Those dreams of youth, often broad sweeping, viewed with a sense of excitement, and of possibilities, unlimited possibilities. Some unmet.
I have met many people who grabbed the opportunity to achieve their youthful dreams, they kept them in sight, as soon as they attained those first feelings of independence they began enthusiastically seeking. Those who grabbed hold of life with both hands, and reached their dreams are often envied by those who did not. Envied by those who ended up changing their paths in midstream, or maybe even at the first juncture along the path.
Many of those who did not follow their youthful dreams, speak of them with regret, but so do the others as well.
Regrets of dreams lost. No matter who I have talked to, they hold some amount of regret over lost dreams. Something happens to us as we reach middle-age. All who have taken part in these 'dreams' conversations with me, whether it is someone who attained their early dreams, or someone who feels as if they have not, all feel some amount of regret. Those of us who let go of our early dreams, often seem sadder, there are feelings of emptiness, of loss, of self-anger, or, some blame their lost dreams on someone else.
Dreams are lost for many reasons, there comes a point when life gives us a wallop. When it is least expected. Something happens, and a dream or dreams are surrendered.
If lucky, another dream, or one similar to it comes to the fore and we strive to reach that one.
In these recent conversations of mine, the words regret, aging, and middle-age came up, as if they were synonymous. As we get closer to, and/or into our 40's, we begin to truly comprehend that time is running out. Our own mortality becomes very real. Many begin to work toward some of the dreams they have carried with them for a lifetime. Others, ignore their old dreams, and seek youth instead, trying to fill the emptiness of that feeling of loss.
Then the 'if onlys' start. If only I had done this one thing differently. If only I had known that was going to happen. If only I had made this choice instead of that one. Regrets. Do we give those dreams up? Look for new ways to achieve them? Develop new dreams? Stagnate in the question of "Why didn't I reach for the brass ring when I had the chance?"
Why not move on? Why not take a clear-eyed look at those past decisions, look at the learning that occurred, not as a loss of dreams, but instead look at what was accomplished, are there really any regrets? Do you really want a do-over?
I have wasted so many moments of my life looking backward, thinking I had missed out on so much of life. I allowed myself to get mired down in the feeling of loss, the feeling of regret, grieving for the things I have never done.
A few times in the past, and again only recently, I have moved away from feeling regret, to accepting that I feel regret, and moving past that feeling, its time to create new dreams. Accepting, that for whatever reasons, I followed a different path. Trying to remember to gaze upon the the things I have done, and celebrate them. A hard task at times, but when truly examined, very possible.
If I only look backward, with that feeling of loss, at the life I dreamed of, instead of the life I led, it becomes easy to live regretfully. Especially since this life, is not the life I envisioned for myself as a youngster. Getting mired in thoughts of 'if only'. Wondering..... what would I have accomplished, where would I have gone, who would the people in my life be if I had followed my youthful dreams, instead of living a completely different life than the one I had planned?
My youthful dreams were not exactly concrete in their formation. I was a very idealistic young woman, a child of my time. I was going to travel our continent, explore every nook and cranny. When that was accomplished, I was then going to travel the rest of our world, see and experience as much of it as I possibly could. Along with all of that travel, I was going to solve some of the world's ills in my own small way. I was going to become a social worker ......the particular area of social services changed frequently in my dreams.......at one point I wanted nothing more than to become a Child Protective Services Caseworker. I was going to change the system from the inside, remake the foster care system into a truly safe place for children. I was (in some vague way, never did figure out exactly how) going to find a way for every unloved child, to know, truly know, what it felt like to be loved, to feel safe, and secure. Or, I was going to work as a high school guidance counselor, not just a career counselor, again helping children, helping them learn to develop and follow their own dreams. Or, I was going to become a therapist, a guide for young women, find a way to instill in them that they did not have to try to fit into the defined societal roles that seemed so preordained. Plus, sometime before I started my career as a savior of children, I was also going to join the Peace Corp. In my dreams, the Corp was going to send me off to some far off deprived third world country, and I was magnanimously and heroically going teach impoverished children to read, or the Peace Corp would train me in basic agricultural techniques (funny how the current life I lead taught me those techniques, totally not planned.....serendipity for later life?), and I would in turn impart that teaching to the small population of a remote village somewhere far off the beaten track of civilization, helping starving villagers learn how to make the best use of their land, to feed themselves. At one point, I remember imagining the very physicality of it, seeing myself digging irrigation ditches, or something similar. Once I had all of that accomplished, then I would return home to the USA, make a home, a home that would be filled with all of those unadoptable older children mired in the foster care system, the ones who are shuttled from home to home. I was going to save one small piece of the world at a time. Pretty big dreams for a young woman, (kinda vainglorious and grandiose also).
Did I do any of that? Nope, nada, not one. That is my first answer anyway.
Instead, very early in life, I made a choice by making a nonchoice. I became caught up in the notion of romance, and of being loved, in dreams of creating a family for myself and my soon-to-be-husband, that was vastly different from the families we had grownup in. At the very young age of 18, I made other choices, I did go to university, I did get my first degree, but I didn't go back for the second one. I kept putting it off, telling myself there would always be time later.
Travel? Didn't happen. Peace Corp? Didn't happen. Saving/adopting children and/or changing the system? Didn't happen. Reaching 29 and beginning to be filled with regrets? It happened. But my life was going in another direction by then, I had one child, and was pregnant with another, dealing with the loss of a loved one, and trying to save the family I had spent 11 years building. I wasn't about to let regrets over lost dreams rule my life, or so I thought.
So, without even being fully aware of it, somewhere in those early years, I lost my dreams, I lost myself, I lost much of my idealism, (or feelings of grandiosity, although I like to look at them as passion to do good),to save the world. During those years, my world became smaller, and smaller. In losing my self, my dreams, I lost the need to make my mark on the world, I never lost the desire, but I lost something much more important, I lost the drive to make my dreams a reality. I thought I was living another dream, not my dream, but a dream. I worked quite hard at that for almost 20 years. The last 7 years, a different story has to be told, I stopped working so hard, my heart has developed cracks that I can't heal living another's dream.
Regrets or Accomplishments? In those years of lost or different dreams, I did create a family, I strove quite hard to create a warm loving home. I did what small things I could to teach my children of the beauty and wonder that is available in our small corner of the world. I also had the chance, to help other lost, needy children, children who were lacking unselfish love from the adults in their lives, they needed more than their own parents were able to provide, so for a few weeks each year, due to the circumstances of my life, I could give some special children a sense of security, stability, and love. I could love them, I could show them structure, routine, play, and exploration when they came to stay with me. As long as I was able to do all of those things for my own children, and the other children in my life that I loved, I was pretty much OK with my life. It wasn't perfect, in fact those few times when I was able to take a breather, and look deeply within myself, I found unhappiness, and discontent living there.
So, I would take on one more activity, one more volunteer position, and I was able to move past/bury the unhappiness. I still sensed a lack within myself, but I was able to ignore it, go on with my life, as long as it was filled with children who seemed to need me.
Today I have a choice, I can grieve for what wasn't, or I can look back on my life, and choose to look at what I did accomplish. Because I did do some good. I loved, gave love to the best of my ability. I can look at my past, and I can wish for all the things I didn't do, or I can look at my past, tell myself it wasn't the greatest, many mistakes were made, but I loved, my heart was not enough to heal the one adult who seemed to need it the most, but there were/are children, who feel fully loved by me, and maybe their feelings of abandonment from their own parents are slightly tempered by the fact that I am here if they need me. It took me several more years to realize it, but I did, sort of, achieve one of my youthful dreams. At 39 I went back to work, in my chosen field. I worked with children, of all ages, from all walks of life, teaching them a very important skill. Was it the same dream? No, but it works for me.
I do still have regrets though, it is really hard not to look at the past, it can't be changed, but we can learn from it.
There are years I do regret, but they are not all of the years of my adult life, I regret more the very recent years, because once I lost all hope, all faith in me, I stopped living in the now, I began always looking off into the distant future, as my "someday time", my someday, when I could realize my dreams. Even those times when I thought I was experiencing each moment, living each moment fully, I wasn't really. I thought I could live a compartmentalized life, and that no one but me would suffer. So wrong, so very wrong. Everyone who touched my life, suffered in one way or another. Some still do.
It is time, to seek new paths, new dreams, but now, not someday.
And, as the man says:
"The past is gone. You can do nothing about it. The future is not yet here so there is no need to worry about it. The only gift of life you have is now. That's why they call this gift of life, our present." ~Ozzie Gontang~