Finally Living the Dream (or why I recommend you try something else)
This is a story I wrote for LOVE NAIL TREE based on this graphic. Please enjoy.
(comma after “finally” not mine 😉 )
The first thing I remember wanting to be was a dentist. I was six. Maybe seven. Weeks before checkups I’d prepare myself for the creaky, khaki colored dentist’s chair by practicing leaning back in my chair at dinner. Afterward, I’d wipe toothpaste on my teeth with my finger to imitate the taste of the tooth polish I’d be licking from my gums after my dental cleaning. A couple times I even thought about holding my dad’s drill to my face to enact the funny buzzing feeling I might feel if I needed to have a cavity drilled (thank God—I never did). When the day would come and I’d finally brighten the door of my dentist’s office, I’d quickly find myself a seat in the fluoride smelling office and commence paging through Highlights magazines with a moistened thumb like I’d observed the old men doing while waiting for their checkups. I wanted to be a dentist, I think, because (like almost nobody else I’ve ever met) I enjoyed the experience of being a patient.
In middle school I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. To ensure optimal time on the board (which had to mean an optimized chance at greatness), I’d skate to school, skate home from school, and I’d skate after school until it got dark. Even on Sundays when it was time to go to church I’d bring my skateboard and skate before and after a service in the parking lot. Every day I wore a similar baggy cotton skate shirt with baggy camouflage cargo shorts and a pair of hand-me-down skate shoes I’d received from my cousin. I’d come to believe that in order to become a professional skateboarder I’d have to look and act like one. I all but let my skateboard sleep in the same bed as me. I wanted to be a skateboarder because it was a cool thing to skate and an even cooler thing to be able to bust sweet tricks when everyone was watching.
When I got into high school, though, my skateboard started to spend more time being hung up in the garage. Eventually I even forgot about it. Other things had become more important. Namely, I was going to become a rock star. I let my hair grow long and bought a bass guitar with some money I’d saved from my first job at a bakery. By then, I believed being the next John Paul Jones was my truest calling. Every night I’d thumb the thick strings of my black Yamaha trying to echo the funky lines of Victor Wooten, the smooth tones of Nikolai Fraiture from the Strokes, and the erratically ambitions scales of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. The more I practiced the more I felt invested in being a musician, and soon I formed a band with some friends. They were as serious as I was, and we practiced together with the diligence of a monk to his prayers. Five nights a week for four to six hours we’d practice. This went on for three years.
Until, in college, I got pretty convinced that I was supposed to become a pastor. So convinced was I that I was to join the pastorate that I enrolled myself at a Bible college. Now it was the bass’s turn to be hung up. I spent the next three years studying the Bible and the thoughts of old, dead theologians on interpreting the implications of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a first century carpenter from Nazareth who’d become the founder of my faith. I studied hard and made the best grades I’d ever made. Because of the honor that it carried, I was sure that being a pastor was the truest calling I’d ever received. I imagined that teaching the Bible on Sundays and counseling people during the week would become my life’s chief endeavor.
But even pastoring fell through when, upon graduation, I decided that in order to be a pastor I needed to be seen with respect. It wasn’t that I had enemies, or even that people were averse to listening to what I had to say. Rather, I wasn’t able to find the type of honorable pastoral position I wanted to attain. It was less about a cushy office chair and a “ministry debit card” and a captive audience to enjoy my musings, and more about not feeling affirmed by people I respected. Maybe I didn’t really have a flock either, and there is truth to not pursuing a calling if one doesn’t hear a real voice on the other end of the line. My fault, though, was that I wanted to be a pastor because I wanted to people to praise me.
For several years after that I drifted until I decided I was going to be a writer, or, at least to write something. I’d always dabbled as a journaler and bona fide author of several unfinished short stories. I enjoyed my college literature classes and always felt compelled by the often-elusive thoughts of writers. That lifestyle felt up my alley. I read regularly and wrote even more regularly. Every day for about three years I’d try to put something down on paper, believing that somehow, one day, all of it would amount to something. First, I figured I’d be a poet; then I settled on being a journalist; then a copywriter; then (briefly) a screenwriter; then a novelist; and finally a memoirist (for when at last you find you cannot write about another, you can always write about yourself). I came to hope that if I just wrote often enough eventually somebody would notice and I would somehow become a voice that ought to be read. I wanted to become a writer because I desperately wanted to believe I had something to offer.
Back in high school and college, when I was at home in bed with the lights out and it was just me and my thoughts, I really believed that when I found my calling I would finally know who I was; that when I uncovered what it was I was meant to do I would stop worrying about how I’d been wasting my life. And I worried a lot—a product of the belief that pursuing your dreams will result in contentment.
Let me dissolve that notion now: it doesn’t. I know today that this belief is about as bedrock as a loose kite on a beach. In retrospect, what I wish someone had told me while I was young was to not follow my dreams and instead have shown me how to choose a direction and the virtue of committing to it.
Today I am looking from my bedroom window upon dense, grey skies and a palette of green trees sprouting from the city of Portland’s soil. I’m thirty, eons from when I dreamed of being a dentist. My dog, Jack, is noting my slow movements inquisitively from his motionless, spread-legged position on my bed. It’s kind of funny. I am noting the sounds from the highway nearby and the indiscernible voices of my neighbors. I am silent save for my arms across my desk with their palms resting upon my laptop and fingers punching keys. Click. Click. Click click click.
I am amazed at how it is that I have come to live in this city. In short, I was twenty-nine, tired of my job, and in need of a new dream to pursue. This time it was: Becoming an Author, the Final Frontier! But a funny thing happened. I found that the gas in my dream tank was burning up quicker than normal. Within two months I was already regretting my decision. Tired of pursuing the author dream (likely because I was realizing how much work it would be), I actually almost packed it up and came right back home.
But right around that time I met someone. I realized quickly that I enjoyed getting to know her, and shortly thereafter we started dating, and soon after that we were going on trips and meeting each other’s friends and flying across the country to meet each other’s families. I only mention this because I never planned on pursuing any dreams of love in Portland. I was here to be an author. Yet with openness came love for another that I’d never felt before. This experience seemed like an omen; it felt like a chance to change the way I pursue my dreams.
When there came a point in the relationship to make a decision, I knew I wanted it to be made differently than previous pursuits in my life. For example, when I decided to stop being a pastor after college it was because it was hard to not feel respected or worthwhile (for the record, these are not good reasons to become a pastor). This time, though, instead of deliberating over whether she was “the one” or if I should hold out for someone else, I decided I was going to make a decision, and now, a year after meeting her, I’m happy to report that in less than a month she’ll be my wife.
Based on my experience, it almost seems a paradox that by committing I finally feel more content, but I’m fine with that. Today I’d say that by finally committing to a choice I am finally living the dream. Imagine that!