I know. So do I. But if I had my way, I’d never leave the house and spend most of my days watching television and eating my way onto Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition.
I’m not (and never have been) the type who yearns for physical activity. Blame it on the childhood asthma that kept me from romping with the other kiddies (or not, as you should probably just blame me), but I hate running. I feel good once I get into the groove of exercise, but once it becomes inconvenient, it salutes and goes off to play with the people who like it.
Those who know me personally would say I’m very self-motivated. Maybe that’s the case, but I had to force myself to be this way at gunpoint.
I need stimulus to do stuff, and for me, negative stimulus is more effective. Seeing a high number on the scale makes me feel uncomfortable, which might make me eat a salad. Missing the concert of a beloved band because I don’t have money might make me pick up extra shifts at work. I need the whip, not the carrot. I still like to reward myself when I do something right, but in order to do that something right in the first place, I need a swift kick in the behind with a steel-toed boot.
NaNoWriMo in all its forms is nothing if not a one-way ticket outside your comfort zone. For most people, writing 50,000 words in a month seems daunting to the point of nausea.
There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that most of us are inclined to stay within our comfort zones, because venturing outside their fuzzy confines is a: scary and b: uncomfortable.
So today I’m getting a long pike to poke you in the arse. This isn’t just about writing (though by all means, make it so if you are a writer), and these tidbits apply to everyone. Including me.
I’m going to ask you a few questions. You can just think about them, or you can bust out the ole ballpoint and scribble some answers if you want to. Regardless, take a little journey with me.
Question the First:
What is it that you have always wanted to do but never have?
Visit a new country? Learn a language? Get a dog? Have a baby? Start a business? Write a novel? Write a memoir?
I’m only 27, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard something like this: “I should have done it when I was younger. Now I never will.”
Think about the despair inherent in a comment like that. This is beyond simple wistfulness. This is miles away from, “Damn. I should have gotten that sandwich.” This is, “My life dreams have suffered, and I have regrets.”
Think about what you want to do. The next question is going to be harder.
Question the Second:
What excuses have you made for not doing it?
My excuses are money 90% of the time. You’ll notice that I used the word excuse. That is a sharp word. It implies fault. The connotation of “making excuses” is saying that no one should cut any slack for the excuse-maker.
And yet, that’s exactly it. We have dreams. It hurts when we feel separated from them or that we can’t make them come true. So we make excuses because it makes us feel better.
Here are common excuses:
Money. Kids. (Before you throw boiling pitch on my head for that one, bear with me.) Security. Time. Timing. Spouse. Money. Money. Kids. Debt.
It all boils down to fear.
Back to the kids thing, because this is going to get sticky. One of the biggest regrets I hear people talk about is that they never traveled when they were childless, and now they never will. As someone who has lived abroad for several years and met countless ex-pat American families who did so as well, saying that kids and travel are mutually exclusive baffles me. If my sister can raise seven kids on one salary (and a meager one at that), there is a way to do virtually anything.
The kids I’ve met who lived abroad or had traveled with their parents (either to “western” countries like the UK or France or to subsaharan Africa) have nothing bad to say about their experiences. Kids are adaptive, intelligent, and resilient. They are also open-minded and curious. I met kids in Poland who learned Polish in three months, who chattered on like native speakers with their Polish friends, ate Polish food, and taught their parents how to deal with culture shock. I had a professor who took his kids to Uganda every year to volunteer in orphanages — his kids not only thrived there, but they made friends among the other children who they would stay in touch with. And they learned some perspective about how wealthy western countries really are, something that the vast majority of adults still lack.
The point? Be it travel or starting a new business, kids adapt. There is a difference between providing for your family and insisting they receive luxury. Kids will assume the latter means the former if that’s how you raise them.
Don’t use your children as an excuse for not pursuing your dreams — chances are, your dreams could benefit them as much or more as they benefit you.
Money is the big one. It’s hard to start a business without any capital. It’s not possible for most of us to quit our day jobs flat out and do what we want. Pursuing dreams takes planning, and it takes a willingness to live beneath your means if necessary.
Time is another — but you’d be shocked how much you can accomplish in ten minutes a day. If you’re anything like me, you spend at least 2-3 hours a day watching television. What else could you do in those three hours? Write 2,000 words? Create a business plan? Clean out the spare room to make way for a sewing room?
If you’ve made any of those excuses (and I have — and do — every day), maybe the final hard question to ask is…
Question the Third:
Is that what you really want?
The bottom line is that people are capable of doing just about anything if they really put their minds to it. If you have a goal, the first thing you need is desire. If the goal means that much, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
I’ve known families who pursued their dreams on other people’s dimes — whether that’s fair or not is up to you to figure out. If a dream is really worth it to you, you’ll pay whatever cost.
And dreams exist outside of your comfort zone. The comfort zone may still seem like a tough place to be, but it’s still familiar. Those bills we’re behind on are the devil we know. Pursuing a dream outside of those fuzzy boundaries is reaching out our hands to meet the devil we don’t. Anything could happen. And for a lot of us, that “anything” is more scary than wonderful.
Making that “anything” a word of wonder is something that falls on your shoulders. It’s believing in possibility.
When you believe that “anything” is full of craters and spikes, it does nothing but pave the way ahead for regret.
So even if you’re not about to plunge into a month of writing, take today to think about what you want from life and what you’ve told yourself is holding you back. I’m not saying throw your kids to the curb and do what you want, but they can be a part of whatever your dream happens to be.
So to quote the illustrious Dr. Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Don’t dream it; be it.”
Who are you going to be?
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