On the eve of the day I decided to live in my dreams, I bought a greeting card. It’s a picture of a flower paired with words by Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Walking the line between “What the hell was I thinking?” and “FREE! Free at last!!!” Nin tilted me towards the latter. Next to her neighbors, Trident and chocolate bars, she whispered encouragement and shouted a quiet “Hoorah, for you, Ms. Natalie.” And like the Grinch’s heart on Christmas Day, my metaphorical balls grew three sizes on my Last Day. They’re still that big. When they start to shrink a little, I read Nin’s words, and they bounce back to their original girthy-ness.
The next morning, my Dad, God love him, forwarded me two Craigslist ads for paralegal positions. Coffee cup in hand, Office Space-ing a copier with my slow-pitch softball bat came to mind. But, I assumed my Dad’s “get some sense” emails would peter out like Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ acting career. I assumed. Rather, it took a strong, yet polite text message to convince my Dad I would rather stick shoots of bamboo up my fingernails than file a demurrer with the San Diego Superior Court.
My Dad is the person I’ve sought advice from on everything from riding a bike to mending a broken heart, and I knew and hated that he didn’t trust my decision.
With each new “Please get a paralegal job” email, he showed his fear that my financial independence would suck back from whence it came. I knew my Dad was wrong, that I shouldn’t go back to law. But up until that point, I thought my Dad was not a person, but a superhero. And only people, not superheroes, are wrong sometimes. But as I basically shat on nine months of paralegal school, eight years in the legal field, and my Dad’s plans for me, to say his sentiment wasn’t justified would be wholly unfair.
That said. In my former life, I identified a little too well with the lead characters of Horrible Bosses. Frequently, I wanted to shove my arm down a blue U.S. post office box just to check a filing for a thousandth time. In short, I wasn’t happy in my job. And though my Dad thought so, the solution wasn’t roaming the internet for greener paralegal pastures. Because the truth is, I could probably be a reasonably happy cow in the field of say, estate planning – the Ben Stein of the law world. But, whether or not my legal career could work wasn’t the problem. The problem was I was living a life others said I must. And I asked myself every day: “What if my whole life has been wrong?”
In 1886, Ivan Illyich asked himself this same question:
“What if my whole life has been wrong?’ It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely noticeable impulses, which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend…”
Strike any chords, Bueller?
In Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich, a 45 year-old high-court judge, Ivan Illyich, suffers a minor fall while hanging curtains in his living room. Before long, it becomes clear that from the fall, Ivan suffered fatal injuries and he is now dying. Ivan spends the second half of the novel battling with the idea of his own death. He knows he lived his life in the wrong way, which, as you can imagine, is a hard pill to swallow.
I knew a long time ago that if I didn’t change something about my life, I’d live it wrong. I knew it in my heart, but I didn’t know how to do anything about it. Like Ivan says, we defend the reasons to remain “tight in the bud” because we’re too afraid to blossom. We say, “Eff you, blossoming,” because blossoming requires leaps of faith, massive risks, and the possibility of failure. And whether we know it or not, those deterrents, that fear, is enough to kill our “scarcely noticeable impulses.” Our baby dreams that haven’t yet breathed their first breath. And fair enough. There’s a lot at stake when you decide to become a full-fledged flower.
For me, opening my petals meant trashing 99.9% of my work experience and a chunk of my education. It meant sacrificing money. But, my decision to leave the legal field is also the chief reason I consider this project, The Surfer Stoke Project, to be a wild success.
Through this blog, I found my passion. And I say this with complete sincerity, when I started Surfer Stoke, I had no idea what that was.
The clues were there – reading is like my meth, I majored in English Lit, diaries are littered across my life. But even though it was plain as day, I hadn’t found Mr. White in the Billiard Room with the wrench yet. And finding something that gives me more pleasure than 1,000 orgasms, a runner’s high, eight movie marathons, and 5 of my favorite craft beers combined, is worth so much more to me than a reliable paycheck. Something that gives your life meaning is gold, and the fact that I found that sends shivers to my spine, goosebumps to my skin, and courage to my heart. I’m (finally) living the life I want to.
One of my best friends visited last week from Colorado, and we were talking about dreams. I said I was thankful I found what it is I want to do, because for each person, that is hard to find. “It seems like most people struggling with finding their dreams,” I said. He responded, “A lot of people know what their dreams are, Natalie. They just don’t want to go for them.”
And I get that. Following your dreams is scary. Changing course is fucking terrifying. You feel like Wiley Coyote walking off a cliff with an anvil. In The Alchemist, Coelho touches on this idea, too. He says everyone has different relationships with their dreams. Some want to the hold their dreams in their hearts, but never realize them. Or, they’re just not ready to pursue them.
But, say we take dreams out of the equation, forgetting about careers, life purpose, “being your best self” – all of the Oprah-esque talk for a second. Forget about all that stuff.
Bare bones: you should be thinking happy thoughts, doing rewarding things, and being with people who love and appreciate you.
I keep pounding home the “dreams” thing because following mine matters most to me right now. But what really matters in life is that, at the end of it, you don’t have any regrets. Because the things you didn’t do will torment you. And life is so short. Like, how I am already closing in on 26? I heard a high school-era Gavin DeGraw song at CVS today and it made my skin crawl.
I didn’t know what I was looking for when I started Surfer Stoke. But through it, I’ve found what makes me most happy. And I’ve found that what you think is impossible, isn’t. That you can allow yourself to entertain big dreams. And lastly, I’ve found that through challenging yourself like you never have before, you’ll wake up to a world you never knew existed.
So that’s where I’m at. Where are you at?