Don't give up on your dreams, just lose your plans

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Two years ago, I stared out the car window for two-thousand miles

My dad was in the driver’s seat when the CD player broke somewhere in Wyoming. I was conditioning myself to like the sound of radio static, because sound in a place so barren was better than nothing at all. When the static threatened to drive us both insane, I cut the radio over to NPR.

I was moving….again. It was my fourth relocation in five years, north to Seattle for college, south to San Diego to finish my Journalism degree, east to Washington D.C. for an internship and back west for another year before my wanderlust got the best of me. This time, it was North Carolina to help start a new church.

My parents weren’t even surprised when I pulled up my roots again. They knew the routine.

The South was all trees dressed in moss chandeliers and fire red anthills in my imagination. I tried picturing them as the wind turbines of the High Plains waved at me from the passenger seat. This move would be different. This move would afford me new job opportunities, expand my life experience, give me space to breathe. I was moving for a second crack at a new life plan. I was striking out solo as most of my best friends were still unpacking their wedding gifts back home. 

I moved to Raleigh driven by the angst of a life plan that I believed had failed. My collapsed plan was to score a coveted feature writing spot at a large regional magazine, marry a surfer, and live in a modern bungalow in San Diego.

None of this materialized, to my obvious disappointment. I was out of college, all healed up from my first big heartbreak, and ready to change the world with my future soulmate. But that was the problem, he was still stuck in the future, right next to that perfect writing job.

The job market was a total flop. I graduated in 2009 when many of my peers claimed I could kiss my writing dreams goodbye. The publishing industry was tanking hard in the economic downturn, and middle aged professionals with bags under their eyes were elbowing me out of entry-level positions left and right. I flew down to San Diego from Portland for a newspaper interview (on my own dime) and didn’t even get a rejection call back. This wasn’t a good sign.

My mind was awash in these disappointments as I watched new states fly past my window. Four days later we arrived in Raleigh as if by magic or an act of God after all that detail work of packing, selling, and praying a rock chip wouldn’t crack my brand new windshield. After the lifting, moving and convincing furniture to do the impossible and fit into the elevator, I decided it was ok to sweat and not take a shower every time.

The South had the worst names for grocery stores: Harris Teeter, Piggly Wiggly, Publix. Where was New Seasons and Whole Foods? I scoffed as I grabbed a cart and a torrent of air-conditioning smacked me in the face. I feared being single would rob me of my hopes for adventure and romance, and I wasn’t about to watch my dreams blow up in my face. I feared missing out, and it wasn’t the first time this would happen. I was afraid of missing the romance and adventure boat in my life until I learned these things and being single are not mutually exclusive. You can have them right now. In fact, you could have them right in the middle of Piggly Wiggly if you want to.

That’s why I found myself in the middle of a sub-par southern grocery store. I took that hope to the bank and moved across the country. I believed love and adventure were real with all of my heart, and I still do. I learned the difference between a dream and a plan. A dream is a deep-seated desire or calling, a truth about who you are that you cannot resist, it’s something you were made to do.  A plan is highly flexible. It morphs to bumps in the road, it gets reshaped by the introduction of new people in your life, it is written in pencil, erasable, shapable.

My big mistake was equating my plans with my dreams when in reality, they’re nowhere near the same thing  

Adhering too close to your “plan” prevents life from taking you by the hearty seat of your pants and shaking you around. Even if that place is heartbreak, even if that place is pain or trial or sacrifice. Even if that place makes you so uncomfortable you don’t even want to think about it.

In many ways, the South made me uncomfortable. The manic storms, the uncanny blend of southern front porch rockers and horrific drivers. And then there’s this perfect romance about it. Dark eyes closed in total submission to a sound, the thunderclouds building like mountains of despair, tank top nights, longboards in empty parking lots.

The South was something I learned to love but could not control. The egregious names of grocery stores. The singleminded obsession with biscuits. The daily suggestion of grits and archaic references to the “war of northern aggression” that made me roll my eyes. All of these pieces retrofitted my expectations with beautiful and hard surprises, summer flings, October weddings, friends that slipped through my fingers.

If you feel as if your life plan has failed, you might be on the right track. Maybe the answer for you isn’t starting from scratch, but it can’t hurt. It can deliver you over to the good kind of risks. You can feel something exciting again, something adventurous, something real.

Don’t give up your dreams, just remake your plans

Use your energy to pursue romance and adventure when you’re still single. Yes, you. Take your time and precious concentration to let things like a quiet afternoon in the house and an early morning run be your very own appointed moments for beauty and romance to steal you away. It doesn’t have to be perfect either. It’s right there waiting to drench you in the humidity of a new day and fresh possibilities.  And it’s not happy self talk. This is for you and this is for now and you can have it.

I wouldn’t have put everything I own into my car and driven 2,000+ miles if I thought this was a nice but inaccessible idea. When I put my bank account, my friendships and emotional investments on the line for my deep-seated dreams instead of my momentarily changing plans, I learned that this is the only way I am willing to live.