Growing up, I used to daydream about starting over, particularly when I found myself in conflict with friends or wading through the messy drama of the teenage years. I would read fiction books that would transport me to different places and journal about what it might look like outside of the struggles that I was navigating. Who would I be if nobody knew who I was? What did I want to do with my life? How could I push myself past the fear of the unknown?
I had several opportunities to live out the daydream of starting over: when I left for college, when I moved to a large city after graduating, when I moved again, and then again. I started changing jobs, changing life goals, or changing cities so frequently that daydreaming about starting over became my favorite thing to do anytime I felt lost or found myself in conflict. Yet, somehow through all my running away in life, I found myself in love and then married. A cat and two kids later, starting over can no longer be my go-to answer when things get tough. A clean slate looks significantly different today than it did when I packed my bag to move into a dorm room 200 miles from my childhood home.
Through this all, the “fresh start” daydream didn’t die, even with my new commitments. I initially fought the daydream and buried it under piles of guilt about how I wasn’t appreciating everything I already had. I would label the daydream as selfish and feel shame if I entertained even a momentary thought of living a different life. This internal struggle created self-doubt and erratic emotions. Something had to change.
I wish I could point to an epiphany moment, a moment when I realized that asking questions about who I wanted to be and the life that I wanted to live was actually a good thing. In reality, it was months (years) of conversations with friends, reengaging my love of reading and learning, and striving for opportunities that I could pursue in my current community. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it is okay to daydream about change. One of the most important things I learned is that I can grow, learn, and change without needing every aspect of my life to change. I can become the person I want to be, while still being exactly where I am now, with my family, where I want to be. I can change some things without changing everything.
I am working intentionally to stop the guilt and shame around questions of, what do I want to do? What impact do I want to have? If fear wasn’t a factor, who would I be? I journal about it, I read about it, and I give myself permission to daydream about it. Recently, an interesting thing started to happen. I started daydreaming about many aspects of the life I already lead. The number one dream on my list in this season of life, the dream that shows up over and over again when I am reading and writing, is that I want to be an amazing mom to my two kids. I want to provide them with safety and teach them self-confidence and the power of self-compassion. Number two on my list is I want to be in love with my husband and find intentional ways to celebrate us. It was incredibly freeing to realize that in some ways I am already living my dreams. My confidence in my parenting and my marriage increased in ways that I did not expect when I leaned into the dreams about the life that I want to lead.
I also identified areas of my life that I wanted to change or develop. I gave myself permission to grow these changes. I started writing goals down on paper, breaking the big goal into manageable steps that I could put into action each day. For example, in 2019 my intended goal was to write more. My action steps included: 1. Start a gratitude journal, 10 minutes or less each night. 2. Find 30 minutes to an hour a few times a week (during weekend nap times or after bedtime) to write. 3. Share my writing with others. When I started, I wasn’t sure what this would look like. Would I share with just a few close friends or would it grow into a blog? In the end, I found myself here, sharing this with all of you. I also set intention around mental health, physical health, family life, reading, and leadership development. I didn’t set these as “goals,” like stereotypical S.M.A.R.T. goals, defined with a clear beginning and end. I just set them as intentions, with small, actionable items that I should do daily (or weekly/monthly), if I wanted to see these areas of my life grow.
So now I dream. And I do my best to act. I wrote the word “purposeful” on a note by my bed to remind myself that each day I want to live on purpose. To take steps toward the dreams that I have and to put energy into the dreams that I am already living. I am not perfect at this and my emotions and stress do still get in the way. But, the guilt and shame surrounding daydreaming about making changes in my life, that I am letting go of. And, I am finding my way through the previous daydream of a clean slate by instead focusing my energy into the change that I can (and want to) create.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.