What Are You Waiting For? Do Something!
April 28, 2017 / By Katie Hnatik
Life gets in the way of living. We go to work, go grocery shopping, cook food. We do all the daily things and the days go by quickly, well, except for those hours in a cubicle, or office, or just spent beholden to employers. But once in a while, things get quiet and we see it all in slow motion. We look around, see a trajectory that maybe we’re not happy with entirely.
But so many of us tell ourselves that this is how it is. This is our life. We’re happy enough. Well, we’re not unhappy. We’re happy spending time with our loved ones. Isn’t that what it’s all about? And as long as we have that, maybe reaching for more is selfish or maybe it puts what we have at risk.
We know that life isn’t about being ecstatically happy all the time. We’re mature enough to realize that that’s just not how life is. We’re fully realistic in that way and don’t have a problem putting on our big girl/boy pants and getting things done.
Sure, we have dreams of being a writer, or a traveler, or a chef, or going back to school, or doing something to give back to the world, or any number of things, but we don’t have time for that now. We have obligations to those we love or we have debt that needs to be paid. Maybe, once things have calmed down or that credit card bill is gone, then we’ll think about that dream.
Those obligations never go away. As soon as you think you have your to-do list cleared out, there’s something new that needs to be done. And let me tell you, when you’re working on paying off debt, it’s so easy for something to crop up that’s unavoidable, like a crown that suddenly shatters when you bite down on a piece of dark chocolate. That’s right, I broke my damned crown on chocolate. And it’s easy to feel disheartened and maybe sight of the road for a little while.
So, if you’re telling yourself that you’re not ready, you probably never will be.
I know, I know. It’s all fine and good for someone with savings or no kids to drop everything and run into the sun after having an epiphany, handing in their notice at a job they hate, but that’s not for me. Maybe in a fantasy it sounds like fun, but it’s too scary and it’s too dramatic. I’m 100% with you. Life doesn’t really work that way. Not for the vast majority of us.
“So, the question is, what would you do if you only could?”
That old, cliché call to action of “follow your dreams” is fluffy and empty. It makes us feel all warm and gooey inside for like thirty seconds at Barnes and Noble when we see it on the front of a journal or on a poster, the words in cursive against a sepia tone photograph of the Eiffel Tower or some beautiful landscape background. But really, what does that even mean? What is this place shown on this poster, this symbol of following your dreams? It looks like a vacation. Is following your dreams going on vacation? I’ve been on vacation before. They’re great. They’re kind of like a reset (if they go well), but vacations don’t last forever, and that glow fades after a surprisingly and sadly, short time.
So, the question is, what would you do if you only could? Maybe like me, and like so many of us, you don’t know. I’ve gone through so many shifts in what I thought I wanted to do with my life.
I thought for some time that I wanted to be a chef of some sort. I spent a grand amount of time researching different chef-type jobs and in the end, I decided each and every one of them was not for me. In theory, it sounds like a ton of fun. Go to culinary arts school, graduate, get a job doing what you love, but it’s so not likely that that’s what would happen. You’d go to school, graduate with debt, then have to struggle with all the competition of other graduates, as well as those who started cooking 10 years ago in some dive bar, and have progressed, and now have way more experience than you. You’ll probably have to start in a low paying position that hopefully pays the bills. Besides that, there will be long, very long days and when your friends or family are going out for dinner or drinks, you’ll be working because it will likely be during the busy time for a restaurant.
Okay, maybe I could be a personal chef instead and maybe, because I’m a bit of a nerd about nutrition and how different nutrients effect the body, I can incorporate that and help people live healthier lives and fulfill the need I have to feel like I’m adding value to the world. But…I hate doing dishes and grocery shopping and to be a personal chef, I’d have to shop for all the ingredients needed for my dishes and then would have to clean up after myself on a large scale. I’m pretty sloppy in the kitchen.
Then, at one point I got into running…like obsessively into running. I subscribed to several podcasts about ultra-running, read books and magazines. I learned all that I could about these athletes who became my heroes by performing amazing feats like running 135 miles through Death Valley from the the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the US, 279 feet below sea level, to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet above sea level; running across the Sahara desert; and running crazy obstacle races like (or should I say there’s nothing like) The Barkley Marathons, coined “the race that eats it’s young.”
And I ran. Me who, since I was twelve, never ran if I could avoid it. I talked Chris into running a marathon with me. We trained for about 6 months. I had a love-hate relationship with the reality of running. And since the marathon in 2011, I run only on occasion, though I keep planning to run more…(*ahem, note to self).
“I followed my dream repeatedly. One dream after another.”
In 2012 we were going to be nomadic travelers, living out of an RV and picking up random jobs. We planned for it and then in 2013, we bought a truck and a camper and hit the road. We didn’t feel like we were ready to strike out on our own for the long term yet. We travelled down the west coast from Alaska, spending about 2 months traveling and exploring, and then settled down in my brother’s driveway until we found an apartment. The idea was to live somewhere new, with a longer hiking season, and save more money to maybe upgrade to a bigger RV. After arriving in Colorado however, a little road weary and not used to being jobless, feeling uncomfortable without a regular income (even with a fair buffer in our bank account at the time), we decided that the nomadic lifestyle wasn’t for us. At least not at this time in our lives. So, we sold our camper and truck (for less than we would have hoped) and settled into an apartment with jobs while we worked on figuring out what our next move would be.
I’ve had a lot of starts and stops. The directions I’ve mentioned are only a few on a long list, and sometimes I feel disheartened by that, but in pursuing so many things, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons about myself, and a lot of skills.
I followed my dream repeatedly. One dream after another. I followed each one until I reached an impasse, and over time I realized that it doesn’t matter if what we follow leads to that full-blown, dream realized feeling that we all hope for. I was happy when I was pursuing something. I was excited. I was engaged in my life. I was more confident, even if I was very nervous about what I was doing or considering.
I am someone who easily feels stuck and I think that’s something that we all feel from time to time. If I spend too much time sitting on the couch after work, watching TV or doing chores, and I realize that all of my time was spent doing useful things for my employers or maybe just frivolously spent, and that I’ve not given any attention to the things that are useful to me, I feel stuck.
Follow your dreams doesn’t have to mean some big, crazy, drop-everything-and-change-your-life action. It can be small things.
Maybe there’s a trail that you pass on the way to the DMV whenever you have to renew your registration. You notice it when you drive to that part of town that you only visit when the motor vehicle gods deem it necessary. Each time you pass it, it pulls your curiosity strings and you tell yourself that you’ll plan a day hike there to explore. Following your dreams can be as easy as taking action on small things like that, making a decision to go down that path after work today or on your next day off. It can be as simple as reading about a place you want to visit, finding out how much the airfare and lodging will cost so you can make a budget to save. It can be researching the local community college to find out if it’s accredited and whether it offers courses that will take you in the direction you want to go.
“If you want those in your life to be happy, you can be sure they want the same for you.”
If your dream is bigger, say you want to make a career change, or start your own business, that doesn’t mean you have to walk out of your current job and safety net overnight. You can set goals for yourself to learn a little or take small actions toward making that dream a reality. Make a commitment to yourself and schedule in a little time every day to focus on growing.
Don’t talk yourself out of pursuing what you want to do, just because it seems too big, (or too small).
We often talk ourselves out of our dreams because of how we think they will affect those around us. We worry about stability, about what other people will say about the things we want, about the extra time it will take. If those are your fears, be open with those that you’re worried about effecting. Talk to your spouse, your family. Be open about what you want. We all want happiness for those we love. If you want those in your life to be happy, you can be sure they want the same for you. Big dreams might require compromise and creative solutions. It’s important to be open and honest (on both sides of the conversation) to determine what the best course is.
When I don’t take steps to grow and move in a direction that matters to me, I tend to disengage. Time goes by and I’m not necessarily appreciating my experiences along the way. I tend to be grumpier and have less patience. It puts a strain on my relationships and I’ve seen this same effect in other families. In that sense, you don’t do any favors for anyone by not doing the things that are meaningful to you and that make you happy.
I’m a better, kinder, more confident person when I focus on my own growth and you know, the lessons that I learn along the way equip me to better help those around me. The more experiences I have, the deeper my well of knowledge, and I can use that knowledge to help others.
We each have one life. What do you want to do with yours? Go do it.
-Title picture is featured in the “Our Favorite Places” gallery.
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