Everywhere I turn, there’s some idea of who I am, how I’m supposed to be living my life, what I should be doing. It’s not the world shouting at me, but a constant whisper of what if. This question is a dangerous, often misleading one.
It can inspire and motivate, sure. I feel like we’re overwhelmed with an illusion of limitless potential. It’s equally uplifting and overwhelming. The crushing weight of expectation contrasts with hope’s natural buoyancy.
I don’t know how to balance these feelings, and most people my age don’t either. It seems that as we age (based on my older friends), the gravity of expectation does one of two things: either it grounds youthful fantasy in a healthier reality, or it drags you deep down into resentment and despair.
Of course, we’re all fighting the ups and downs of life. Whatever plateaus we experience never last long (and if they do, they often result from complacency). Whatever we do, the contentment never lasts long.
But it’s not a fear of change that consumes me anymore. I’ve made relative peace with the unknown. What worries me now is the intoxicating notion of hustle and grind. I’m worried about getting caught up in the idea of the thing versus its reality.
If you’re on social media (at all), you’ll see dream worlds and lives aplenty. Destinations and lifestyles beyond wildest imagining tempt with seemingly endless possibilities. I’m learning that this emphasis on destination neglects the dedication, drive, and discipline required to transform dreams into reality.
As a conflicted idealist and a practiced realist, I understand the joys and dangers of dreaming. My biggest challenge as a creative creature resides in the conversion, transformation, and construction of the path to my big ideas. There’s a reason it took me a year even to begin my novel.
And there’s a reason (two years into the journey) that I’m nowhere near complete. Most of the time, this doesn’t irk me. But most of the time, I don’t have the space, desire, or energy to dwell on my creative goals. Too often, I’m overwhelmed by my daily responsibilities and commitments.
Giving in to that unrelenting desire to create means becoming a slave to my passions. It’s a realm of success best occupied by intentional hedonists and tortured artists (not that those are mutually exclusive). Emotions aren’t a negative thing, nor an enemy to intellect and reason, as some believe.
But there’s a delicate, precise balance to appreciating and indulging one’s passions—without becoming the wild untamed. You can’t capture and leash your passions lest the reins drag you along. Conversely, you’ll find it next to impossible to keep up with wild horses, wolves, a flock of birds running through your mind.
Instead, cultivate the patience needed to capture that one shot of a snow leopard. Even if it means sitting still for hours in the freezing snow, build the discipline that kind of opportunity demands. Life passes you by if you don’t work to hold onto it. If you’ve seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you’ll appreciate this attendance to wild abandon, I mean.
Of course, Walter’s denied his passions for years instead of chasing them around the world like the photographer in the movie. Too many people, myself included, feel as if they can spend their realities chasing dreams. But without putting in the hard work to get there, you’ll find yourself running out of steam.
But how do we avoid these meteoric moments? Finding out what it takes to defy gravity for more than a few seconds doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process and a long one at that.
As a kid, I kind of resented those motivational posters, especially this one. I think what irked me the most was the feeling of settling when you landed among the stars.
As an adult, I get that this poster’s trying to push for excellence while still leaving room for error and failure. I even embrace the lessons we can learn from failure, anticipated or not. What I detest about this statement is:
- Aiming for the heavens isn’t settling at all.
- Stars aren’t any old, average thing.
- If you miss the moon, appreciate the view from the stars. And then move on. Don’t get comfortable!
- Keep on trying for your money goal, learning from your mistakes.
- If you didn’t make it alone, get help. I don’t know of any single-manned mission to space.
- For heaven’s sake, you’re aiming skywards, so coming down is only natural.
You and your goal weren’t average from the start, so why act as if they were? This is what I mean when I say defying gravity. You’re allowed to aim high. I encourage it.
For those closest to me, you know I expect and demand you to push yourself. (Hell, a friend’s mom called me Demanda behind my back even in high school.) I this from selfish benevolence. I wish to surround myself with people who aspire higher. Being around people who aim for success means I’ll push myself more. That’s the selfish aspect.
Suppose I’m benefiting from excellent souls around me, our collective willpower functions as an accountability and safety net. We elevate each other, bearing one another aloft. When I expect people to aim high, it’s done in solidarity with a low tolerance for quitting.
Of course, standards for excellence vary by ability, person, and circumstance–something high school Demanda didn’t understand. If no one ever expects the most of you, how will you know where you’re destined to land?
You're a shining star, no matter who you are. Shining bright to see what you could truly be.
Earth, Wind, and Fire
But it’s not about shining bright to stand out. And it’s not about being the best you you can be because the world tells you that’s who to be. Stop buying into the false dreamscapes perpetuated on social media.
These golden moments sell you something that requires actual effort. The idealized slideshows online spark a desperate wanderlust, often based on escapist desires. It’s not a true wanderlust but that of those disillusioned by their daily lives.
It’s not that social media’s the problem any more than the people sharing their accomplished dreams. It’s that we don’t think about the endless consumption of daydreams. Feeding ourselves nothing but illusion makes working, trying, and living that much harder.
It makes us question the reality of lunar landings, making us comfortable with complacency. But this life’s too rich to slide through it, simply hoping for more. You must find what fuels your fire before you burn out.
Disengagement and Disruption
As Dr. Albert Ellis so eloquently put it, “Stop shoulding on yourself.” What does this mean? All of those times you thought, I should do this, or be like this, or feel like this were moments where you shat upon yourself. You came from a place of vulnerability and filled it with fear and self-doubt. You were too caught up in your identity and lost sight of how to defy gravity.
This is what Brené Brown calls disengagement, which she roughly defines as the gap between culture or “who we are” and strategy or “the game plan.” The only way to close this gap and believe in your ability to fly sky high is to “Align values with action.”
Now, I’m not necessarily one to let my identity define how I act. Identity is impactful in a group setting. For example, I am a Catholic. In a room of non-Catholics, my identity makes me stand out. In a roomful of Catholics, I blend. Identity etymologically means “the quality of being the same.” Mathematically it means, “a transformation that leaves an object unchanged.”
In essence, your culture—often a voluntary group identity—doesn’t change despite any transformations you undergo. I’m not sure how well this translates to people. I feel like there’s a litany of arguments to be had about the definition of identity, but I will say this: Feelings transform all the time, so how you feel about yourself today doesn’t define who you are tomorrow.
We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.Brené Brown
I’m not entirely in agreement with this quote, but I will say that what we know about ourselves certainly affects what we believe we can do. If you don’t think yourself capable of defying gravity, you never will be. Even believing in your potential for big goals means knowing yourself enough to know that you can grow.
Remember how I said that reaching for the sky wasn’t an average goal? Expect to fall, a little or a lot. This depends on you and your self-awareness. If your game plan is to write a book by 2019, and you know you have poor time management, it makes sense to work on time management skills.
Building new habits and changing our scripts about who we are (i.e., Millennials, American, etc.) takes work. It’s not easy, and you have to be in for some discomfort. If you’re rescripting yourself, you’re disruptively engaging with a new narrative. That means things are changing, including your story about yourself. Stories die when static, as does life. So keep it moving and reach for those stars.
Don’t be afraid to fail, rather expect to do so. I’m talking about planning for the best with the worst in mind. Sure, we can’t predict the future, but we can be open to the uncertainties it brings into our lives. And if we’re not aiming for meteoric goals, we might make it to the moon.
Lunar landings are possible, but they remain a dream if you never take that first leap. Risking your comfort and complacency with a willing embrace of the unknown takes great daring. I hope you’re not okay with staying in the plateaus and lulls of life. I hope you dare to live your brief existence as bright as you can. I hope you dare to defy all the things that will weigh you down. Dare to dream, but even more, dare to make dreams real.
Thanks again for following my stories. As always, I hope they help you (or someone else in your life). I’ll keep trying to share the lessons I learn from life as best I can.
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