What do you do when you wake up and realize all of your dreams have come true?
Clearly, you start having new ones.
After all, as my mother always warned me – if you don’t have dreams, you have nightmares. And I certainly would not want to give over my amazing life made of all my hopes and dreams to nightmares.
This has been a year of dream achievement for me, and for many of my friends. For some of us we have achieved a dream held so long we forgot we were still striving for it. For some it was a series of smaller dreams that fell into place one after the other like well placed dominoes.
You’d think that achieving your dreams would be galvanizing, energizing, encouraging – and it is. But, for many of us who have worked day in and day out for years and years to reach these dreams, there is also a moment (or longer) of absolute panic.
“I did it!” is quickly followed by “Crap! What now?” We have been so focused on our goal, we forgot to lay the road that would come after it, or plant the next carrot to dangle in front of our cart.
Though we strive for success, few of us are actually equipped to deal with it when it comes. Many of us do not recognize it, even as it stares us in the face, and many more simply don’t know where to go or what to do once it arrives.
Take my friends who signed their first book contracts this year and watched as their word babies became real books, lining bookstore shelves and filling hands on subway trains. Now what? Clearly, you write another book. This time on deadline! But what else? Or is that it?
It depends on what your goal was, what your metric of success is. Did you want to publish THAT book? If so, good job, you did it, you’re done. Now what? But if your goal was a little loftier – to become an author – then, congratulations, you have begun and now your goal is to continue the journey and write and sell more books.
The loftier the goal, the easier it is to claim the small victories and still continue on without that desolate moment of “Oh god, what now?”
On the other hand, even lofty goals can be achieved. And then what?
We live, on average, about three lifetimes. Most people split these up into: Childhood and (very) prolonged adolescence. Adulthood and Career. Retirement.
But, as I told my husband recently, we have the option to choose a different path.
My husband has always lived in the shadow of a small fear – the fear that if the saying “When one door closes, another opens” is true, then its opposite is also true and “When one door opens, another closes. And locks. And gets welded shut.”
My husband has a small fear of walking through doors because if he’s not in the hallway, holding all of them open, then one might close and it might turn out to be the one he wanted after all. And wouldn’t that suck.
In truth, life is long. For most of us anyway. Long enough that we can walk down that hallway, peek in a few doors, open a few, close a few, open them back up and peek again. We can dabble. We can experiment. We can succeed and fail and succeed again.
We have the time, not to do anything we want, but to do EVERYthing we want. (No, Universe, not all at once. Stop that.)
I have friends who have changed careers more times than my children change their favorite books. They hop – in and out of schools, in and out of jobs, in and out of majors, in and out of lifestyles.
I have other friends with a more singular take on life, friends who found their one true thing, their one audacious goal and have worked towards it all their life.
Somewhere in the middle is a place where we can live large, set audacious goals, achieve them, and start again. (Such as my friend, Daniel Landes, who is a successful restaurateur, has his first novel coming out in October and is now training to become a yoga teacher. These might seem like three very different careers and paths, but they are all connected, they are all part of a single story, made from a single thread.)
That is the place I encourage you all to live. In a place where success is no more scary than failure. Where achieving your goal is simply a reminder to set a new one, even more audacious than the last. In a place where you are free to open any door and walk through it, because there are no locks you cannot pick. A place where you can spend ten years working to achieve your dream and feel comfortable and confident changing your mind, tweaking your plan, or backtracking to the beginning and starting over.
Because this is your life, and it should look like all your dreams.