Dreams. Twenty years ago, I was full of them. I spent countless afternoons with my friend Maddy, cutting our college Astronomy class to go sit on a dock in Port Jefferson. We would linger for hours, our legs dangling over the water, our lips dragging on one cigarette after another, our conversation full of books and boys and friends and parents and the past and the future and of course, our dreams. Always, our dreams.
Oh, the places we will go! The people we will meet! The adventures we will have! They were so vast and so varied and so numerous that all the Parliament Lights in the world couldn’t burn long enough for us to ever really finish the conversation.
I did, however, eventually finish college and enter the real world. Degree in hand. Dreams in heart.
I’ve made pretty good progress on those dreams these past two decades. I’ve got the stamps in the passport. The skydiving and hang gliding photos on the wall. The stories that I love to tell to anyone who will listen…plus a few that I’ve only shared in tipsy whispers with trusted comrades. I wrangled my way into a career that I truly enjoy. And I have the privilege of waking up next to someone I love and raising the two dynamite little boys we brought into the world.
But that old list of dreams still has plenty of empty checkboxes. And with every passing year, the chances of marking them all off get slimmer. And you know what? I don’t care.
How my bucket list became a fuck it list
Look inside my closet. You’ll find shoes for stand-up paddleboarding next to hiking boots crusted with dirt from Red Rock Canyon. A cotton yoga hoodie next to a leather fringe halter top I bought for biker week one year. Roller skating sneakers next to seven-inch platform heels for pole dancing fitness class. These aren’t skeletons. They’re the remains of my life’s passing fancies.
But as life got longer, the days got shorter. Now, every single hour offers but one choice: attend to this pressing priority or that one. Or that one. Or that one.
When I first created my list of dares for Operation Goosebumps, I started by thinking of all the fun, interesting and cool things I’d heard about, read about and talked about doing over the past twenty years. Then I crossed a whole bunch of shit off. Bungee jumping? Fuck it. Running with the bulls? Fuck it. Spending a night in a hotel made of ice? Fuck it. Motorcycle lessons? Fuck it. On second thought, keep it.
Stacking up my to-do list against the time I actually have to get things done forced me to make a critical distinction. There’s the stuff I want to do because it would make me the coolest kid at the table. And there’s the stuff I need to do because my soul demands it.
The difference between dreams and diversions
I once wrote about the pitfalls of trying to “find your purpose — one of them being that you can become so focused on looking that you can forget to simply live. Funny thing is, sometimes through that very process of living and doing and trying new things, a pattern emerges. And if you pay attention to it, it just may point you toward purpose after all. Or at least some version of it.
My modern-day dreams list doesn’t point in a single direction. It produces a heat map of my psyche, illuminating the things that matter most. Writing matters. Creativity matters. Family, travel and the fluctuating state of my body matters. That leather halter top matters, evidently (though pulling it off will depend on the fluctuating state of my body).
What didn’t make the cut were the simple diversions. Diversions are those meaningless activities that you turn to when you have some time to fill. They’re fun. They’re exciting. Some of them may evolve into full-fledged dreams. Most of them will pass, leaving nothing behind but a few photos, Facebook posts, and perhaps some specialized footwear.
Your actual dreams on the other hand, the ones that come from that pure and wide-eyed space inside your soul, they’re not going anywhere. Those tenacious little suckers will follow you around your entire life. You can’t shake them, no matter how long you starve or neglect or deny them. And they’ll never abandon you. Even if you abandon them.