One of the benefits of my job as a public servant is that, what it lacks in high pay, it makes up for in abundant paid vacation time. Over this recent holiday season, I’ve had about three weeks off, which provided me with time to tend to last minute shopping, cooking and baking before Christmas, and still more time to catch up with friends and family once the rush was over. And honestly, who doesn’t appreciate some down time?
Just a few days ago, I had lunch with my daughter and two of my old friends from high school, Lynne and Mary Claire. We covered a lot of topics, but much of our time was spent discussing resolutions (it was New Year’s Eve Day, after all) and dreams/aspirations. Resolutions, we all agreed, were usually not a good thing. Making the typical list of resolutions that we mere mortals attempt at the start of each new year – to stop smoking, or lose weight, or exercise more, or become more organized (insert your own grandiose and generalized ideal here) – was usually a recipe for failure. But dreams? Well, dreams are just a whole other animal.
As I see it, a resolution is what you make when you feel ready to punish yourself for past misdeeds. Maybe that’s why resolutions are so easy to toss aside when they are not accomplished in record time. But a dream or aspiration is just the opposite. It’s a place where you envision your future self. Resolutions are made to fix something negative, while dreams put us in a place where we have worked hard to accomplish something important and worthwhile.
Resolutions usually don’t work because we make them too enormous. We start with the biggest version of what we want to fix, give ourselves too small of a window of time to complete the assignment, and then wonder why it didn’t work out, usually while reminding ourselves what losers we are.
For ten years, I worked as a trainer in a gym. Every January, we would be inundated with people who came in, often after years of doing no physical activity more taxing than clicking a TV remote or walking from the closest parking space to the elevator of their office buildings, and expressed an intention to “get in shape”, usually in the shortest possible time frame. There was often an unrealistic weight loss goal that accompanied this plan.
For the first few weeks in January, they showed up at the gym regularly, and paid me, or a fellow trainer, to help them create and execute an exercise program. When dealing with people who are not already physically fit, most trainers will err on the side of caution (“The Biggest Loser” is not what reality looks like, by the way!) and construct a plan that will gradually introduce exercise in a manageable way. Start small, see a little improvement, and then do a little more.
Which is a good plan, except when you’re dealing with stubborn people who want to see immediate results. They aren’t happy, if after two weeks, they haven’t lost 20 pounds and aren’t ready to run a marathon. They lose interest, and focus, and they decide that it’s too hard to accomplish the goals (resolutions) they set. By Valentine’s Day, the majority of the newbies vanished from the gym.
I haven’t made any resolutions in a number of years now, because I know myself well enough to know that I don’t keep them. This year, my only resolution, if you will, is to continue to do good works. Little things that I can do to help make life better for someone else, whether it’s to volunteer time or money to a charity, or to donate blood regularly, or just to keep writing this blog and giving you, the reader, some food for thought about something. Doing a little good for someone else is also good for me.
Here’s a balance I’ve struck: Resolve on a small scale, but dream on a big one. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?
While we discussed dreams the other day, Celeste mentioned a quote about dreams that she’d read somewhere. I looked it up later, and found it in its entirety. This bit of wisdom comes from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the current president of Liberia:
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
When I first determined that my dream was to go to work for the Foo Fighters, you may recall that the first thought I had after making this determination was that I was crazy. And I kept my dream completely to myself, fearing that anyone else who knew about it would just confirm my fear and agree that I was, indeed, riding the crazy train. With a first-class ticket, even. President Sirleaf hit the nail on the head. My dream scared the hell outta me.
But time passed, and the dream didn’t leave me. And I knew I had to give it a voice, which is why I finally began to discuss it with people close to me, at least the ones I trusted not to have me committed. The dream began to lead me to new experiences. I took the GRE. I enrolled in grad school. I started this blog.
Even as I took these steps, I had no idea why I was taking them. I only knew that they were the right steps, all part of the plan. I’m still not sure where I’m going, and I don’t know what the next step is, but I have learned to trust the process. Walking this path is scary, especially for a pragmatist like me who likes to know what’s next. But I walk it with a sense of anticipation, rather than a sense of dread. I just keep going forward, knowing that whatever the next right move is, I’ll know it when I see it.
And the dream never leaves me. It just becomes larger and brighter. Which begs the question; am I getting closer to realizing this dream, or is the dream becoming bigger? Perhaps a little of both. What if the dream isn’t just about me landing what I consider the best job in the world, working for the best band in the world? What if getting that job is just the launching point for something really important? What if it leads to making the world better in some way?
We pondered this over lunch, and Lynne tossed out a word for it.
Celeste and I pondered this on the way home. She said she always thinks of “audacious” as having a negative connotation, which is correct. One definition of the word means “to show an impudent lack of respect.” But there’s more. Audacious also means “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.” Synonyms for audacious include daring, fearless, intrepid, brave, courageous, valiant, heroic, plucky. Who wouldn’t want to have a dream that embodied these traits?
So yeah, my dream is audacious. But I’m ok with that. I hear all the really good dreams are.