Back in the mid 90s I was quite into various self development stuff including peak performance (I am not your) guru Tony Robbins. Yes, I walked on fire – a few times. (No I didn’t get burned, although some may say I did considering the money I spent doing his courses.)
I also traveled to the USA to study with him where I was lucky enough to meet and learn from various other awesome people including the late Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, the five star general who oversaw the original Operation Desert Storm, amongst others.
I supposed I’d always dreamed and had goals before that, but after that, the sky wasn’t even close to the limit. In fact there were no limits. Apparently we had ‘Unlimited Power’ and in amongst all that slightly uncomfortable hugging and happy clapping, we were all encouraged to dream big, do more, be more. I even came up with a meticulous plan to retire at the ripe old age of 35 which was, at the time, what seemed a very reasonable six or seven years down the track.
It’s fair to say that courtesy of a few unexpected financial twists and turns, and a complete and utter lack of ability to invent Facebook or anything else remotely worth enough money to actually retire, I over shot the 35-years-old mark a little, and the better part of 15 years later, there is no retirement in sight. Not even close. I still dream of being able to retire one day, of course, but now it’s more likely to be sleeping in the back of my SUV rather than on my yacht in the Greek Islands. Hey, what can I say? Plans change. And thankfully these days #VanLife is a thing so I’ll at least be out there with all the cool kids.
More recently, I’ve been thinking about my not inconsiderable bucket list and my general goals and dreams, and I’ve come to a pretty unexpected realization: it’s time to give up on a lot of them.
I know that sounds counterintuitive in our ‘you can do anything/be anything the sky’s the limit’ society, but, not for me it ain’t. I’ve written about my ‘Awesome is Possible’ philosophy before, and I guess this is another natural result of that anything isn’t possible reality. I won’t speak for you and your unlimited potential, or your ability to ‘unleash the power within’, but for me personally, I’m done. And a whole bunch of my dreams are now filed neatly away under ‘not a fucking chance’. And you know what? I’m actually really cool with that. Not only am I cool with it, I actually feel… liberated. Like a weight’s been taken off my shoulders (And perhaps not coincidentally replaced by some extra weight around my waist instead).
Let me explain. A few years back I ran a marathon in 3:44 and the following year I set the goal of running an even faster one in 3:35. Based on my 10 kilometre and half-marathon times, all the official running math deemed it possible. But what they didn’t take into account was my love of donuts. And pizza. And it’s fair to say, these days I’m happy with anything under 4:30. On the upside, I’m at least still running marathons. But 3:35? Out the fucking window.
Same with my dream to run a ‘miler’ – a 100 mile race. After doing a few 100 kilometre trail races, it seemed only natural I’d progress to 100 miles. Buggered if I know what’s natural about that, what I do know is… ain’t gonna happen. Not a chance in hell. I see many of my running friends working their way up to those distances, and for a while, it really got under my skin that I was being left behind. But once I binned that particular dream, it became much easier to sit at home eating pizza tracking their progress online and cheering them on from afar, without even a ping of regret.
And the list goes on. For example, even in pre-social media days I’d created a pretty impressive to the point of being impossible list of places I used to think I’d see: Machu Picchu, the pyramids, Victoria Falls, Havasupai and about 40,000 other places. I figured it was only a matter of time before I ticked them all off. I even bought that ‘100 Places to See Before You Die’ book. Well, while my math isn’t great, I’m now fairly certain that unless I win the lottery next week, and live to about the age of 135, I’m kinda fucked. (They really should release a book called ‘The Best Five Places to See Before You Die’. Much more useful.) A bit like my ‘retire at 37’ plan, it’s time I realized I need to be a bit more selective choosing my travel destinations, because that massive list of mine? Yeah, well, it isn’t going to get ticked. Not any time soon. Actually, barring the possibility I become the oldest Instagram travel influencer in history being paid to jet around the world visiting new destinations daily, not ever.
I’d be lying if I said I was completely fine with that. I mean, who wants to choose between seeing the Great Wall of China and the pyramids? And if I get to see both those, then sunrise over the temples of Bagan in Myanmar is probably a no-go. If only I hadn’t gone to Bali 30 times, I probably could have squeezed in 29 other destinations. Alas, it’s a little too late to worry about that now, and I sure have had some pretty rad adventures in Bali.
After a lot of soul searching then, I’ve decided giving up on my dreams is actually really liberating. Legitimately joyful even. I’ve freed myself of so many expectations, so many things I’ll simply never do. So many yardsticks I’ll never measure up to. That’s not to say I don’t still have some dreams, and not all of them to do with eating donuts. I’m literally writing this on the plane on the way to Cambodia where I’ll be guiding a tour before exploring one of the more remote regions I’ve always wanted to visit, but never quite got around to – even when I lived there! But doing that means those pyramids will have to wait. Possibly til after I’m reincarnated. Who knows?
What I do know is, as I get older, I’m comfortable with the idea I need to pick and choose my dreams a little more carefully. Be a bit more selective about what I set my heart on. Perhaps that’s just me though? If your dreams, no matter how far away, make you happy and give you something to aim for, regardless of the probability of achieving them, then by all means, dream away.
Dream big. Dream massive. Dream ginormous. And keep on dreaming.
But for me, for now, my life is all about simplifying things – including my dreams. Minimalism is in, right? So why can’t that apply to dreams as well? As a result, you’re more likely to spot me driving my little SUV down a dirt road in the middle of Australia somewhere, photographing a spinifex pigeon or major mitchell’s cockatoo, (but ideally a gouldian finch!) with not a pyramid in sight. And I’m good with that. Dreaming smaller, dreaming different, has been great for me. Not getting sucked into other people’s dreams of the dreams I think I should dream. But literally my own dreams. No matter how weird they may seem to others. It’s not without its challenges, it has to be said, but it’s definitely helped me be more relaxed and definitely happier. It’s a philosophy that probably won’t land me a book any time soon, but fuck me if ‘The Joy of Giving Up’ isn’t a thing.
While a more popular inspirational meme might be ‘don’t let your dreams be just dreams’, I’m going with ‘don’t let your dreams get in the way of you being happy’. In a world of social media where we’re constantly being exposed to ideas about what we should be dreaming of, don’t think your dreams need to be the same as other people’s dreams. Don’t let your wanderlust of all adventures great and small, fuel your frustration or sense that the ones you’re already having, no matter how small, aren’t also great.
Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you’re chasing your dreams, or giving up on them, just so long as you’re happy.
So dream big. Dream small. Dream different. Or hey, maybe even give up on a few.