~ A follow-up to How to Find the Guts to Take a Leap
When I was 23 and interning at The New Zealand Herald in Auckland, I heard the Associated Press, a news service, was hiring a correspondent for their South Pacific bureau. I’d already fallen in love with New Zealand, knew I wanted to work abroad and was intrigued by the idea of discovering islands like Somoa and Papua New Guinea. So I got in touch with the hiring manager, explained with zest why I wanted the job, and offered my clips.
He turned me down. I didn’t have enough experience.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when I noticed an opening for a nearly identical position. I saw it on my smartphone while riding the bus, and sat there, staring at the screen. This was my dream job! Should I apply?
But there was the key word: WAS. This was my dream job, seven years ago. It still is, in some ways; I’d love to live overseas at some point, ideally once I have a family. (Yes, I want to bring kids abroad. Please send like-minded men my way.) But at this very moment, the timing’s not right. I like where I am now — living in D.C., enjoying my social life, being close to family, chugging along in my day job while working on my own projects on the side.
But this got me to thinking about how dreams change. Seven years ago, I wouldn’t have thought anything could come between me and that job. And it never occurred to me that I might feel differently down the road, that I might have different dreams. I can’t decide whether it’s great or sad — or a little bit of both — that our dreams change as we age.
I first understood this during a conversation with my close friend, AJ, who I met in journalism school. Both of us thought we’d be journalists for the rest of our lives. But the industry changed, our desires changed, and now AJ’s a stock analyst. I think for a long time she felt guilty about that, guilty about giving up her dream. Until we talked about how dreams are allowed to morph and turn on their heads and even disappear, and how that’s okay, so long as they’re not forced into those contorted positions or shoved beneath the surface. Dreams change naturally as we age, and when they do, it’s okay to let go.
But here’s the thing: Even if we no longer desire certain experiences in life, we’ll never forget that we once did. Which is where regret comes in. Nobody wants to live with regret. It’s like what another 30-something journo friend said to me recently over brunch, when we were discussing whether she should pursue a career as a foreign correspondent. (This is a common dream among journalists.) “I feel like I owe it to my 23-year-old self,” she said.
But the dream isn’t the same as when we were 23. It seems incredibly unfair, really. When we had that overwhelming urge to report from remote corners of the world, we didn’t have the work and life experience necessary to get hired in one of those positions. Now, finally, we do. Except now we have another dream, a conflicting one: to have families. And you don’t exactly want to be pregnant in a war zone or while covering a humanitarian crisis. You also don’t want to be that woman who waited too long to have children because she was pursuing her career — and then, oops, it’s too late. So the dream, while still lingering, becomes less appealing.
Know what I told her? That this is exactly why I decided to travel when I did — because I knew that my dream to backpack solo, through Africa no less, would fade. Lots of factors contributed to my decision to leave my job, but what finally pushed me to go was the realization that riding in bush taxis wouldn’t appeal to me forever. I knew that if I waited a few years, I might no longer have the desire to go. And quite frankly, I was terrified of that happening.
You all know I’m an advocate of preparing before you leap. But this possible fading of the dream is the reason why sometimes you have to just GO. Because if you wait too long, that dream might one day be gone. Maybe you won’t regret it, because it’s no longer your dream, and you have new dreams to chase. But maybe you’ll wish you’d acted on it when you had the urge, and you’ll crave that dream like a mother craves her child. Maybe you’ll even mourn it.
I’d rather say I tried. Wouldn’t you?