There is one question I have asked myself and friends recently which has elicited the most remarkable response:
If you didn’t have to worry about money, what would you do?
Can I tell you, this question has literally brought four different people to tears. It is incredible. I have been shocked at the visceral response people have to this question. Their eyes water, they gulp and look to the side as tears gather quickly. Their faces collapse. They sigh and look anxious. It is sad and poignant and amazing to me that this simple question can sting so quickly.
Their first response? Usually:
(sigh. shift. tears welling. hands cup chin. swallow. deep breath.) “I don’t know.”
This reply always surprised me, until I tried it myself. And then I realized that I wasn’t sure either. When I tried to formulate a nice neat answer, all the activities I claimed to want to do felt hollow. I honestly wasn’t sure. Which was sort of horrifying.
Try it yourself. It’s harder to dream and fantasize than you’d initially think – isn’t it?
So, Husband & I have been working on making a life plan for the past eight months, thinking about what we’d like to do in this next chapter of our lives. In making said life plan, here are some of the highs & lows we’ve been encountering.
Starting at the end – what does your fantasy life look like? Here is what ours contains:
- Fantasy #1: Have a home/community in Central or South America, where we live & work during the winter months.
- Fantasy #2: Have both of us able to spend time at home/have flexible schedules which we control
- Fantasy #3: Create sources of income that are not contingent upon one particular job so that we can be free
- Fantasy #4: Find ways to teach/coach that are outside of the classroom, & which we create
- Fantasy #5: Free up time to volunteer extensively in our community
- Fantasy #6: Create some kind of program that really helps to address poverty from the neighborhood/community level
- Fantasy #7: Have two children within the next ten years, and be able to be at home with them/go exploring the city with them when we want to
This list took about a year to build; it was much more difficult than I thought it would be, largely for the following reasons. Once we started naming the different elements of our fantasy life, phalanxes of dark, hairy, doubt-monsters started creeping in. They set up blockades in the arteries of our plans to stop the flow of ideas, and clogs and plaque began to build, hardening me to the possibility that any of this is possible.
This has happened before – in fact, two blockages in particular seem to rear their ugly heads whenever I try to imagine a new way or different option.
Blockage #1: That’s unrealistic.
This seems to be the most nefarious and common blockage. It’s also, I would say, the most unfair. It’s like setting out to paint an abstract impressionist piece, and then getting angry with yourself that the streaks and strokes don’t resemble a bowl full of fruit. When you dream up your fantasy life, it doesn’t need to be realistic. It’s not a still life. It’s DaDa. It’s expressionism. But we often decide that because our dreams are “unrealistic” – in other words, they don’t fit within the rules with which we have established our current life – they are foolish. But if you’re dreaming of a life other than what you’re currently living, why judge its merit against how much it resembles the life you’re in? It’s like getting a nose job and then being upset that your new pert nostrils don’t flap and flare like those on your old honking schnoz. Doesn’t make much sense – but this is what I know I did for years, and still come up against, when I’m straining to see outside my self-prescribed box.
Blockage #2: I don’t have a fantasy life. Jesus Christ, that’s depressing. Am I empty inside? Am I a sad robot?
I think we often tell ourselves, “well, if I could do whatever I wanted then of course I would indulge my dreams and live a different life, but it’s not a possibility because I have bills and am reasonable, so what’s the point in talking about it?” The truth is, it’s kind of heartbreaking to realize that perhaps, in fact, there isn’t a gorgeous life lurking under the grey tweedy one you’re living. Perhaps underneath the banal beige slipcover lies an even uglier print. Or nothing.
If I put you on the spot and asked you what your fantasy life is, do you stammer and stutter and feel flushed? Do you say something, anything, just to have not said nothing? Does it feel rusty and unfamiliar to fantasize and dream? Your muscles might be atrophying, in that case – which is fine, albeit a little alarming and disturbing when you realize it’s been happening while you’ve been running around, busy and doing life as hard as you can.
So – how do you get around these?
To start, here’s a question that’s been on my mind a LOT recently:
When you were a child, everything was new; you couldn’t explain what you encountered because you’d never experienced it before; that was normal; that was OK; that was how you learned & grew. I’d wager a bet that’s not how it feels now when you encounter the unencountered nowadays.
So when did something’s being “new” – in that it is something that you can’t explain, or doesn’t fit with what you know – come to mean that it is either a lie, or an impossibility? When did the new stop being, well, just new?
Let me ask you this – if you were to try to write down your fantasy life – true fantasy, true newness – how would you proceed?
For me, I told myself, “I’m going to write up my fantasy life, and accept the fact that it might look totally unrealistic.” Taking a big breath, I then returned to my list of Needs & Values which I’d written up using this exercise, and tried to be honest with myself about how I wanted the top priorities to be represented in our fantasy life plan. I had no idea at this point how any of it would come to fruition, and did a lot of “Yeah, this is great – we’ll live in South America for part of the year, have tons of money come rolling in without being tied to any one job, and run around with our babies in papooses going to museums and taking road trips all the time while helping the homeless. Sure. Right. Great. Let’s throw in an Oscar while we’re at it.”
OK, so it sounds unrealistic – but if my dream can’t be big and airy, how small will my life be when I float back down to earth? Besides, who am I hurting by imagining a life that sounds thrilling and happy?
OK – let’s say that you’ve been able to describe your fantasy life. Now there’s likely a period of sitting shiva as you mourn the fact that the resemblance between your current life and your fantasy life is more like that of Arnold Schwarzenegger & Danny Devito in Twins than Tia & Tamara in Sister Sister.
Once you’ve dried your eyes and take another look, you have a plan – well, you have a drawing of what life will look like. But how to get there? That requires a little research, which I’ll write about tomorrow!
But until then – what do you do once you’re at this stage?