This post is for anyone who has ever had a dream. The passionate ones. Creative ones. Visionaries. Artists. Storytellers. Meaning makers. Lost ones looking for the way back to something they feel but can’t see.
I was cleaning out my closet this past weekend and it got me thinking about dreams. Those big, hairy, audacious ideas for something you love to do but don’t. It’s scary to put your dream out there, let alone go for it. A dream is a tiny flicker of a flame and there are dream crushers everywhere. One wrong look or word and poof!
But the dream keeps tugging at your sleeve: Listen! Pay attention to this! This is good stuff! Let’s see what we can make happen here!
It’s soooo easy to defer your dream.
If you follow me, you know my story. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. Two degrees, a professional writing career and 43 years later, I’m just now getting back to making space for my dream of being an author. There. I said it.
< insert terrified look here >
It’s one thing to say you want to do or be something. It’s quite another to make the commitment despite the doubts, insecurity and gigantic hairball of fear that tells you oh no, you can’t do THAT. That’s not going to put food on the table, pay for goalie gloves and new brakes for the truck. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are, thinking you can do THAT??? And then there’s life. That thing that happens when you’re busy making other plans.
But then there is that little tug on your sleeve.
My dream-deferring journey
As a kid, my short stories and poetry were charming until I officially declared my intent to be a writer. Flight attendant was considered a more practical profession. In seventh grade, my favorite teacher in the entire world, Mrs. Shorb, persuaded my mother otherwise at a parent-teacher conference. (Forever grateful. Big shout out to teachers here – you matter so very much.)
Flash forward to college. I changed majors from creative writing to professional writing in my sophomore year. My eighteen-year-old logic was, I like to eat. I could write creatively on the side. I wrote for agencies and corporations for a few years. I took an eight-year hiatus to have two kids and build a business with my now ex-husband.
Want to put your marriage to the ultimate test? Go into business together. 🙂
Get this: I was the president of a union fire alarm/voice data commercial contracting business in Chicago. Oh, the things we do for love. But that is another post for another day.
I applied my creative skills where I could, especially when it came time to collections. The construction industry is like the wild west when it comes to getting paid. I once showed up at a commercial real estate company in downtown Chicago – as promised in the story I wrote and sent via email – to collect a check that was six months late. My story included a line that since they were stealing food from kids, they might as well meet them in person when I came to collect my check. And we weren’t leaving until we got it.
I showed up the next day as promised with my two kids, ages three and five in tow. As we made our ascent in the elevator to their fancy office on the millionth floor, I said, “Hey guys – you know how we always have to use our ‘inside voices’? Well, not here!! They LOVE it when you run around and use your OUTSIDE voices. AND you can jump on the furniture, too!”
The second my littles’ grape juice-stained hands groped the beveled glass doors, the receptionist picked up the phone with her carefully manicured nails, bless her heart. Doris, the woman who had been ignoring my calls for months, rushed out smiling sheepishly. I know it wasn’t her fault, btw, but she was the one I had to convince. It was that or lose my house and lay off my employees.
I got my check.
Keeping your dream in the closet
We ran our business from the basement of our home for several years before we got an office. I spent too many years underground doing mostly unpaid work I hated for someone I loved. For someone else’s dream. Between having electricians there at all hours bidding blueprints and little kids running amok, there was never a quiet moment or place to think, let alone write. One night, out of sheer desperation, I moved my desk into our walk-in closet, shoving my clothes into a spare hall closet. Writing in there was weird. But it was quiet. I stayed up all night writing. I’ll never forget the look on my ex-husband’s face when he slid that closet door open the next morning and saw me sitting there at my desk below the wire clothes rack.
Eventually, we moved the business to an office space. I came out of the closet, moving my writing desk to an actual room on the first floor. Oh the irony.
See, I always kept my dream going on the side.
During that chaotic time running a business and raising kids, I put myself through graduate school part-time at night. I taught at several universities and volunteered at a nursing home doing writing classes. I continued to freelance write marketing copy for agency clients. I had a few things published in obscure literary anthologies you’ve never heard of. Won some awards. Got a ton of writing submission rejection letters. I didn’t sleep much. I questioned my sanity. But there was always that little voice. That gentle tug on my sleeve.
Don’t let this go. No matter what anyone tells you.
We sold the business and I went back to work full time. Food on the table stuff. I did pretty good, I guess. Moved around a lot, eventually becoming a director of people and things. I did some cool work, traveled to some interesting places, met some wonderful people. But something was missing. I stopped writing creatively. The little voice was quiet. Maybe I stopped listening. It was too painful.
I think that’s when I got lost.
My entire life, I have tried to write “around everything else.”
It felt selfish and frivolous to put time into something that was just for me with no definitive monetary payoff. It was easier to put my efforts into someone else. No risk there. Someone else to blame. Always deferring my dreams and wants to later. Someday. Oh wait. Never.
No. It’s more than that. I was scared. Who was I to think I could dare to be great at something I loved? The thing that makes me happiest. Makes me feel connected to the universe. Like I belong here. The thing I must do.
I am simultaneously deliriously happy and utterly terrified as I write this out loud. And yet here we are.
Making space for the dream
Like you, I’ve got work to do, bills to pay, places to be, toilet paper rolls that always seem to be empty exactly as I appear, and a to-do list that could beat Santa’s gift list. Don’t get me wrong. I love my business and my clients. My kids and my work are my first priority. Hence why I am writing this late at night. But it’s time to feed the family and the soul, as the saying goes. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that when I keep the creative pond stocked, I bring that energy back to everything in my life. I have learned that I have to be creative about it. And if you want something bad enough, you fight for it. Make space for it.
Earlier this year, I picked up a second-hand desk. It sits in my bedroom near the only window. I wake up at 5AM every morning to my dream waiting for me to show up. I started this blog post yesterday in the car on the back of a receipt and my hand while I waited for my daughter to finish soccer practice. I wrote more notes while making meatloaf for dinner before taking my son to work. And now I am staying up late to put it all together. It feels important to get this story right.
There’s more to my dream. But it’s a flicker at the moment. My hands are cupped carefully around the flame.
Do you feel the tug on your sleeve?
Listen. Believe. Don’t give up. I’m nobody special. If I can make space, you can, too. I’ll save a spot in the closet until you’re ready to come out. 🙂
Tonight’s musical writing inspiration. Whatever this is. The stars were not out tonight as I wrote. But I know they are there.