A couple of days ago, I was doing an exercise from The Artist’s Way. It was one of those things that look very stupid at first, but once you humble yourself and actually do it, it turns out to be an immensely useful, even healing, experience.
The exercise read:
Write a letter from you at eighty to you at your current age. What would you tell yourself? What interests would you urge yourself to pursue? What dreams would you encourage?
I started writing this letter with my usual scepticism, but I still tried to do it honestly and keep an open mind. And the experience was almost ground-breaking.
When I imagined myself at eighty, the way I’d like to be at eighty, I gave myself the freedom to dream and hope for things I rarely allow myself to dream and hope for. And it almost made me weep. When I was growing up, as a child, I would always dream big. Dreaming small just didn’t make any sense to me. That’s how most children dream. I’ve never heard a child say: “I would like to be a famous astronaut, but that’s obviously not going to happen. So I’ll settle for being a physics teacher who explores the space through books and Wikipedia pages in my free time”. Or: “I’d love nothing more than to be a great zoologist and travel the world exploring and documenting the lives of wild animals. But look at me, who am I to wish for great things? So I’ll settle for working at a local vet’s and watching Planet Earth documentaries in the evenings”.
Do you see what I’m getting at? As children we only know how to dream big, that’s what comes naturally to us. As we grow up, we lose this sense of possibility, we lose the sense that the world in some way belongs us. At a very early age, in our schools and in our families, we are taught to dream small. We are allowed to have those big dreams as children, but the closer to adulthood we get, the more firmly we are reminded that we have to “come back down to earth”, this will not make enough money, you are not good enough for that, succeeding in this area is like winning a lottery. As we listen to these voices, we let our dreams and ourselves shrink. We don’t know how to dream big anymore.
This tendency also applies to relationships. We dream of true love, beautiful, happy families, growing old together with our soulmate, but as we go from one bad relationship to another, we stop hoping to meet someone who’d be our soulmate, who would answer the longing in our hearts and truly understand us. So we settle for partners who don’t accept certain parts of ourselves or want us to change altogether (and not always for the better), who lie to us, who treat us like we’re replaceable, interchangeable. We stop hoping for a possibility of a happy family life where everyone is there for each other, where children grow up feeling happy and loved, proud of who they are, where parents resolve their difficulties instead of getting a divorce. And I think this is tragic. You might not want any of the things I mentioned. That’s absolutely fine. They are just examples that ring close to my heart and illustrate the situation quite well I think.
I’m writing this post to encourage everyone who’ll take the time to read it to start dreaming big again.
I know it’s hard, incredibly hard, but you have to believe in yourself again. Break out of your cynical shell. Shed all the lies that have covered your heart and your mind, like Spring sheds a thick crust of Winter snow, slowly but determinedly melting it away. Forget the lies that you are not important, that you were somehow predestined for a sad and mediocre life. Do you think all those people who “won the lottery” in life believed such things and still achieved what they did?
Find what it is that you truly desire, even if you dare not hope for it. Pursue it with all your heart.
It’s better to die while living than to never have lived and still die at the end.