I have a card on my mantle that an excellent friend of mine gave me. It contains this quote:

Dreams can change, if we all stuck with our first dreams there would be a lot of cowboys and princesses running around.

— Stephen Colbert

I was thinking back to who I wanted to be when I was young. I had a cowboy outfit, but I pretended that I was a horse a lot. I may have been a bit confused as to what states of being I would be able to achieve when I was a child. I’m sure my parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief that I didn’t actually pursue the dream of becoming a horse… I don’t think they would have been able to support that kind of alternate identity in their oldest daughter.

I haven’t always known who I wanted to be. There was a time when I knew what I did not want more clearly than I knew what I wanted. I have muddled forward in the in-between land, somewhere equidistant from the dreams of being a dolphin trainer, or a veterinarian, or a missionary and where I am now, a freelance editor who is publishing a novel this summer.

The vision I had of my future self has changed so many times over the years, sometimes as a choice made freely and gladly, and other times as a result of doors closing or more jarring and painful circumstances. Each time I lay down an old dream in search of a new one I suffer loss and the opportunities that I’m choosing to leave behind. But I also experience great joy at the possibilities that lay before me.

If you choose to let your dreams go, or if you have to for some reason or another, new dreams are a happy discovery. Because you can’t ever stop… dreaming that is. At your lowest point, or at your highest, there’s always some state of being that we long for. Whether it’s comfort and security or quiet solitude and an escape from pressure and expectation, we all want something, want to be something.

One important way that my vision of my future self has evolved… instead of thinking about who I will be “someday” I focus more on who I am now? My lovely therapist wrote a blog post in which she posed the weighty question, “Why not now?” If there is something I want to do, if there is someone I want to be, why not be that person now? Why do I need to wait for someone’s permission or for a specific amount of time to pass or…? What’s stopping me from being who I want to be right now?

Sometimes the thing stopping me is the identity/dream/goal I haven’t let go of yet. Sometimes, in order to achieve the thing you really want (or to discover what that is at all) you have to let go of what you never thought you’d ever lose.

I wanted to be a horse (be a horse, have a horse, same thing, right?) when I was a child. I’ve always loved horses… so when I found the opportunity to ride and a generous soul who was willing to let me work for time on horseback, I dove in with open arms to receive that manifestation of my dreams. For a while, riding horses consumed my life and I was ever so happy.

And then, gradually, I started to fall out of enchantment with horses. There were other things (like writing and my editing business) I wanted to spend my moments on, and continuing to prop up an old identity was starting to chafe. I realized that the dream wasn’t for me, but it was painfully difficult to let go of an identity that I’d cherished for so long, since I was a child. I had friends and daily rhythms tied up in the idea that I was a horse-person, and I hated to lose them.

When I finally let go of the old dream to make space for new ones, I didn’t lose my friends. I didn’t lose my sense of self, either. Instead, by pruning what wasn’t working for me anymore, I grew. But it was scary. And painful. And I had to say goodbye to part of me, and grieve the loss. Still, it was only through putting aside a dream that no longer fit anymore, that I had grown out of, that I was able to embrace something new and become more me than I had been before.

So what about you? Who do you want to be now? What about tomorrow? What about five years from now? Not sure? Let’s find out together!

 It's never a straight line to get where you want to be... not if your dreams are brave. If you're reaching out and achieving everything you set your heart to right away, I'm going challenge that you're not dreaming big enough.
It’s never a straight line to get where you want to be… not if your dreams are brave. If you’re reaching out and achieving everything you set your heart to right away, I’m going challenge that you’re not dreaming big enough.

Last year I read a book by Seth Godin called What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn). It’s a great book. In it he talks about his views on entrepreneurship and how to achieve your goals more efficiently or… at all, really.

The main idea Seth wants to drive home is baked into the title of the book. It’s your turn. Now. It’s never not your turn. Do something.

This was revolutionary for me (and maybe it is for you, too). The desire to be “the chosen one” is universal. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Cinderella, The Matrix, The Sword in the Stone… I could go on and on naming stories, myths, archetypes from all throughout the history of storytelling that point to the same need in all of us. We want to be chosen. And for some of us that means a lot of waiting and painfully watching while others achieve what we had always hoped for.

I have spent so much of my life waiting to be given permission to live. When I was a teenager, I didn’t do anything without permission. Well, I wasn’t supposed to, at least… so if I did and it ever became known I’d suffer consequences for it.

Those consequences reinforced the need for permission from anyone and everyone to be able to act. So instead of making art or writing fiction or doing anything that I wanted to do simply because I wanted to do it, I waited for someone to tell me I was allowed to.

Growing up, I had bathroom mirror fantasies (you know, where you lock yourself in the bathroom and have imaginary conversations with your reflection? Anyone? Just me? Ok…) that I had been discovered by someone who would make me a famous model, or actress, or just a member of a richer, more “hip” family. The keen desire to be singled out, to be chosen, has lived inside me my whole life.

What I wish I’d known then, what Seth Godin drives home in his book, is that if you sit and wait for someone else to pick you, the odds are you’ll never get to “go” at all. If you want to play the game, if you want to be chosen, you have to pick yourself.

It took me almost 4 decades to discover this truth. When I think about the time and opportunities I wasted by waiting for someone else to tell me I was allowed to live I get a little sad. How much more could I have done if I had realized early on that I could fill my own need by choosing myself?

You don’t need a permit or a blessing or any sort of permission to decide to take your turn. You only have to open your eyes and look. And then choose.

— Seth Godin, What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn)

These days I’m bolder, I dive in and take more risks without waiting for someone to give me the go-ahead. I make messes and sing out of key and am publishing my first novel this year because I’m not waiting for anyone to say “It’s your turn.” I already know it’s my turn. I already know that I’m going to get picked for the team I want to play on because I’m the one doing the picking. I pick myself.

What about you?