As a child, it all looked so different. Years later, you’re holding what’s left of dreams and think:
You’re not where you thought you’d be. Those daydreams of childhood didn’t pan out as you pictured. Wondering plagues you with guilt because this life is so damn good without them. You have a roof over your head, food on the table, people you love, and people who love you. Laughter and joy are your normal while others in this world are surrounded by despair. But inside, you know something is off.
Some days you’re like a cranky old bitty. What once excited you now fizzles in your eyes. You long for the drive, that push that coursed through your veins before, but you’re so damn tired. The thought of trying anything new immediately exhausts you.
But still, you’re restless.
Then there is the complicated shit show that—in spite of your Instagram filters—swallows you. You spend nights in the privacy of your head. It’s safe there, but one day you know you’ll have to answer to yourself.
You can’t shake the restlessness.
Your mind swarms with what you should have said, could have done better, and would do differently now if you only had the opportunity. But life doesn’t rewind like that.
You restlessly search for a way back anyway.
It seems the world is passing you by. People know more, do more, and achieve more at a faster rate than you do, and it’s like you’re the only person who knows you could be as successful as they are. But you’re stuck in time, in the same spot where you were when once upon a time someone told you to stay in your lane.
But discouragement only feeds your restlessness.
I get it.
I get you.
We’re kindred spirits.
When I was much younger, a blank page lay before me. I saw it as a new frontier, an entire unexplored world in which I could build an existence and where dreams I’d stockpiled since childhood would become a reality. Everything and anything was possible. The trickiness of possibility, however, is that nothing just comes into fruition. There is no lamp to rub because genies don’t exist and neither do three wishes. So we get to work, hustling, grinding, checking in with ourselves to make certain our dreams are still on target. It’s rigorous, keeping up with “the plan.” The hardness of reality sets in. We can either give up and get going elsewhere, or give in and keep going forward.
My favorite acting pro tip, one I relied on back when I pounded that pavement, was “what do you want and what are you willing to do to get it?” An actor must always answer those questions for an authentic performance. As individuals, too, we have to know our answers to lead an authentic life. We have permission to let go of wants, to no longer want something when what we’re willing to do ceases to be a realistic path to get there. But, we’ll never be okay with quitting just because it was too hard. We’ll always wonder and always ask, “what if?” That’s a fact.
What we know, in time, is that the bright-eyed child inside us never really ever leaves us entirely. With that ambitious girl still beating within my heart, I realize that I regret more what I didn’t do in life than what I did. We can grow from almost anything, except actions we never took. Can you live your best life with “what if?” I’m not judging your answer because the truth is I don’t even know mine. Yet.
What I do know enough to know now is that the frontier I set my eyes on twenty years ago was at first empty but quickly filled up with big pushes and rejections, stumbles forward and two steps back, adventures and boredom, friends who stayed, new friends after the old ones vanished, love and heartbreak, and then love that finally stuck, babies and work that couldn’t compare, then work that meant revival, aging parents, dying parents, until at once I’m staring at another frontier, asking an altered set of questions: What have I learned and what am I willing to do with what I now know? Which of my “what ifs” still matter?
The girl inside me, wiser than before, cries to me:
Dreams change. It’s okay to send them off. New one will take their place. You were born a dreamer and will die a dreamer. Look on the bright side, kid. You’re a guaranteed optimist.
The best kind of exhaustion is that from hard work, grit, and drive. Luxuriate in the jet lag you experience from building something through your own sweat.
Pay your shit show forward by sharing it with others. They’re probably living a shit show too, and your collective crazy will help each other.
You won’t be guaranteed another opportunity to tell your truth. Tell it at all times. Give others the same authenticity you expect from them. But don’t allow your truth to block your ability to hear others.
You will reinvent yourself again and again. You’ve done it before and did it well. The naysayers are just scared themselves. If others laugh when you try, or criticize or belittle you, see their lack of interest for what it is and stop asking for their permission. Weigh the opinions of others by the amount of support they give you.
Finally, trust whom you have become. You know yourself better today than you did yesterday. You didn’t make it this far on the coattails of others. You got here on your own two feet in your own way. Challenges changed you, yes, but they’ve brought you to where you stand today on the brink of your next move. You are strong, capable, and unstoppable. Choose to take this next chapter and make it your turning point.
Don’t stop until you’re proud.
You still are that girl inside you.
It’s her Independence Day.
“What if” you freed the girl?
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.