Why I didn’t follow my dream for 27 years
Don’t wait as long as I did.
I was 4 years old, when a kindergarten teacher spotted my “talent”.
“Your daughter shows promise for music,” she told my parents. Those six words would seal my fate for the next 30 years.
My parents did everything they were supposed to do. They enrolled me in music classes: first the xylophone, then the flute.
I wasn’t that keen on the xylophone. Or the flute. But I was an insecure child, eager to please, so I did what my parents wanted.
The next step was piano lessons.
My piano teacher was an eccentric diva who loved drama, demanded hard work, and would occasionally make her students cry. I was afraid of her, and practised on the piano every day to avoid her scorn.
I did pretty well.
But my heart wasn’t in it. Music lessons were a chore, like having to make my bed in the morning or cleaning my room. It was part of my routine, and I didn’t question it.
I also didn’t love it.
What I loved was to read. Being a shy child, books were my friends and confidantes, and opened up windows into worlds I couldn’t ever have imagined. They were my escape and my magic wonderland. Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver, Pippi Longstocking, Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, Harry Potter, and many more were the heroes of my child- and young adulthood. I identified with them more than with most people in my life, and I couldn’t imagine anything more worthwhile than being the creator of one of these fantastic creatures.
I dreamed of writing a book of my own one day.
But I was scared.
I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough, because writing was so damn hard. I wrote diaries, on and off. But my life wasn’t very interesting, and some days I couldn’t think of anything to write, convincing me that I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. After all, wouldn’t writing come easily to me if I were a real writer?
At school, I didn’t have a choice: I had to write. And I loved it. And hated it.
It was important for me to get it right, so I worked harder on my essays than on anything else. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than finding the right words, to make the thoughts in my mind come to life.
The only problem was that finding the right words was so difficult. I often wanted to scream when I sat at my school desk, fishing for a word that I knew lurked in a dark corner of my mind, but that was elusive and unwilling to be caught. There was nothing more frustrating in the world. In those moments, I swore to myself that I would never, ever do this for a living.
But then, there were the glorious times. The golden moments when the story just flowed out of me, and all I needed to do was write it down as quickly as possible. I would look at the end result, astonished at the story I had put together, feeling incomparably proud.
Those moments were dazzling, magnificent — and rare.
As much as I cherished them, I had no reason to believe that a few, moderately decent attempts at story writing would be enough to spark a career. Besides, what stayed most vividly in my memory was the agony, the pain and the defeat.
It didn’t seem worth it.
Have I already mentioned that I was scared? I believe I have. But I need to repeat it, because that was my single biggest factor in not even trying. Fear. Fear of failure, of ridicule, of the hard work I would have to put in.
So I didn’t give it a try. I thought it was safer to bury the dream, and do something else. After all, I still had music. At 15, I graduated from the piano to playing the big pipe organ at church, and I continued to do so until well into my thirties. I was paid for playing at services, and I tried to tell myself that this was a nice source of income as well as my creative outlet.
You can substitute one dream for another, can’t you?
Maybe you can. Dreams can evolve, grow, and change over time, just as we (hopefully) evolve and grow throughout our lifetime.
There was only one problem: Music had never been my dream. My parents wanted it for me. Teachers thought I had some talent for it. I worked hard, so I did okay.
If you have done something for years, and you are in the broad spectrum of mediocre — not outstanding, but also not half-bad — , you stop questioning why you do it. It’s easier to stay in the established track than to look for a different way.
But my old dream wouldn’t leave me alone. I thought I had buried it for good, but it kept digging itself out and visiting me when I couldn’t escape: In my dreams, on long car rides, during walks with the dogs.
Four years ago, I started to write regularly. I created a blog, and the joy I felt when writing blog posts was greater than anything I had experienced in years. I felt alive. The world finally started to make sense!
With it, my dream came back, and it is bigger than ever. And this time, I’m not giving up on it. I have wasted too much time already, and I have learnt a valuable lesson: The chances you didn’t take can haunt you.
Not that I had a big opportunity, and turned it down. Oh no, I never even let it get that far. I shut myself down before I even left the starting gate! But it’s never too late, right? I’ve been writing regularly for the last four years, and daily for the last three months, and the book that’s been living inside of me for so long, wanting to get out, is slowly taking shape. (25,000 words and counting!)
But the best part? I’m having the time of my life writing it. Sure, there are plenty of days where I curse and get frustrated and the words won’t come. But strangely enough, I even love that part of the process. I’m just so damn happy I finally do what I’ve been wanting to do for 27 years.
Don’t wait as long as I did. Whatever it is you want to do, the itch you never scratched, go ahead and do it.
Trust me, it’s worth it.
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