dreams

On Quitting Small and Safe

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In the book Love Does, Bob Goff talks about how he quits something every Thursday. The idea revolves around this: we pick up so much unnecessary stuff along the way—we can always benefit from cutting off some dead weight.

If you’ve picked up a bad habit of eating unhealthy food, you could quit that. If you realize you criticize others or yourself too much, you could quit that. If you watch too much Netflix, you could quit that. (Only after you finish the latest House of Cards season, of course.)

I know it’s not Thursday, but today, I’m going to quit something.

I want to quit caging my hope.

I want to quit putting chains on what’s possible in this life.

I want to quit extinguishing my dreams.

This is a simplified summary of the inner workings of my mind and heart: I have a dream, an idea, a thought of what some aspect of life could or should be. I envision that a relationship could be a certain way, or that a group of people could come together and create a certain kind of community, or that I could accomplish some task or purpose with a skill I have. Hope sparks inside me. As my heart beats faster, it fans that flame until it grows into a fire.

But it doesn’t stay that way for long. I have this funny habit of shutting down my hope. It’s like I go to the store and pick out a shiny, sexy dream I love. I bring it home, set it down on the living room floor, and just stare at it. Before I ever even take it out of the packaging, I convince myself it’s not for me. The next day, I’m in the customer service line ready to return it.

I keep thinking…why do I do this?

Our past experiences have a way of shaping our current perspective.

For a long time, I let a single relationship douse my dreams. I allowed it to cut off the oxygen from what I hoped for and wanted out of life. For such a long time and with such consistency, my hopes were put out like a cigarette butt ground into the pavement by an unforgiving heel. Soon enough, hoping and dreaming could barely move past the ignition phase. It was like trying to start a campfire in the rain with water-logged wood.

I started to believe the ways I dreamed life could be, the hope I had, the kind of relationships I wanted, the places I could travel, the accomplishments I could achieve, the depth of love into which I could dive…were impossible. Foolish.

They were either fairy tales, or they were for somebody else, not me. This is what was for me: small dreams. Safe dreams. Anything that could fit inside the thimble-sized cage that was my reality for so long.

I can’t accept that anymore.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tasted just enough, I’ve glimpsed just enough of what’s possible for us in this life. It’s like I lived underground for years, stopped believing in things like the sun and daylight, and suddenly rays of light began to force their way through some cracks above (Kimmy Schmidt, anyone?).

So today, I’m untethering my hope. I’m expanding my vision for what I’m capable of and what is within my reach.

I’m quitting fear. I’m quitting doubt. I’m quitting safe and small dreams. I’ve limited myself for too much time, for too many dark and claustrophobic years.

I’m going to let the fire grow.

I’m going to step off the ledge.

I’m going to dive deep.

It’s time.

***

Feature photo ©2013 James Wheeler | Flickr

Why I Have Obnoxious Stickers on My Car

Shortly after I got my back from my road trip this past summer, my car, Old Red, underwent some cosmetic changes. First of all, I washed off the small nation of bugs I had accumulated from the front of the car.

Secondly, I added a butt-load of stickers to the rear window:

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I know, I know. It looks pretty obnoxious. Ugly, even. My friend Jen has already expressed her hatred for the asymmetry that's going on. I would agree, and I apologize for assaulting your eyes and your fung shui.

I never thought I'd be a car sticker kind of guy. Here's why I have them displayed so obnoxiously on my car:

It's not for you. It's for me.

I have a goal to get to every national park in the United States. It's a goal that lodged itself in my gut a few years ago, and I've become pretty serious about making it happen.

Those stickers are a visible (even if unattractive) reminder every single morning when I walk out to my car that I have a goal that I'm working toward. When I look in my rearview mirror, those reminders are there. When I get out of my car, those reminders are there. I even see them when I check my rear view mirror. The asymmetry only adds fuel to the fire to start putting more stickers on to even it out. And the stickers don't just remind me that I have a goal; they remind me that I'm making progress. I need that.

Three months ago, I had eight stickers on my car. Now? I have eighteen. That feels pretty good.

I also know that I still have forty parks to go. Every day, because of that window, I'm thinking about how to get my next sticker.

Yeah, Paul, I still think that's pretty stupid.

Okay. That's fine. I understand. But sometimes you have to get weird or obnoxious or a little crazy to make your goals happen.

Your goal is probably not the same as mine. Your strategy to accomplish your goal doesn't need to involve an annoyingly asymmetrical arrangement of stickers on your car window.

But you might need to get weird about it if you really want to see it happen.

Do whatever it takes. Write messages to yourself on the wall. Have friends call/text/email you reminders at certain times of the week. Eat a bowl of ice cream every time you take a step closer. (That one I will not apologize for.)

In any case, I know I can't fit forty-eight stickers on my window. It's physically impossible, I probably (hopefully) will have ditched Old Red by then, I think it would be illegal, and it will definitely be unsafe. At some point, I'll have to find a new way to motivate myself to check the rest of the parks off my list.

You can bet it will be a bit crazy and a bit weird. You've been warned.

The Michelada and the Dream Myth

After a morning in which I slept in and then recklessly mauled his neck with a set of hair clippers, my friend and I arrived hopelessly late to a popular brunch spot in Manhattan's Lower East Side which turned us down at 1:00 p.m. even though it closed at 6:00. This led to us finding Fonda, a Mexican spot down the street, and me having a showdown with a drink that I saw dancing a bit on the page of the menu:

michelada

The Michelada: Your choice of beer mixed with lime juice, hot sauce and chile rim.

My eyes gleamed with the flame of adventure. I looked at my friend and said, "I have to try this."

The waiter set down a glass of swirling crimson liquid with chile that lined the rim like glowing embers. He poured a bottle of Pacifico into the hot sauce, and the volcanic mix foamed its way to the top of the glass. A smile of thirsty wonder and fear grew on my face.

***

The Michelada is now filed under Decisions I Don't Regret but Will Never Do Again. It joins a large company of other decisions I've made, though none quite so...burn-y.

That chile-laced decision came this past Saturday, not too long after a conversation I had with some friends about dreams. More than one of my friends expressed that they didn't really have a dream. The dream. The one that keeps them up at night. The one they doodled about in their 5th grade notebook or tattooed on their ankle during a missions trip to Mexico.

They're still searching for that rare breed of dream that seems more myth than reality. When you reach a certain age, it seems like we should have this figured out by now, right? Something that Bob Goff wrote in his book Love Does about doing and not just dreaming got me thinking: Maybe we don't find our dreams; maybe our dreams find us.

We can spend years, most of our lives, fretting over what our dreams could or should be. We stare at the article about clean water in Africa and try to suck the passion out of the screen and into our hearts. We think about TOMS Shoes and wish we would have thought of that idea first. We want to convince ourselves we should sell all of our stuff and live in the slums of India. Then we get honest with ourselves and think, I just don't want to do that.

In the meantime, we do nothing. We're too scared to step out into any endeavor because we don't have the proper passion, vision, or dream to justify it. What if I take that job, move to that place, volunteer for this organization, meet up with those people, and discover it's not the stuff dreams are made of?

We need to learn to simply do and be okay with the fact that it might not be our dream. In fact, we might hate it. But now we know it's something we don't want to do, and that's one step closer to clarity. On the other hand, we may discover we love it, but we have to take the chance to risk in the first place.

After moving to Philadelphia, I decided to teach in the inner city--not because of some mystical calling or childhood dream to be Sidney Poitier or Michelle Pfeiffer or Hilary Swank. I simply wanted to see what it was like. By the end of the year, I had experienced a class that had no heat in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer, mice crawling around the rafters, flying cockroaches, emotionally disturbed students who never took their meds and didn't have the proper support, broken kids from broken homes, but beautiful kids who somehow made me smile as much as they made me yell.

Ultimately, at the end of the year, I realized it wasn't for me. I don't regret that time at all--it was one more adjustment to the lenses of my life. I could see a bit clearer.

When we stop stalling in life while we wait on a magical phone call from Destiny or a telegram from the Dream Factory and we simply do something, we move in a positive direction. Even when we end up hating the thing we do. We scratch it off the list, we readjust, and we take the next step with one more piece of valuable knowledge under our belts.

Maybe we need to reframe how we think about dreams. Too many people I know have stumbled into their dreams rather than chased them down. This happens with jobs, relationships, and passions. It leads me to think that dreams are less a white whale that eludes us as we frantically search to capture and club it into submission. Dreams are more the aroma that rises and fills our nostrils while we cook something in our very own kitchen. They bubble up around us as we do the things we do.

We simply need the courage to step out and try something new every once in a while and the courage to walk away if we realize it's not for us. Slowly but surely, or perhaps out of nowhere one day, our dreams will find us even in places we didn't expect to meet.

***

The Michelada will haunt me for years to come, I suspect. I'll wake in the middle of the night fearing that my mouth and my entire digestive system are set ablaze. But I will not regret the decision to try it. The next time we go to Fonda, I'll have eleven drinks to choose from instead of twelve.

I like those odds.

***

I'd love to hear your stories of what you'd file under Decisions I Don't Regret but Will Never Do Again, or how you've come to discover what is or is not your dream.

What do ya got?

On Her Shoulders

This post is borne out of a series of intentional conversations I've had with several friends of mine--my "second" moms, my sisters. I wanted to listen and to learn. This is my humble tribute to those stories and the struggles expressed in them. A sincere thank you to those who shared with me, and also to writers like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and Emily Maynard for not only informing some of the content of this post but inspiring me to open my eyes and ears to what my friends have gone through their entire lives.

Please feel free to nudge me where I've gone wrong or have misrepresented you, and definitely share and add your experiences and thoughts.

***

tessfrancephoto credit: tessa marie images

The guilt trips for wanting to pursue a career instead of staying at home with the kids.

The condescension for wanting to stay at home instead of doing something "that matters."

The surplus of "I love your outfit," and the deficiency of "I love your ideas."

The disarming of her credibility because she must be too emotional. She's a woman, after all.

The backhand of having the characteristics, qualities, and strengths of men built up and encouraged at the expense of her own characteristics, qualities, and strengths.

The ache from her lack of opportunities when the same ones are available to men with similar skill sets.

The label of controversial or divisive for speaking her mind.

The accusation of being controlling for having strong opinions.

The demonization for identifying herself as a feminist.

The catcalls of the men standing outside of the drug store.

The full-body scan by probing eyes that's felt even with her back turned. Especially with her back turned.

The burning brand of Jezebel, skank, slut, and whore when all he gets is "that's just boys being boys."

The iron chains of responsibility for a man's lust.

The blame for turning men into animals.

The shame of "She was asking for it."

The helplessness of being violated, invaded by some of the men she trusted most.

The lie that her lost virginity is a permanent stain, an irreversible corruption of her "purity," a damaged, ravaged flower beyond restoration while he "just made some mistakes."

The bruises of Bible verses used as bludgeons to make her feel less than.

The blood trickling down her face from too many people who haven't hesitated to cast the first stone.

The vice of catch-22's.

The drumming of double standards.

The shackles of archaic structures.

The anxiety, the disorders, the tears.

The dreams, the hopes, the joy.

The strength to keep smiling.

The grace to keep forgiving.

The perseverance to keep striving.

She has carried it all--in her bones. In her heart. On her lips. On her shoulders.

My One Fear

Today, I wrestled with this question: What is the one thing that's most holding you back from the life you most want to live? I wrote the answer down on a Post-it note. I stared at it for a while, and then I crumpled it up. It was supposed to be symbolic--like I'm letting go, walking away once and for all. I was supposed to throw it away.

I didn't, though--I put it in my pocket and held onto it. Here I am, late at night, in those hours where I always find my hopes and dreams and fears colliding and tangling together, staring at this note. Staring at this thing that always comes back to remind me I'm not quite as free as I think I am.

Through wrinkles and creases, the words read:

I'm afraid I will always fall short.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThat sentence isn't new to me; those words aren't strangers. I've known them for a long time. They've become like a step-brother I never wanted, never got along with, but I grew to live with him. Tolerate him. Now, he's as much a part of my life as the chip in my tooth from sixth grade, as the scar I bear from back surgery, as my distaste for the smell of tuna.

I think we learn things as kids, responses to people and situations, and we never quite unlearn or relearn them properly. Some of us have learned irrational anxiety whenever we think someone's walking out on us because Dad walked out one day and never came back. Some of us have learned how to dress ourselves with layers of impenetrable steel because it was the only way to survive those cutthroat high school years. And here we are, adults at 21, 25, 30, 40, 50 years old, successful and contributing citizens who cling to our childhood vices.

These blankies, these tattered stuffed animals--they are the fears that have never left us, and try as we might to keep them hidden under our beds from Ikea or Pier 1, they crawl out and expose us.

I learned to fear falling short because at certain points in my life, I did fall short. And I hated how that felt. I figured out how to avoid feeling like that at all costs. I learned not to ask for anything because I wouldn't have to hear "no." I lost some of my competitive edge--I hated losing so much, and it was much easier to pretend like I didn't care. With any girl I ever dated, I never tipped my hand first, never put myself out there before I knew she was into me, never risked anything but a done deal.

My fear of falling short has crawled out again and again and again.

Honestly, I think I hold onto this fear because I'm afraid of putting life to the test--really putting it to the test. I'm afraid that I'll find out that life really is just disappointment after disappointment. That some of us, like me, are destined to always come up just short. That no matter how hard I try, I will never quite reach the thing I'm stretching my hands toward.

I'm afraid to discover that love really is only the cheap knockoff that I've experienced so far. That everything I've experienced is as good as it will ever get. That my story will always be defined by heartbreak and suffering. That the last taste in my mouth--bitter and unsatisfying--is the one I'll live with forever.

If I keep myself from really chasing life, from giving legs to my hopes and dreams, I never have to face those possibilities. It's almost better that way. I can deal with the small disappointments, but I don't know if I can deal with the worst fears I have coming true. When faced with those options, my decision to hold on to my fear of coming up short makes sense. It's easier, more manageable. It's how I survive.

And yet...I have to stop. I have to give it up. And soon.

No matter how tight a grip my fears keep on me, there are times when I feel like my chest is ready to explode. My dreams and hopes refuse to shrink away for too long. They inevitably surge back in rolling, swelling waves and crash against my rib cage. As long as I hold onto this fear of mine, I'll never have peace. The better side of me, the hopeful side, won't let me rest.

Giving up a fear like this is easier said than done. There's no pill I can pop, no shortcut, no easy roads. There are only small decisions I can make every day to stay steady in hope instead of giving in to my fear.

I'm ripping this note up and throwing it in the trash tonight.

I'm going to have to do it again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

It's tiring work to have to drop this fear again every single day, but what I'm choosing in its place, hope, is worth it.

I have to believe it's worth it.