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Dreaming your life – or living it?

August 24, 2008

in Spiritual Growth

In college I was told that to have a magical world view was childish. What they mean by that is that people who believe in magic take too much personal responsibility: I thought about her dying, so I must have caused it somehow.

Belief in magic does imply that we believe human beings are more responsible for what happens to them than can be explained by ordinary causes. In other words: a rich person isn’t just rich because they worked hard, they are also rich because they had the vision to get where they are.

This belief: that vision, daring to dream, daring to believe ‘you can do it’, is essential for success (and the main reason for failure if success just doesn’t come) seems to be fairly normal. At least, I’ve come across this belief (recently called ‘the secret‘) often online.

It does seem reasonable to call this belief a magical world view. After all – it puts all the responsibility of success or failure (and health and disease, wealth and poverty etc.) in ones own hands. Whether you were born with few or many opportunities, whether you were born in a rich or a poor country, whether you have the smarts to understand this complicated world enough to rise above the circumstances you were born into – all that apparently doesn’t really matter.

Put like that – it is clearly a simplification to put all the responsibility on that one individual person.

On the other hand – one does choose to listen to advice, or not. I was told by a government worker that I should not go into business. It was her job to decide whether I was likely to make it, and if I was – I would get government help. Because I wasn’t likely to make it, I didn’t get that help.

Being the stubborn person I am – I didn’t listen to her. I just went ahead and started my business. It worked: I can’t say I’m a rich person now – but I’m not in debt either. And I have more freedom than I could have ever imagined. I did choose this path.

But was that path my dream? Was that my ultimate goal in life? I wouldn’t say that. I’ve seen dreams shatter so many times it’s become a habit for me. I’ll list a few of the less embarrassing dreams that shattered.

  • I dreamed of becoming a scientist as a teenager. But I could never decide on the subject. I went and studied chemistry in university for two years – getting a few passing grades but not many. I had to admit defeat: If I’d really been into chemistry (and science) I would have done better.
  • Tired of studying I went into nursing. I wanted to help people, make a difference. A week into my first practical assignment I was sent away and had to quit
  • I’m not sure what I would have done if a glimmer of hope hadn’t arrived in the form of the son of a friend of my mother’s: I had been tutoring him for a few months now, and that went very well. So I thought: hey, maybe I should become a teacher.
  • Fast forward a few years: I had two teaching degrees: mathematics and chemistry. I went into the special education field trying to teach. The first job I had, I apparently didn’t do terrible, because they wanted to hire me. But I felt trapped and decided to try my hand at ordinary kids. I got fired in job after job until I had to admit defeat: I can’t do that. I can’t teach a group full of teenagers. Another dream shattered.
  • I had already started studying world religion at Leiden university when this happened – and I decided to become a web designer for a living and do my studying on the side. After all – religion and spirituality had been my hobby through all of this, and I had expressed that through my website. It seemed like the perfect combination. I did well for a few years: studying, making a living, living with my grandmother. Recently though I have had to admit that the last year hasn’t been going so great: I can’t seem to manage writing the long papers I would have to write to get my bachelors degree. Another dream shattered.

This last dream wasn’t such a big deal. I’m sad about it, but I’m also relieved. Those papers (3 of them) were becoming a real pain in the *. My motivation was always my interest in these subjects. I had no illusions about becoming a scientist this time, nor did I really need the degree (though it would have looked good on my resume). After all – here I am, with an actual business and recently some opportunities to take my spiritual stuff to a wider audience.

The point of all this: dreams aren’t really what matters. I see each of these shattered dreams as a form of growing up, growing into myself. What matters is that through all of this I’ve learned things I needed to learn. I’ve developed skills that matter and I’ve grown.

What really matters is not what you dream about, but what you actually end up living. And that actual living just might happen to be a bit messy – especially in this complicated world we are all living in.

For those few people who have been able to fulfill their dreams – congratulations. I do envy you, but I don’t pretend that it should be like that for all of us. It just isn’t like that for most of us.

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