Ever since I was a little girl, I never stopped forecasting visions of the person I’d be when I grew up. Ten years ago, I even wrote myself a letter about it — I wanted to be a college graduate, living in a city I love, with blonde highlights and a big time career in advertising (and a dog kennel owner….I watched a few too many ASPCA ads on sick days). I would print business cards that read “CEO” and draw up plans for new hotels, rides at Disney World, and As Seen on TV inventions. I had sketches in dozens of notebooks littered around my room, filled by a wild imagination I still carry with me to this day. My family kept warning me — stop wishing for adulthood. You’ll miss the best years of your life. Just enjoy being a kid.
They were right, of course. You see, when I graduated college, I tried out this whole adulting thing, and it’s pretty hard if I’m being honest. I missed the days when nap time wasn’t just acceptable, but *scheduled,* and my biggest concern was if I would like what my mom was making for dinner. But, as I started building this new adult version of myself, I couldn’t seem to shake the wild idea of the person that little girl dreamed up. Sure I had a degree, I worked in marketing, I dyed my hair. Yet I had this nagging sensation that a certain little dreamer would be disappointed in me.
Flash forward to last weekend. I was walking around Disney World, celebrating the successful completion of my first half marathon, and gawking in my usual wonder at the vibrant community and immersive world my favorite entrepreneur had built. I realized something then — this was a world built from one man’s dream. A big dream, mind you, a seemingly outlandish one. But it was a dream like anyone else would have…a dream like that little girl had. Walt never saw Disney as it is today, but he worked tirelessly for it anyway, against all odds. Something about that and the thousands of marathon runners surrounding me created a newfound sense of inspiration, and I went home that night with so many thoughts and “What ifs?” running through my head.
In the morning, I went to organize my day in my trusty Best Self Co. journal, and one of those serendipitous things happened — the quote of the day was from Walt Disney himself. It read:
“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney
And there it was. The thing I had been missing this whole time. I’ve written a bit about resilience and optimism, believing in myself and taking the chance to tell my own story. But the one thing truly separating me from the girl I used to be and the girl I am becoming isn’t a lack of dreaming — it’s a lack of courage. There is something a little bit crazy about working hard for a dream you have no idea is going to work out. It requires that fine balance of hope, fearlessness, and foolishness that is wrapped up into one courageous package. Having courage is hard. But the annoying thing about old platitudes is that they’re true — nothing in life worth having is easy.
Message heard loud and clear, Walt. Time to blow the dust off those dream books.
Here’s a letter I’m writing to a fellow dreamer, because I have something she’ll need to keep her going.
Hello from Iceland! Just settled in here for a week in the capital before journeying off on a 5 day adventure hike pre-London music festival. Weather is a bit stormy but I’m keeping warm inside as I write this.
I wanted you to know that I was here so you knew to keep up that bucket list — I’m checking off new things every day. Living in Boston was a blast, but I thought traveling the world a bit would be fun before I settled into grad school in the Fall. I won’t reveal which schools — just make sure you start researching your favorites. I bet a few of them are on the list.
I want to make sure you keep working hard, so I won’t reveal too much. But, so you have something to tide you over, here are a few things to look forward to.
We still get to go to Disney world every year — just got back from Orlando last week. The movies and rides only get better, if you can believe it. Work is good — I’m running my own company now, in marketing and strategy, and computers let me run it from anywhere in the world. I’m just starting to take advantage of that, and the world is pretty incredible so far. I’m sure you’re wondering about your social life: well, I’m single for now, but I have amazing best friends, still talk to the family every week, and still am able to find joy in being alone in a coffee shop.
Now listen. I know you have a lot of big schemes and everyone smiles and laughs at your outlandish ideas — but I need you to do something for me. Never stop believing in yourself. Life will get pretty challenging at times, but I need you to stay fearless and stay hopeful. You will question who you are, what dreams are important to you, who to stay loyal to. The answer to all those questions isn’t in other people, and it never comes from the powers at be: the only person who knows what’s best for you is you. Even when times seem tough, trust your gut. I promise you, things really do get better.
Even though your teachers scold you for it now, the fact that talking is your favorite hobby isn’t a bad thing. Use it. Always be open to making new friends, and making conversation when others wouldn’t. You’ll open so many more doors and meet the most life-changing people that way. Always be selfless, and be the force in their life that you are in your own.
The one thing I cannot urge enough — never, ever stop dreaming. There will be people who try to tell you what you should do, but they don’t have to live your life. You do. The dreams you have are big, and that makes them harder to come true. I’m here to tell you — no matter how big that dream is, you can do it. No really — *that* dream.
I found a quote the other day that I’m currently living by.
“The things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them.”
You have the courage inside of you right now, but life will make you question it. Don’t let it. It’s the guiding light you need to find your way.
With love always,
AJ Marino, January 2018