When I was four years old, I knew I wanted to be a mermaid; a mermaid with beautiful, long flowing hair, a sleek purple tail, and of course, the ability to breathe underwater. It was something I dreamt about day and night. And while I only knew how to doggy-paddle, I still believed that one day, I would be able to swim faster than anyone in the world.
Have you ever had a ridiculous dream-self? Maybe you wanted to be a beluga whale trainer (like me at one point), or a Jedi Knight (also like me). Maybe you wanted to learn how to play the mandolin, or how to build a rocket so you could eventually be an astronaut. As a kid, I knew I wanted to cure cancer. I could be anything I wanted because everything was possible and anything could happen.
And something did happen; And I think it may have happened to you too.
Maybe it was the pressure from school, or the stress of being bullied that stunted my ability to dream of the impossible being made possible. Maybe it was a voice in my head telling me to be reasonable; maybe it was the depression. Maybe I stopped dreaming because I was told that I needed to “make a living,” that I needed to grow up. I needed to jump on the Adulting Train.
By the time high school came around, I started to believe that “making a living” was just a phrase adults used as a lame excuse for why they had never chased their dreams. As for me, I didn’t want to make excuses. I didn’t want to be scared of reaching outside my comfort zone. I wanted to change the world, to make a difference. For the first time in forever, I asked myself this one, simple question:
What do I want?
Okay, so maybe it’s not such a simple question, but that’s because we tend to complicate things that were never meant to be complicated. For most of my life, I had done what others wanted me to do (good grades = happy teacher and happy mom. Full time job = money = security and comfort. College = the road to success, and so on). The first time I really took a huge step in following what my own heart wanted, was when I decided to take a year off before college. It was scary. Everyone I knew seemed to be choosing the college route, but it just wasn’t for me. I realized I didn’t want to be stuck in a classroom, drowning in papers, tests, and debt. I wanted to travel, to volunteer, to be outside as much as I could. I wanted to dig up those long-buried dreams and make them happen.
So I made a list (two lists).
List #1: what I think I should be doing
List#2: what I want to be doing
Putting my thoughts down on paper made me realize that I may not want the same things as other people, but that’s okay! Everyone’s life is different; not everyone chooses the same path. I could go to college and by doing so, hopefully make my mom happy, but at what cost? Sacrificing my dreams for logical reasoning isn’t worth it. Sacrificing my dreams for somebody else’s dream for me is even worse.
You have to take responsibility for your actions. Becoming a doctor may make your mom proud, but at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live with your choices, you’re the one who has to struggle with your regrets of never going after what you truly wanted. So I urge you to go back to your four-year-old self (or whatever age you were when you dared to dream), and to go dig up those desires you buried so long ago. If you didn’t have to worry about “making a living,” then what would your dream-self look like? What would you be doing? And if that’s a hard question for you, then maybe start by answering: what do you not want to do?