What did you want to be when you grew up?

Linh NguyenWhat did you want to be when you grew up?

Such a dangerous question. It’s thick around the edges with loss and laced with the bitter taste of disappointment. When you look at your child self who would have screamed “nurse!” or “fireman!” or in my case “writer and actor!” and then return to who you are now, sometimes the gap between the desire and the reality is dizzying.

We build a cocoon from our dreams and we justify it by learning the real world. We discover money and family, reality and realism. Our child self is dismissed as childish as other goals like real estate ownership and our own tendency to short change opportunity gets in the way.

Before you know it, economics influence the situation and you may be a million miles away from the work you wanted to be involved in.

But is there more to this than seemingly cheating our little inner self out of our destiny? And if so, why do so many people try so hard to recapture the same sort of innocence after it is gone?

Innocence versus experience

William Blake asked the fundamental question of whether it was better to live in bliss-filled ignorance and innocence, or acquire the knowledge of our fate and live with the pain of experience.

This is the fundamental question that haunts all of us. It is that double edged sword of being the naive person with the less worry, or the informed person with the burden that knowledge undoubtedly brings.

Is it better to know that we can’t all reach the potential we and/or our parents had in mind?

Is it better to know the reality of what our dreams become when they move from our imagination to the tangible?

Our world is decorated with quote such as “be careful what you wish for” and yet, we never truly understand the meaning until it is time to swallow the bitter pill of disappointment.  Our culture is enamoured with the idea we have to be happy as a success measurement.

But what if you’re not happy where you are? Can you realistically throw it all to the wind, start working out of your garage and become the next amazingly happy entrepreneur splashing about on all the newsagency covers?

Experience hurts like a bitch

There are no two ways about it. Knowing you will die, understanding your lover cheated, not having enough money in your pocket, that you hate your job (and sometimes, even yourself) and feeling the sting of those faded childhood dreams burns. None of us enjoy these feelings.

Those moments of fighting, flighting and terrifyingly hulking stresses where we apply the booze and the band aids never truly end.

Living is suffering. It is failing and falling. It’s smashing into the ground like a demented toddler who wobbles around the lounge, trying so hard to crack the whole walking thing.

And yet, with all that pain and humiliation, the experience always wins the battle. Because it is that experience of pain that brings the next moment of triumph so much closer.

We continue to wobble and smash because beyond the pain comes the appreciation of joy.

At least, we hope.

This experience business really feels like the wrong end of the stick at times. And it can feel difficult to dig yourself out from the weight of expectation and the distance travelled down a particular road. But at least you know there is a rub.

And within that rub, this is where profound change can come.

What innocence never teaches you

If I were given a camp to choose, I would choose experience every time. My life is hardly pain free, and I know it will continue to provide challenges where I will doubt myself and wonder if it’s all worth it.

I’m not one of those people wandering aimlessly in the streets on a cloud of bliss. And yes, sometimes that makes me a little melancholy, too.

But I would hate to be blind to the real sense of the world. I never want to lose the crispness or sweetness of biting into an apple- or even the flavour of one too green or too tart. I honestly wouldn’t want to lose the sadness or the anger, either. Despite having moments in my life where they’ve knocked me around, caused me to make mistakes and lead to problems and pain.

I say this because it’s part of the experience of living. It’s the glue that sits in between one happy moment to the next.

It’s what makes finding yourself and the things you’re passionate about later all the more special.

There is that wonderful sense of contentment you get from experiencing spectrum of emotion. I don’t believe we’re designed to feel a sense of bliss that outweighs reality. In fact, I worry that such an unrealistic vision of happiness leads us towards false forms of happiness, cult ideals and shattering blindness.

Innocence never teaches you that you can recover from what has been thrown at you. It doesn’t teach you the value of relationships or people.

It is innocence that makes us thoughtless, self-absorbed and empty.

When we lack the experience, we lack the ability to see the ramifications of our actions and the ways in which we influence the world. And if we chase only the world of innocent, numbing happiness, we refuse to entertain the depth of our actions on the world around us.

We sell the things we have overcome short. The route of perpetual joy also minimises the impact our negative selves and actions have had on others and our own emotional state.

By choosing to self-edit, we betray the meaning of life. Not only for the denial of reality, but also because it places undue pressure on others who feel the honest struggle of life and cannot for the life of them work out why they cannot reach that same bliss filled nirvana.

The beauty in realism

Never mourn the fire fighter or actor you never became. Instead, see that change in direction as a sign of growth. Maybe the realism of your current life was exactly what you needed. There is reward to be found in changing, overcoming and learning from error.

Look critically at what you are doing right now. Forget accepting your lot in life or your debt as your guide. Is it measuring up? If not, how is that so?

Approach it in critical terms of not dreaming away skills you don’t have or lotto tickets you will never win. Ground yourself and ask if the skills you have could be turned towards things you could enjoy better, and if they can translate, what you need to do in order to make the journey happen.

Realism teaches us that no matter how far or fast we run, our problems will always catch us in the end.  So stop running, embrace you, and see if you can somehow find your way off the path that currently gives you grief.

It’ll take time to make a change and it’s scary.  There is no “do these 3 things in the morning for success” – there is only sweat, tears and a lot of rolled up sleeves. But what I can promise you is that if you decide to challenge your notion of misery and look for something that gives you greater joy and less regret, you’ll sleep better.

That if instead of being a victim of your circumstance, you become a survivor of a situation your head will change tack.

You’ll prosper because you have a realistic outlook on what is achievable.

The freedom of knowing what you can and can’t achieve, and that life is a blank canvas in certain respects has a far more comforting feel than dreams that lie dust collected beneath the shade of melancholy.

Choose to take back your destiny. Stop allowing the world and lost dreams dictate how you will perform.

Grow up.

Hurt a little.

And live.

If you want to step off the treadmill of putting one foot in front of the other and start growing a little resilience, finding a way through the myth and conjecture, and discovering an alternative to long hours in places you care little about, join us for ‘The myth of work-life balance in a get-ahead culture.

You won’t be disappointed.

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