The famous question for kids is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was two or three years old, I would have answered: “I want to be a garbage man.” My mom and I used to wave at them from the window when I’d see them come by. I thought they were the coolest because they got to ride on the back of a truck like that. That dream came to die, though. I had to go and blow it by getting an office job. Still, some days I have visions of me riding free into the sunset on the back of a glorious, mobile dumpster.
That was not the last time I wanted to be something I didn’t end up becoming. I wanted to be an NBA star when I was in middle school. Never got that growth spurt, though, and there aren’t many 5’6” white guys dunking on Dwayne Wade.
I’ve had a few more ambitious career attempts change over the years. Goals and dreams I was driving hard to make a reality. Some dreams I still hold in my heart, and some that have just faded into my past.
Does that mean I failed? I used to think it did. I used to think it meant I must have not tried hard enough or gave up too soon. If I had a dream, and I never saw that dream become a financially sustainable career, then it means I didn’t give it my best. I slacked and wasn’t dedicated enough. I didn’t sleep on the streets and sell everything I had to see my dream become a reality, so I failed.
I don’t believe that anymore. I think there are a few success stories like that in the world—people that had nothing left that got discovered in the 11th hour. Those are inspiring and make you believe dreams come true, but the reality of it all is that for every one story you hear like that, there are thousands of others that have much worse endings.
If you wanted to be a gold medal swimmer in high school and but then found out you love teaching 4th graders, that doesn’t mean you failed in accomplishing your dream, it means you are a human being living life. We evolve. Our tastes change. I used to hate sour cream, but now I love it. I used to like Adam Sandler movies. Now I will never again pay money to see anything he puts out. Life changes things.
Let me quote Conan O’Brien at his commencement speech to Dartmouth College.
“Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One’s dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course. This happens in every job… It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”
We have to come to find what our own interpretation of the word “success” means. Does it mean having a lot of money? Does it mean having notoriety? That’s what success is? How many celebrities do we have to list off that had those definitions of success that we all pity now? I don’t abide by the American definition of success anymore, because to me it’s not success.
Along with success, I have also changed my definition of “failing.” What I once would have called “failing,” I would now call “learning, growing, and evolving.”
I’m not saying to give up on things that don’t work out for you or that there is some sort of time limit to have it all figured out by. All I’m saying is that we have to learn to move on with our lives. I know it’s not punk rock and it’s cooler to be in constant opposition, I just don’t have the energy to be disappointed in myself anymore these days. I’d rather use the energy on being grateful for where I am and where I am going.
I hope you live with dreams in your heart; I have my own and new ones I get all the time. Some of them I will never give up on. Nowadays, I don’t want to be a garbage man or an NBA point guard anymore, but it’s not because I gave up or quit. My dreams have just evolved and so have I.