I am a serial dream follower.
Maybe it’s because I love making fun of motivational posters with kittens and hokey quotes on them and the cliches finally rubbed off on me.
Maybe its because I’m terrified of the future so running toward a broad, overarching goal makes the wide open horizon a little less spooky.
I think it’s because my parents made us write down goals for every school year when we were kids.
My dad saw me getting obsessed with goals when I was really young. Recently I came across something my dad said to me saved to an old tumblr of mine.
“Don’t limit yourself to your own dreams,” he said. “Let God work His plan, because it’s even better.”
I don’t remember why he said that. I was probably melting down about an AP Calculus test grade I was sure was going to keep me out of college or some boy who had or had not admitted to liking me.
As I prepare to pack up and move states away from the life I’ve always known, I’ve been thinking about how my life has always been characterized by the dreams I have been chasing.
The first dream
It started in high school. When you’re a junior, you’re supposed to know where you’re going to college. The only college I had ever known was UNC — my parents went there, met there, fell in love there, raised me singing the Alma Mater as a lullaby…there was really no other option.
I spent high school pushing myself to the limit academically, weighing myself down and making sacrifices left and right to take the hardest classes and be in charge of all the clubs. (I was Vice President of the chemistry club! Look at my brand! Do I look like a chemist? No. I look like the lab monkey who destroys the lab and ends up discovering the cure for Ebola. That’s kind of how I got elected. Anyway.)
I broke myself and built myself back together for this dream — one that had been handed down to me but I took as my own. It was to wear the most beautiful color in the world and to drink from a bacterial cess pool twice a year and to sing my old lullaby arm and arm with a stranger in the Dean Dome.
I didn’t think I would make it. I broke myself to get there, to reach my dreams, and I didn’t think I was good enough. I think that’s the mark of a good dream — it pushes you to your limit and keeps you humble but hopeful.
I applied to 12 colleges hoping that if I didn’t get into UNC, one would jump out to me. I kept track of how many days until I’d hear back on a countdown on a teacher’s whiteboard. Adults never asked me the menacing question “Do you know where you’re headed yet?” Because they already knew where I wanted to be and how crushed I’d be if they’d asked and I’d been rejected.
But I got in. I got in and I was screaming in my front yard at my mailbox when my best friend Kelsey had gotten in and my admissions letter was fat. I was beaming over the cake my parents got me when I got in. I was beaming at my next visit there walking in front of wilson hall and past the steps of Peabody where my parents met and sitting in Pepper’s Pizza with my future roommate and touring Granville when we left. I never stopped beaming.
I spent four of the most wonderful and challenging years of my life there and through all the tears of change and humiliation of academia I never stopped believing that this is where I belonged in this very moment. I know it’s not that way for everyone and I am so grateful.
Through bad boyfriends and bad grades, through a sorority joined and abandoned and a job at The Daily Tar Heel that forced me to grow and broke me more than high school ever did, I always knew that UNC was home.
The second dream
When we were all graduating and all asked the question “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I danced around it. That same humility and hope I learned from my first great dream carried over, but kept me more reserved this time around.
I wanted to be a special education teacher. I fell in love with the profession in high school at Joy Prom. I even skipped my own prom to go there my senior year.
Special education is, to me, so natural. When they asked me if I was okay working with a child with Down syndrome in Sunday school, I thought — duh? Doesn’t every child deserve to be loved and played with and drowned in the sweet grace of Jesus?
I stepped up. I was an intern at the church special needs ministry. For two years, I worked at a summer day camp for kids with special needs, Camp GRACE. I loved every second of it.
But it was hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done.
By the time my second summer there rolled around, I was working there and running to nanny after. It was sweet and important work, but I knew I had to decide as a freshman in college if I wanted to keep my education major and keep running with this thing. This summer was the world.
The summer before was very difficult — I had been bitten, beat up, disrespected and worn out. But my heart was still full and I was better-equipped this time around.
I had a wonderful summer freshman year, but I realized something – I was exhausted. I was 18 years old and too tired to do anything. The kids I watched at the end of the day weren’t even my kids. I wanted to give the best and most youthful years that I could give to this wonderful cause.
The cause is wonderful. It’s noble. It’s important. It was remarkably difficult to die to myself and say, hey, maybe it’s not me who is supposed to be doing this job. Maybe the reason why I love writing about my experiences so much is because I’m supposed to be a writer.
That’s hard. It sucks to have to look at people. And say, yes, I did want to be a special education teacher and help the least of these, but now I want to be a writer who writes about funny things and self-indulges all day long.
It’s embarrassing, and it’s so hard. I wonder every day if I made the right choice. But to let my second dream go was the right thing to do. I couldn’t let my life be controlled by a goal I once had, by something that I knew could bring me glory in my service of others.
You really can’t limit yourself by your own dreams, no matter how noble they are. There is a better plan you can’t see.
The third dream
In September of my senior year of college, we went on a field trip to New York City. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and was scared of everything, but I was very excited to go because I knew it was the capital of the world.
One of the chaperones asked a big group of us if we ever thought we could live here. I had just seen the sign for the New York Times and for the New Yorker, which now I know is actually just a hotel called the New Yorker and not the publication but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I had butterflies. I wanted to say yes, but I didn’t want to be a cliche. When the circle got around to me, I said no, I didn’t to move to New York, I would get lost.
As I graduated and moved to UNC, I started accumulating New York memorabilia. Sophomore year my love of TV spiraled into an obsession with NBC (The Office! Parks and Rec! 30 Rock! Community! The Tonight Show!) and then with a painting of the NBC sign in New York City my ex-boyfriend made for me, I started collecting other NYC memorabilia.
Just as had happened with UNC, people started catching wind of my NYC obsession. I would spy on my superiors at the DTH who got to work there and soon enough my walls were plastered with maps and skylines and pictures of bridges.
Junior year, in what is a combination of sheer luck and the good graces of a successful editor at Mashable, I got a job writing in New York City. I spent the summer walking around whispering to myself, “I did it. I am a writer in New York City.” It was even more perfect and complete than getting into UNC, but the little voice of my abandoned dream still follows me.
Back at Chapel Hill for senior year, I was so depressed. I gained an embarrassing amount of weight and so often couldn’t get myself out of bed in the morning. The job I had was hard, the city I lived in was small and I had no idea if I would end up back in New York with a real job. I should have just kept my dreams modest.
I applied for job after job, totaling 80 failed applications and cover letters. The rejection hurt in a unique way. Not only was I falling short, but I was doing so with such a selfish dream.
It’s not that I would have been doomed if I didn’t get to UNC — my parents would have taken care of me. My pride was hurt so bad and I was so selfish about it. It was in the weeks between my final classes and graduation that I humbled myself to the small projects I could do in Raleigh, the Instagram pictures I could take and the restaurants I could visit, that I stumbled upon that blog post with my dad’s words.
I had completely limited myself to my dreams. I had put all my pride and my self-confidence and my own hard work above what magnificent Divine plan is waiting for me. It was very honestly one sobbing phone call with my parents later that I got an email from AOL letting me know that I was getting this dream.
I am so grateful. I know that hard work and talent are crucial to getting a job, especially one in digital media in New York City. It’s like breaking into show business. But I did not do this alone and I did not do it according to my plan. I had to break down, die to myself and open my eyes to the fact I am not the master of my own destiny.
And now, in a few days, I am leaving all other dreams behind and going to live this one. I am scared. It’s more permanent. I’m not just a few minutes away from my parents. I’m living in the greatest city in the world, and even though I know I’m not alone, I do have to be strong and be independent.
I still get lost in the streets (even in buildings! Thanks, vertigo.) but in life, I am not lost. I am following God’s great will for my life, and every day I hope that I bring glory to Him in a unique way, even though I had to drop that second dream.
Dream big. Dream crazy big and do everything you can to make those dreams come true. It doesn’t matter when you start — it only matters that you do. But remember this — don’t limit yourself to your dreams.