I have a new theory that most people – but not all – have at least one Big Thing they want to accomplish in this life. The kind of Thing that if you didn’t do, you’d find yourself lying on your deathbed going, “Why the hell didn’t I do that?”
It’s the carrot dangling just out of reach. The thing that keeps us moving forward, the idea that one day, we’re going to do this Thing and it will fill in a gap in our otherwise incomplete lives.
For some people, it’s travel. For others, it might be opening their own cake-decorating business, learning Mandarin, raising alpacas, or losing weight.
But for many of us, the one thing we want most might never happen.
Not because it’s impossible, not because of incompatible circumstances, but because we push away the opportunity.
My mom has been throwing around the idea of moving to Washington D.C. since she retired last year. For as long as I can remember, she’s yearned to live in a place where she doesn’t need a car. Where she can walk to a local market or hop on public transportation to visit an art fair.
Walkable Washington, D.C. has placed high on the list because of its proximity to Gallaudet University, the premier university in the US for deaf education. Both of my parents are Gallaudet alumni, and my mom is considering teaching a class on early childhood education or taking art classes there. (She’s an incredible artist – have a look at the illustrations on my blog header for some examples of her work.)
D.C. is one of her carrots, and it’s within her reach.
So what’s stopping her?
“I’m not sure,” she told me. “What if I get there, and I’m disappointed? What if it’s not that great after all?”
I know exactly what she means.
In Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” there are two characters who have been dying to see each other for 20 years. When the opportunity finally arises, one of them suddenly isn’t sure he wants to take it:
“Maybe we shouldn’t meet again[…]Wasn’t it better if they kept this desire to see each other hidden within them, and never actually got together? That way, there would always be hope in their hearts. That hope would be a small, yet vital flame[…]a flame that the violent winds of reality might easily extinguish. ”
What if this thing I’ve wanted for so long actually isn’t that great?
In fact, what if it sucks?
My Big Thing isn’t travel – I’m doing that already. It’s writing. I have a few Little Things, like becoming fluent in French and running a marathon, but the Big Thing, the Thing that hangs over my head, is definitely writing.
There are two things I want to accomplish before I’ll feel comfortable calling myself a writer:
1. Earning an income from regular freelance work.
2. Finishing the travel memoir I’ve been writing at irregular intervals since 2007.
So what’s stopping me?
Well, me. I’m the one standing in my way. Here’s what I do:
What if my book is terrible?
What if every editor I contact rejects my pitches?
What if I do these two things and they aren’t as satisfying as I think they will be?
But the question I should be asking is this:
What if I JUST WROTE THE BOOK? Notice that my goal isn’t even to have it published! It’s just to complete the damn thing.
And what if it did get published?
What if I sent a pitch out every day? Even if every single one was rejected, I wouldn’t be any worse off than I am right now.
And what if a few of them got accepted?
And what if it’s even better than I imagined?
Because here’s the key: when you accomplish your dreams, that isn’t the end.
You make new ones.
And if they don’t turn out to be as good as you thought, well, that’s okay.
You make new ones.
Reality might extinguish one flame of hope, but you can always light another one. And what’s worse – finding a new, exciting dream or chasing a not-so-great dream your whole life, and never even realizing it?
And do people actually regret achieving their dreams?
All I hear about are the ones who are sorry they never tried.