Sometimes in life we get married to the idea of something. At some point in our life it mattered to us, we wanted it badly. We began chasing that dream, so hard and fast that chasing it became a habit. It became a part of our existence. Life changes happened but we forgot to update our dreams. We forgot to ask ourselves if we even still wanted the very dream we are chasing so hard. Or worse yet, we are afraid to acknowledge whether or not we still want it. The truth is, when a dream has been a deeply rooted part of your existence for so long, abandoning it can feel like abandoning apart of yourself. Who am I without this dream? What will I do with myself if I’m no longer hyper-focused on chasing this dream?
Having a passion and ambition can be a great source of happiness. It’s exciting to set goals and work hard to reach benchmarks. But chasing dreams can also be an exhausting, happiness drainer, especially when the dream or goal is outdated. This is true in career goals, personal goals, and relationship goals.
In my 20’s I wanted to be a filmmaker. At 20 I worked a television internship and found that I was truly passionate about video editing. By 23 I had worked on a few dozen film sets and hated it every time. I hated the standing around waiting, the long hours on my feet, the lifting and carrying, the large groups of people on set. Honestly, I hated almost everything about film sets. So, I ventured into small business video production, filming weddings and non-profit documentaries, eventually starting my own company. There were aspects of it that I liked, but not enough.
For a decade I hustled, obsessed with the idea of being a successful entrepreneur. I was miserable but took pride in my struggle. But why? Why did I want to be an entrepreneur? Why did I want to work in video production? Over the decade opportunities had come and gone in moments when I wasn’t able to fully commit to my dream. I was always straddling the fence between two professions. Finally, I quit cold turkey. I took a full-time job in education with a higher salary than I’d earned as an entrepreneur, vacation days, and benefits. I found that having 1 boss was a lot easier than having 5 clients at a time. I found that a 9-5 schedule wasn’t so bad and an every two week paycheck was rather great. I had more free time, more money, more freedom. The very thing I was afraid of losing ended up being the thing I gained more of, freedom. I had divorced my dream.
Some friends and family were confused, others were sad or disappointed to see me quit something I’d claimed to be so passionate about for almost a decade. I wondered if I was a quitter for divorcing my dream. Maybe I just didn’t want it bad enough to succeed? Maybe. But here’s the thing. That is okay. There is no passion police. At the end of the day, you are the only one that gets to live your life. What I ultimately wanted wasn’t entrepreneurship, or video production. What I wanted was freedom, autonomy, money and opportunity to be creative. Divorcing my dream gave me more of all of that. Ultimately divorcing my dream made me happier. I’m not saying you should quit anything that is hard. With everything there will be challenges and aspects you don’t care for. But knowing this, find something you are so passionate about that you are willing to work through the struggles and discomfort in order to succeed. And all the while keep asking yourself why you want what you want. If it’s just for money, or autonomy, there may be easier ways to get those things. If it’s because you love doing it, then keep going.
The same theory applies in love. Some of us love the idea of being in love. Some of us are married to a narrative. Maybe it’s the boy next door narrative (cue Love & Basketball circa 2000), or the high school sweetheart (cue any Taylor Swift song). Or maybe bae looks good on paper, he has a good job, enough letters behind his name, goes to church, woos your grandmother, and loves your friends. Everyone loves him so you should too right? But ultimately who lives your life? You right?
My narrative was one of deadlines. I wanted to be married by 26, have my first baby at 28, the second at 30 and the third at 32. The fourth would be up for debate but if it happened it would have to be before 35. At 25 I was dating a Muslim guy who retrospectively was emotionally abusive. At the time I didn’t know that was a thing. I figured my parents would approve of him because he was the same religion. He said he loved me, and 24 was only two years away from 26 so I subscribed to that narrative. It didn’t help that my high school sweetheart had recently announced his engagement catapulting me into woulda shoulda madness. When my guy brought up marriage, I seriously considered it sharing the idea with friends and family who of course told me I was crazy. When that relationship ended I carried on chasing a clock.
Three months before my 28th birthday I was still single and childless, but I was wandering the streets of Prague, Paris, Munich and London. I spent my 30th birthday childless and unmarried at a house party in my apartment, toasting with friends at midnight. Months before my 32nd birthday I was finally married, still childless honeymooning in Maldives. I had officially missed the deadlines for my 1st, 2nd and 3rd child. But in missing my deadlines I’d found something I hadn’t penciled in, happiness. At some point I had unknowingly divorced my narrative, divorced my happily ever after dream, and in doing so I had found real happiness.
You can’t schedule happiness because it isn’t a destination. Happiness is what happens when you divorce your outdated dreams, divorce your prewritten narrative and start living.
Happiness can be but doesn’t have to be spectacular. What do I mean?
I mean watching my technically not Italian but technically so super Italian sister converse with real Italians at Oktoberfest was a spectacular moment of happiness. But, watching my baby laugh after he pees on me mid diaper change is somehow equally spectacular. It isn’t what you’d consider a classically spectacular moment like honeymooning in Maldives, but that’s just the point. You determine what spectacular moments in your life are. You determine when and what happiness is.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever had to divorce a dream or narrative? Have you recently taken a moment to evaluate the “but why” behind your wants?