Another summer, another birthday, another year older.
As the end of July approaches each year, I prepare myself for what is inevitable to occur. Since I’ve long considered my birthday to be the start of the new year, rather than the collectively agreed upon ‘new beginning’ that comes along with January 1st, I find greater authenticity with the traditional dream building and goal planning for the year ahead.
Somehow in acknowledgement of being one year older, the dream forecasting that is set into motion on August 1st – day one of my new year – has transformed from minor new year’s resolutions to much more powerful future goals.
Counting your birthday as the start of your new year is something I’d strongly recommend, since being another year older – as panicking as it may be – seems to also provide the power to reflect on prior self growth much more effectively. With honesty, you can answer the critical questions: What have I accomplished? What have I learned? What have I changed? How have I proven myself right or wrong? How have I grown?
And, after adequate reflection, being another year wiser can also provide the insight to discern our next steps. Whether our goals have changed or whether they’re still the same, we can take this opportunity to make decisions on what the next year will bring.
This has been a tradition for me over the past several years, and one that I certainly did not skip on my 24th birthday. This year, however, I noticed a giant transformation in the process. Starting with the acknowledgment that the things that used to matter to me simply don’t anymore, I realized that this birthday was the happiest of them all; and, in connection to this acknowledgement, I realized something new about myself.
Amongst all the grandeur and sizzle of life that I’ve always understood my fire-sign self to love, I finally realized something quite humbling: after years of planning upscale birthday events and ripping my hair out in the process of planning, I finally realized that I actually prefer simplicity.
Who would’ve known? I suppose we just can’t possibly know what will make us happy until we reach a certain age, or until we give ourselves the opportunity to let go of the expectations we’ve held onto for so long. Since expectations are often just the part of life that inevitably cause disappointment, it isn’t surprising that lower expectations would render the opposite, even when referring to birthdays.
With day one of 24 at hand, I sat down outside with my new birthday present – a notebook scrawled perfectly with that beloved quote ‘Not all who wander are lost’ – and did some serious thinking.
I couldn’t undertake this task without remembering my most recent experience with the thing, which took place one year prior when I was freshly 23. And in remembering this, I couldn’t help but acknowledge how entirely different they are.
23 to 24. It doesn’t seem like a big change, but for me, it’s been the biggest. This is where my shift occurred, not surprising after the year where I experienced the most travel and solo soul searching of all my years combined. After spending 35 weeks traveling during which I visited 27 new cities and 10 new countries, it’s not surprising that my shift is 23, a year I’ll never forget.
The shift I’m referring to is one I believe we all experience at some point in our lives. Though some may never fully be transformed by this shift, it must be present in all our lives. It changes life so completely that it can come to mark the significant transformation between youth and maturity.
Shifting our world entirely by changing our perspective, the transformation seems to occur when we’ve gained enough first-hand, real-world experience to understand a key truth about life – that nothing is what it seems.
(PS. I say this in the most optimistic – and perhaps hypocritical – way possible, since I’m also a firm believer that there is much to be unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised about in this world, given that our pre-conceived notions and expectations don’t spoil the reality.)
This is the point where our youthfully dreamy perspective of life will be trumped by the facts of reality, perhaps to inevitably shrivel and fade away. It seems that the process of growing up is intrinsically connected to the same quality that signifies youth: the dreaminess.
This dreamy quality touches everything when we’re children, making the world seem like a beautiful playground where anything and everything is possible. An hour in this dreamland stretches on for eternity, and just five more minutes of playtime is all we need to feel that dreamy excitement again.
But this dreaminess follows us out of childhood. As we struggle through the challenges of adolescence and early adulthood, by this time understanding the many hard truths of reality, the dreamy perspective shifts, now being placed upon and emphasizing the experiences we haven’t yet seen, touched, felt, or understood.
It’s as if we keep these fanciful dream goggles on reserve to view our dreams and desires, experiencing the things we want most in our futures in our minds before they’ve occurred. And – just one year ago – this is where I was. My mind was so full of all the wonderful things and beautiful places I yearned to visit that the vibrant colors and beautiful structures kept me from sleeping at night, and revisited me even in my unconscious. My goals in my career and life, which I’d finally gained the courage to pursue full-heartedly, nipped at my heels, and within months I was on a plane to London to pursue them all.
I saw my family in Zurich; I danced beneath the Eiffel Tower; I ate pasta in Italy. And with many of my dreams coming true, as incredible as they were, I couldn’t help but deny the truth. Though they were beautiful and incredible, they weren’t out of a fairytale.
Experiencing something as a reality before you, I realized, is never quite like experiencing it in your mind as a dream.
The process of maturing is an interesting one that’s inherently connected to the loss of this beautifully naïve and inexperienced perspective. As our vision and self-awareness grows alongside our experiences, our minds outgrow this dream-like perspective.
It’s sad but true: with experience, time, and self-awareness, we outgrow our youthfully inspired dream goggles, replacing them with what we know to be true from experience: realism.
It’s a troubling realization, and one that I’ve given plenty of thought. Perhaps the disappointing realities are just the result of our optimistic dreaming. When we’re busy dreaming up all of our heart’s greatest desires, we tend to leave out the aspects of reality.
We tend to not factor in all of the inconveniences, upsets, delays, aggravations, emotions, culture shocks, loneliness, losses, accidents, fumbles, missed flights, irritations, and arguments that will forever be a part of life, and will forever characterize human experience.
These qualities that create reality can be tainting on dreams, and understanding this, it’s possible that the act of dreaming in itself can be a dangerous one. The act of dreaming can pump up our expectations so high that our disappointment is inevitable. And disappointment can be heartbreaking.
This is a reality. But the reality of the reality is this: dreaming, though it may be dangerous, is absolutely necessary.
Dreaming is the process that inspires us to take action, have faith in our goals and our abilities, and get excited about life. It’s likely the only thing that can truly motivate us long-term, and I’d also argue that it’s the only way to actually obtain the things we really want.
And though it’s true that nothing is what it seems, there’s another really uplifting and exciting truth about life: some things are better than they seem. With a year jam-packed full of experiences that taught me each of these life lessons, my world taught me – most importantly – that dreams do come true.
And though my youthfully dreamy perspective is quickly fading, my eyes now big enough to see around the lenses of my dream goggles, I will urge myself to continue dreaming, for I remember what I’ve learned.
And as my reality-filled peripherals close in on the focus, I will continue dreaming. I will learn to balance reality and fantasy, and I will opt to keep my expectations low, my beliefs high, and my experience in a perpetual state of gratitude and surprise.
The world isn’t perfect after all, regardless of what continent you’re on, but it is still full of possibilities and beauty, if you’ll only look hard enough to see it.
Perhaps if we only take off our dream goggles and understand our realism goggles for what they are, we’ll see the world for what it is: imperfectly perfect and capable of fulfilling all our wildest fantasies.
They won’t be what they seem, but if we’re lucky, they might be even better.