Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Conversation About Passion, Dreams, and Waking Up

A compelling article in Sunday's New York Times, titled Often a Swan, Rarely a Queen, concerns a little-discussed problem with chasing our passions and our dreams. What happens when we get close to our dreams, but they're never fully realized? The article focuses on life in the rarified and hyper-specialized atmosphere of a world-class ballet company, but it describes an issue that can be universal:

"For the few who survive the grueling competition, relentless discipline and mental pressure to make it into one of the world’s first-rank companies, this tale of recognized talent and continuing achievement frequently ends soon thereafter. The new company member is now just one of a hundred or so other brilliant talents. When the level is that high, the exceptional becomes ordinary, and the dancer discovers that perhaps she will not be on a poster on bedroom walls."

It's a realization I've come to in my own life, as I have come to understand (perhaps too well) that I'll never win the Pulitzer for playwrighting, receive an oscar for best screenplay nomination, or take the stage as a competitive bodybuilder.

Hugh McLeod, in Post Dreaming Reality on Gaping Void, mirrored my thoughts a couple of days ago with this cartoon:

I especially like his words "kill slowly," as well as his succinct appraisal, in the accompanying text, of the stage we all probably get to:

"Then you get to a certain age and you realize that the time for "One Day" is over. You're either doing it, or you're not. And if you're not, a feeling of bitter disappointment starts hitting you deep into the marrow. Which explains why we all know so many people in their 30s and 40s having mid-life crisis'."

This reality could be a function of age - I am 50, after all, and I can feel my life adapting to all kinds of realities these days. Unfortunately, there no manual readily available to help us through this time. Something on the order of "How to understand your adolescent," but for the newly-middle-aged, would be beneficial.

It could be a fault in the way our society works. Too many dream careers require huge sacrifices and still leave many without the big fulfillment, perhaps because our vision of success requires huge, powerful, and largely financial outcomes.

I've posted about this before, and I've come to believe this passion thing is way overrated. But if you don't feel the way I do, you can still find plenty of information out there that will tell you how to Take your first step and Achieve Your Dream.

Some are disappointed, though, when their energy wanes in the pursuit. I've been battling the conflict between what I've always thought I've wanted to do, and what I really want to do now (which are two very different things.) Thom Singer may be feeling the conflict too, as McLeod's Post Dreaming Reality "flies in the face of my current quest."

But Brazen Careerist's Penelope Trunk offers us a solution. In Bad career advice: Do what you love, she counsels:

"If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid, you’ll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money."

According to Penelope, "We are each multifaceted, multilayered, complicated people..." and "None us loves just one thing." According to me, getting rid of an old dream makes room for a new one. The trick is to recognize the new dream as one of many that may not bear any resemblance to the original.

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