I recently scoured old personal journals that I never made time to read when I was in Edmonton. They were stuffed in pretty boxes above my clothes in my closet—a past life relegated to a dusty shelf. I brought them with me to Costa Rica thinking it would be an opportune time to get a glimpse into my past life, and who I was twenty-some years ago.
I broke off chunks between 1995 and ‘98—the end of high school years and the first of university—and read it in pieces over several days. The size of my world and the patterns quickly became apparent—lots of strife and questions about the future and trying to fit myself into places I was not smart enough to go, or so I thought. A lot of obsessing and searching for love. After reading most of it, my primary thought was:
“What a waste.”
It all seemed like I had spent so much energy on pursuing the wrong things. There was a sense throughout the writings that my success could only be illusive; I was a pebble on the roadside, terrified of the future instead of excited. It actually caused me some sadness for a few days after reading the neatly handwritten pages. Why had I been so untrusting of myself and of giving voice to a vision for my life? I didn’t know how to work hard on something I believed in (except maybe for dancing), so, instead, I went through the motions of being someone I thought I should be. Days were consumed by attempted self-transformation, like a frog endeavouring to grow gills, instead of working towards goals that made sense to me.
When grown-ups talked “future” in the mid-to-late 90s, they were talking “rest-of-my-life-future,” or at least that’s what I understood; If I did not study to enter some kind of “profession,” I was doomed for a life of misery and financial struggle. At the same time, I know very few people who are fulfilled today by the same work they were doing in their 20s, or even 30s.
Though I often contemplate how my life would be different had I better capitalized on my 20s, this is not a story about regret. But, it is an acknowledgment that I stood in my own way for a long time. It’s also an admission that, it’s true: Where we direct our energy is exactly where we will end up.
In an entry from February of 1998, one line stood out from all the rest: “In 20 years, I want to have written a screenplay or a play.” At the time, this would have been considered a worthless goal, and so, that is likely the reason I have no recollection of writing it down. Coincidently, and, it is with much gratitude, I can report that 20 years after that entry, I was writing and working on producing a play, which was staged at the 2018 Edmonton Fringe Festival.
That one line, drowned out at the time by limited life avenues (and pining over the neighbour, eye-roll) finally got its stage. Why did I need to wait 20 years? Because that is how long it would take to give myself permission to go there. Even at 40-something, giving myself permission to do what I spend my time doing is a challenge. It’s not always revenue generating, and we are a revenue valuing society. In many ways, I am still that frog attempting to breathe through gills.
But we are living in a time in which we don’t have to be a one-talent show. With access to online learning and a movement towards multi-careered lives, we are a culmination of all our skills—that is something that has never been so apparent to me until this year.
I have had a chance to meet many talented people amongst the nomads of my Costa Rican community. One science-savvy mom takes the time to teach kids about electricity, how batteries work, and how to tie-die after school hours are over. A retired teacher volunteers to teach kids how to play chess on their lunch break. A dad offers jui-jitsu. An oil company CFO turned hot-sauce maker. An accountant turned market-day bread maker. An au-pare, an upholsterer. It’s rare that what keeps us financially afloat is also what makes us interesting people.
Perhaps the most important part of this story, though, is what message I want to carry forward; namely, what I want to relay to my kids. The biggest message would be “Don’t be afraid of the vision you see for yourself.” Hear what you are telling yourself, and take note, in particular, of the things you most desire, but devalue. This is where you will find the clues to where you are headed and what fulfillment might look like for you—if not forever, then for a time.
Question I’ve been contemplating
What conversations do you have with your kids about their future?
Book I am reading
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (1986) by Alfred Lansing.
If you love real adventure, well-written, this is an otherworldly story about Captain Ernest Shackleton and his attempt to cross the unchartered continent of the Antarctic on foot in 1914 with his team. It’s a seemingly impossible story of survival and hope, one in which you might question how long you would have lasted (I’m thinking, I wouldn’t have survived past Chapter 5 of this journey). If you enjoyed other “survival literature” like John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, and Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read, this one is for you.