It's easy to feel broken, and easier still to feel that you must be whole. We suffer constantly from the need to complete our thoughts, to see our dreams unfold in the present, to watch success—however defined—blossom in front of our eyes to the delight of our loved ones and admirers. And every time the yearning starts, when that misguided ambition begins to take over, you can be assured disappointment is not far behind.
There are no silver bullets. There are no cure-alls. There are no easy, lasting wins. Your path, whatever it may be, is a long one. And the sooner you learn to accept that the better.
Loss of Dreams
I have lots of dreams. I want to make a lasting impact on the world that lifts up the worlds' most vulnerable. I want to run a marathon. I want to live at peace with myself and with my natural surroundings. I want to learn without purpose and explore new ways of building old technology as a way of reliving the experience of my ancestors. I want to give happiness and passion to my loved ones and watch them flourish over many years. I want to enable those around me to experience one day after the next full of stimulation, community, and hope. I want to do these things and more.
So, what? Other than revealing some post-adolescent angst and a lot of naïve raw emotion, what's so great about my dreams versus anyone else's? To be honest, nothing. And that's what makes this next part so powerful.
Everyone has ambition. Everyone strives towards some goal regardless of their location on Maslow's hierarchy. And after correcting for privilege/luck/socioeconomics, everyone approaches goals the same way. Which is to say, most people don't succeed. Everyone fails to achieve at least one of their goals, and everyone remembers the pain of that failure.
It's that pain that leads us to believe in silver bullets. A childish hope arises to urge us to avoid that pain and search for shortcuts. Soon, we stop thinking of it as childish and begin believing our lie that dreams can come if we wait, if we just do this, if we simply buy that. The resulting failure is always a shock, an unwanted guest, an offense against our best judgment.
My Dreams, Lost
As a young person I strongly believed that going to college and becoming a doctor would be the salve for my adolescent confusion and the perfect focus for my intense nature. And, because I allowed myself to expect an external force to change me internally, I found school to be as confoundingly imperfect as I found myself.
Last year I started a business. It was bound to be the answer to feeling disenfranchised in a large company and it would certainly make me feel "in control" of my own life. It didn't. I got lost in the game and had a great time but the company folded and I fell into deep depression almost solely because I felt I had been lied to by my own intuition.
Therapists label this "emotional myopia." My parents call these experiences "character building." Some would point to the entitlement of my generation as a major factor in setting bad expectations. I am confident that none of these people remember what it's like to run.
This year I started running. I started slowly with an eye on running a healthy, injury-free half marathon in May. I went from 2 miles once a week to 5 miles three times a week with a long 8 mile run on the weekend and I'm still increasing my mileage today. That's a lot of time to think. It's a lot of time to be in pain, too.
Your brain does something fascinating when it's in long-term pain. It floods you with opioid-receptor binding endorphins which mimic the pain-fighting power of strong drugs. You can feel the pain, understand it, but it doesn't stop you from continuing. You begin to associate the twinge of fatigued muscles with the light, airy high common to runners. You begin to recognize that distance, time, and effort are all relative. If you plan for it, if you have the fitness to spare, you can keep going forever.
Runs have an eventual end, but running does not. As one of the most natural human activities running connects you with the most basic human experiences. There's the pain, the joy, and the intrinsic desire to keep going. There's the meditative state you arrive in around mile 2 and never leave. There's the full understanding of how your body moves and works. And then there's the mental transcendence.
It starts with the endorphin rush of the runner's high, sweeping you into a world where pain and effort are an end unto themselves, a joyful experience that gets you to your eventual goal. You begin to lose yourself to the process of being in motion, to the awareness of being inside your body and yet not the same as it. You begin to realize that goals are big and they take time to reach, but each moment in motion is its own reward. The myopia melts away when you run and you become aware of the vast, deep chasm between where you are and where you are headed. And when that happens and your joy is boundless as you stride over the ground, the challenge ahead crystallizes as massive, painful, and exciting.
I found my dreams running. I don't know how you'll find yours. I do know that in order to cross the divide you will have to embrace pain and learn to enjoy it. I do know that believing in silver bullets will leave you alone with your hope for a solution, and hope is not enough.
Hope can guide us to our dreams and inspire us to challenge ourselves, but it cannot run the race for you. Looking back at my failed attempts, I had an abundance of hope at every stage, regardless of my success.
Embrace the breadth of the path ahead and you can find joy in the journey. When joy replaces hope as your primary motivator you will see it mingle with the pain of temporary setbacks and propel you forward past them. You will begin to own your failures as equal to your successes and recognize that even if this run has come to an end, your running days have just begun.
There are no silver bullets. There are no shortcuts. There is only the thrill of the journey. Make every moment joyful. Your arrival is imminent.