It happened when I was in my early 20s; one of those rare, personal conversations with my father. I can still picture driving through the countryside, windows down, the smell of freshly plowed dirt on my mind more than the words coming from his mouth. He was known for his lectures. My sisters and I had long learned to tune out those long discourses but suddenly he made a statement that blew me away. He said, “I’ve finally reached the age where I’ve realized that all those dreams I had for all those years, are never going to come true.” He was probably only about 50 years old.
At what age is it appropriate to give up on your dreams? At 45, I’ve already done this numerous times. At age 6, I dreamed of being married at 22 and having six kids. At 22, that dream became getting married at 24 and four kids. At 28, it became primarily about finding a husband and having any number of kids. At 32, it became simply finding a date of marriage material and a couple of kids. I ended up marrying at 35 and abandoning all dreams of having children when early menopause was confirmed by my doctors. Regarding professions, my first childhood dream was to become an astronaut. Spending a week at an engineering camp, while in high school, led to my changing that dream to becoming an optometrist, which I accomplished in 1994. Other childhood dreams included becoming an actress and a back-up vocalist for a famous singer, neither of which I seriously pursued.
My dreams have come and gone over the years so why did my dad’s statement bother me so much? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because my father never replaced his dream with a new one. He seemed to think that because his original dream was not accomplished that his life was a failure, so why try? My father no longer makes repairs on his home. “Why? I’m only gonna live 10 more years or so”, he says. He retired early. He no longer raises animals, etc. This makes me extremely sad. What prompted revisiting this memory, today? Well, I had a similar experience this past weekend.
Nearly 20 years ago, I joined Sweet Adelines International, a women’s barbershop singing organization. At that time, my dream was to become a “queen”, in other words, an international quartet competition champion. You actually win a crown and everything. Of course, I never competed in a quartet so that says something about how powerful the dream wasn’t. Never competed until this past weekend. 20 years after joining, my quartet placed 15th out of 24 competing quartets, not exactly en route to stardom. We weren’t completely delusional. Our goal was to finish in the top ten and to win the novice quartet award. We didn’t make either, which caused me to assess my performance critically. Perhaps I’m not as good a singer as I thought? I see it all the time in parents. “My child is so intelligent. She can recite all of her ABCs.” Or, “My child should be getting more playing time. He is much more talented than that other kid”, etc. Pondering all of this reminded me of my father. Had I given up on a dream? Had I failed? This internal dialogue continued for at least 24 hours before I finally came to the realization that my dream had changed. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be a “queen” but more that other dreams held higher priority in my life. The good news being that, I’m not giving up after failing to accomplish this latest goal but instead setting new goals for the upcoming year.
None of us knows how long we will be on this earth. We can only live each day to it’s fullest, setting new goals along the way that keep us growing. “The day you stop growing is the day you start dying”. I read that once. Wish I knew to whom to give credit.