Big Dreams Are What You Make

Hello, self? Are you out there?

I’m going to try to write one meaningful thing on here a day for the next 7 days. So here’s the first one: I used to have a big dream, or what I thought was a big dream, and it went something like this:

Move away from Kansas, Graduate, Move Overseas, Find THE adventure and thus, find my true self.

I wanted to move to Japan. Or someplace equally foreign and exotic and not in the continental United States. I didn’t know what was out there, but I was sure there was something large and important waiting for me. I thought that I had to leave to find whatever that thing was. I thought that adventure would somehow define and shape me, into The Best Version of Nancy.

That was my plan for years and years and years. It’s funny though, how that scheme always seemed so hazy and intangible despite how it cycled through my brain from the ages of 10 to 22. When I would try to think ahead and drop myself on a busy street corner in Tokyo, or along a riverbank in Europe, it felt like I was watching someone else’s movie. To me, that hazy feeling equated doubt. It meant that I doubted myself, I doubted that I could make it happen, I doubted that I could last alone out there in the big world. I’d tell myself, nope! You are small, but you are mighty! It’s just a plane ride! And an entire upheaval of your life structure as you know it, some far away part of me would chime in all sing-songy and innocently.

Shut up, you! I would think at myself and quickly stop thinking about large adventures and plane rides and knowing no one anywhere because that was actually kind of scary, yes, and now that I think about it, it is a giant upheaval of my life and–

So, I graduated college and went right back into graduate school, partially because I had to and partially because I wasn’t ready to pack my bags and say goodbye to everything that I knew. The plan then became, finish school, try for a job, work a few years, and then leave for THE big adventure to find The Best Version of Nancy.

In hindsight, I think it was less of a great wide adventure plan than it was a parachute plan, a this-is-what-I’ll-do-when-I-give-up-plan. If real life rejected me, if I couldn’t find that job, maintain the sturdy structure that years and years of school had instilled in me, then I’d bolt across the ocean and try a new and different life.

I know that there are experiences out there that you can’t get from wherever you call home. There’s too much to see and do and experience out there to think otherwise. I know that there are people and uncomfortable situations in corners of the world that will push you into becoming a new version of yourself. I know that there are whole groups of people who insist when you are young you have to go out and either A) make mistakes or B) Travel some part of the world and possibly combine A and B together. But you see, I don’t think that living that large is for everyone. Experiences that make you grow are for everyone, absolutely, but that  huge adventure that I had planned for all those many years? That is for very few.

I think sometimes people trick themselves into thinking that they are inconsequential if they aren’t doing something just a little bit bigger– I’m not living up to my full potential if I never try to write that book. I’m not making meaning out of my life unless I experience all the art in Europe. I’m going to live a small and unsatisfying life if I don’t make it out of the country before I turn 30. I won’t be free unless I try something new, lower my inhibitions, sail around the world, jump out of an airplane, ride an elephant, throw a spear, play hopscotch with the Dali Lama, stick a flag in a mountain— And so on. I think all those things are great, but I don’t think you have to do them in order to find out who you are, and that’s what I’m really getting at here.

Because what I found out about that hazy feeling when I thought about climbing mountains or living in Tokyo, that creeping thing that I thought was doubt in myself, wasn’t that at all. It was the know-it-all part of me that knew me the best, sitting back and slowly, knowingly shaking her head. What I wanted wasn’t as big as all that. I found out that all I wanted was a place to call my own, the opportunity to teach and live comfortably, a dog, and maybe someone to share those things with. That might seem very small and insignificant to some people, but once I figured out that those were the only things that mattered, life became a whole lot easier and somehow started to fall into place.

I got hired at a school, I paid off a bunch of my loans, I met a converse wearing musician and  we liked and loved each other a whole mess of a lot and got married. And someday soonish, we’ll have a dog, and then a house, and then we’ll be able to travel the world a little bit here and there. Over summer vacations we can stop on the corner in busy Tokyo or stroll down the cobblestone streets in Europe and then come back home, and put our feet up, and pet our dog and go to work and do it all again a little ways down the road. Someday we’ll be  have an adventure or two and then come home, unpack, and reminisce through pictures on a wall.

Do I still want the big adventure, then? Yes and no. We don’t have to exist in an extended meaningful adventure for our lives to have meaning. And we don’t necessarily have to go out and find ourselves in the great wide abyss of the world. Sometimes, we’re already right here, the Best Versions of Ourselves.

I think Big Dreams are what you make of them, and you don’t always need a jet plane to get there.

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