could settle down and finally get a stable job.” Thrown back in my memory to my own years of futility, I made an excuse and left. He was trapped, not by his circumstances, but by his mind. And the hard thing for me to realize was that his thinking felt very, very familiar.
Are you there? Trapped in an illogical conundrum–the impulse toward safety battling with the desire for adventure? Longing to travel, yet afraid to step out of your circumstances and do it? Money, family, career, issues of every kind weighing down on you like too much luggage, paralyzing you and withering your dreams?
Here’s the point of my post: take heart, you are not alone, and you are not really trapped. Of course I don’t know your special circumstances–you don’t know mine! But we both yearn to expand our horizons, see new views, meet fresh faces. In this post and the 3 other posts in the series, I will be unpacking a few of the basic steps that helped me begin to act on my dreams and thus find my life so much better than anything I could have dreamed.
This week, it’s simple. The first step: Recognize yourself. Take some time away from the maddening crowd–the people and pressures that weigh so heavily upon your heart. Maybe you curl up in an armchair with a hot chocolate at your favorite coffeehouse. Or sit, anonymous with a notebook, at a public library where no one will recognize you. Or you get up early, before your family and the dog wake up, and scribble notes on your tablet. Whatever you do, honor yourself by revisiting the dreams that have dwelt in your heart since you were young.
Where have you always wanted to go? Why? What draws you about that place in particular? I’ve always wanted to stumble into a certain kind of bookstore in London or Edinburgh, the kind where dust motes dance in the beam of light from the many-paned window in the dusty door, where first editions mix with random assortments of paperbacks, hardback, and no-backs, where the clerk looks up and blinks at me through thick, horn-rimmed glasses. I dream of browsing those shelves for hours and stumbling upon the one book that I’ve missed my whole life without knowing it.
Who do you want to be? Most people I’ve talked with are just like me: different inside than outside. Driven by societal and cultural pressure, emasculated by the demands of money, job, status, we become less and less in touch with our inner essence. In this exercise, I’m asking you to begin tapping your inner well again. You’re the only person who can honor who you want to be. This week, start to do just that. Ask yourself if you really are where you want to be. And if now, where exactly do you want to be?
Don’t be afraid of the answers. You’re not obligated to fulfill those internal demands–you certainly haven’t until now, so another year or two won’t make much difference! Acknowledge the power and the yearning of your dreams of travel, and get them down on paper. Sit with them. Add to them. It could take you six months, a year, five years. I’m still digging up those dreams and looking at them. Sometimes I look at them with loathing and sometimes with delight, but I can’t begin to emphasize the empowerment I feel by actually acknowledging them.
So now what do you have? Possibly, a scribbled notebook page with words like “Egypt.” “Bullfighting.” “Excitement.” “Romance.” “Paris.” You have a bit of a roadmap for your future. You at least have the ability to see your heart unfolding like a blooming rose, and to honestly face the disparity between who you are and who you want to be.
This first step, Recognizing Yourself, is a great beginning. My next few posts will discuss taking practical steps in the direction you choose to go, celebrating the small (and large) victories, and how to rinse and repeat.