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’sand 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 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.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
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. 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.