Since my childhood, my parents have always told me to follow my dreams. It wasn’t just the usual maxim passed on from books and the child-raising culture of the time. I had proof of the power of dreams in the adventures of my father.
I talked to my parents last weekend. They’re a little worried about me during this amorphous 5-year experiment with semi-retirement. Am I doing okay? Am I following my dreams?
At that moment, I realized that I’d found something that resonates with me even more than dreams do. I’m not following my dreams. I’m doing something stranger and more exciting to me. I’m experimenting.
I’d reflected on the difference between plans and experiments, and dreams are like that too. A plan has a certain end. A dream is a plan with passion and maybe a long-term story: “I’ve always wanted to…”. There’s that sense of certainty when you’re following your dream. You know where you want to go, and you know what progress you’re making towards it. You can feel it in every fibre.
I want something else.
I want the experiment. Uncertainty. Learning. I seek out in myself where the vision is still uncertain, where there’s not enough data from other people’s lives.
It’s neat being able to trace my growth over time. In 2012, I became more comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” In 2013, I started letting go of the need for certainty, for clearly defined passions. In 2014, I found a metaphor that resonated with me: exploration. Now I know that I want this more than I want to check off boxes. I find myself the most curious about the things that are hardest to explain, going further away from common experience.
I could not have dreamed what I’m learning now. I’m well into territory that my younger self couldn’t have imagined. I didn’t know it was possible, then. Even now, I don’t know the full range of possibilities. I’m not entirely clear on what awesomeness would look like. But I’m curious, and exploring is its own adventure. Wherever I end up, I’m sure it will be somewhere my present self can’t picture.
I don’t dream of being happy, and it’s not something I pursue. That’s is because I am happy. I see happiness as a deliberate response to the world: a steadfast focus on what’s good about life.
If I strive for anything, it’s equanimity. But even that is in my grasp as soon as I want it. Equanimity isn’t a destination to arrive at. It’s something to practice. Only time and trial can tell.
Aside from equanimity, what else is there to want? I’m as comfortable as I could be: roof, food, resources, tools, community, access to knowledge. Even those things are not essential. People have lived greater lives with less.
I don’t dream of mansions or influence or fame. I don’t need to wait for these things. Knowing that makes me free to appreciate and make the most of my current life.
I want a mind that takes everything as fuel. I want to turn both victories and obstacles into springboards. A thought: How can I intensify this experiment? How can I get better at learning?
- Reading and re-reading can help me identify role models, build on other people’s wisdom, find the words to describe what I’m thinking, and combine interesting ideas.
- Developing practical skills increases my independence and enjoyment. Sewing, electronics, and woodworking might be good candidates to focus on.
- Writing and drawing might help me find people who resonate with these ideas. If I’m lucky, we might even explore them together.
- With self-care as a solid foundation, I can slowly grow outwards to encompass more within my circle of influence.
- To do that, I’m learning more about playing with the world: negotiating changes, developing relationships, applying energy and enthusiasm. We’ll see how it turns out!
It’s odd – I’m still not a big fan of uncertainty when it comes to physical space. Spur-of-the-moment road trips? That would drive me up the wall. I like having autonomy and being able to manage my levels of stimulation. But there are some kinds of uncertainty in life that have a different flavour to them, and that’s what I want to explore.
Is this, then, my dream? It seems so different from the usual dreams that it’s understandably hard for other people to understand. It feels constantly novel and evolving, instead of being a fixed North Pole for my journey. It is what it is, I guess, and I’ll explore it while I have the space to do so.