Hopes, Dreams, & Other Things You Might Find on an Inspirational Poster

As adults, we frequently find ourselves smashing our lives into the moulds we think we should be in. We take a job at 21, or graduate with a certain degree; we decide at a young age that we’re outgoing, or shy, or brash, or funny; we dream of a certain future and our fate hangs in the balance as we make our way toward it. If we fail, we’ve failed at life. If we succeed, we find ourselves thinking that we’ve found the only thing we’re good at.

This was never the case as children. Nope, you never heard the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Jenny?” answered with “A mid-level manager at a small company in Des Moines, paid slightly more than minimum wage.” The only acceptable answers were things like astronaut, firefighter, ballet dancer, teacher, artist—in short, the most brilliant you you could imagine.

[Note: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a mid-level manager. I love the idea of dedicating yourself to being a good worker, and allowing that consistent centerpiece of life to make room for a flourishing personal life. I think it’s great, in fact. Just for the record.]

But now that you’re old and crotchety and you think you should be succeeding and climbing and all those other adult things, it feels a bit embarrassing to admit that maybe the 21 year-old you didn’t predict the future perfectly (shocking!), and that maybe you should try something else on for size. Or maybe fear gets you: just as you decide to get wild and dream big, you trip over your kid’s sippy cup and decide that maybe you could have dreamed big and made changes before you were responsible for other small humans, but now…now you have to think of them.

Let’s press pause on that line of thinking for a teensy weensy moment.

If you find yourself wanting a different path in your 30s (or 40s or 50s, etc.), I say you should sit yourself down and ask that little person that used to be in you to dream once again. Take off the limits and blow off the ceiling. Open your mind’s eye as wide as it can go and let your imagination take you on a tour of the world you used to think was possible. Just for a second, stop being so damned responsible and logical and sensible. Let that little giddy ember of hope go nuts and set your insides ablaze. Just go and go and enjoy the respite from all the furrowed brows that we have so expertly cultivated.

Think about what you would say to a child, and say it to yourself. If little Jenny told you she wanted to be an astronaut, you wouldn’t answer back, “Well, really I think the best you can hope for is a dental assistant. It’s a sensible job.” (If you would say that, I don’t want to be friends with you. You’re an a-hole. Might want to reflect on that.) No, you’d say, “That’s awesome! We should go to the library and learn more about space! And math and science—those will be important! Woo hoo!”

So, this very moment you should do this: tell your crotchety self to cram it for a second and, instead, fan the flames. Because we need to keep growing! We need to keep dreaming. We need to open our arms wide to the possibilities in this great, big, magical world. And about those kids: keep in mind that, just like you taught them to tie their shoes, you’re teaching them to dream. No kid can truly and deeply believe in their own unbridled possibility when they search their parents’ eyes only to find doubt, fear, and regret. Teach them (and teach yourself) that we need to open our ears to the whispers on the wind saying that there are great things to be done and that we’re just the people to do them.

What Makes You

Over the past 24 hours, my new neighbors downstairs, the musicians, have been experimenting with the electric organ and its possibilities in the landscape of their music. Primarily, this has consisted of two chords being played one after another, over and over in a sort of trance-like repetition. They worked with these two chords for many hours last night. Then again, today in the morning. And right now, they’re still playing the two chords.And they’ve added a very 90s-esque electric guitar.It’s not terrible, it’s just part of being a musician. I get it. Sounds like crap to everyone who has to hear the process, but that’s how music is written. It’s just that most of the time we don’t have to hear the rough sketch.

But now…now they’ve added bad electric drums. And the synthetic bass drum is buzzing in my ears, threatening to drive me insane or wake my napping child (or likely a combination of the two). It’s taking everything in me to not go down there, channel my inner 85 year old woman, and tell them to, “keep that derned racket down!”

I started a speech in my head. It went something like, “Hey guys, can you keep it down a little? Maybe plug in some earphones? I mean, I’m a musician…I get it, but…”

I had hit a sticking point in my imaginary speech. “I’m a musician?” I asked myself. I mean, I am. I think. The thing is, I haven’t written anything new or recorded anything new in many years now, so I’m getting dangerously close to the phrase “I was a musician.” Now that my mind had unearthed this little insecurity, I had to grab it. Pick at it. Figure it out.

Am I really so out of practice that I can no longer be called a musician? Was I ever good enough to make that claim to begin with? What makes you a musician? What makes you anything?

Bach off I'm a Musician

By ryanmotoNSB

In the end, the thing that makes my noisy neighbors musicians is this: they are actively playing music. Right now their fingers are pressing down on those same two chords, searching for something to come out in just the right way. They are playing music. They are being musicians. And that’s it.

When my older brother and I were in high school he got on the tennis team. He wasn’t the school champion or anything, but he worked hard and he was steadily improving. One day, he came home after tennis and made a bold proclamation: “I’ve figured out the key to playing tennis!”

I had no real interest in playing tennis, let alone being any good at it, but it’s hard for me to pass up the key to anything, so I asked him what it was. “You just hit the ball over the net,” he said. He gazed out the window with a quiet reverence as if he had just discovered string theory. I thought he was a little bonkers. I wondered what he had been trying to do with the ball up until that point.

Looking back, though, I think he’s kinda right. Getting the ball over the net really is the whole goal, right? Maybe the key to being a musician is just to play. And the key to being a writer is just to slam your fingers against the keyboard relentlessly until the words pour out.

Get the ball over the net. Let the notes ring out. Get some words on the page. Sooner or later you’ll get the ball over the net more times than not. And you’ll have a 45 minute set. You’ll have a book, or a memoir, or a journal, or a screenplay. And then maybe you’ll be what you set out to be.

Perhaps it’s simply the doing that makes you.

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