What happens if you don’t follow your dreams?
Researchers from Cornell University and the New School for Social Research found that people’s deepest regrets arose from not having pursued their dreams.
That’s a big deal.
The research shows that people have an “ideal self” that corresponds to an image they have of themselves, one that reflects the accomplishment of their goals.
Of course, there are many reasons—some very good—why people don’t realize their ideal selves. Responsibility or duty to family, finances, health issues are all reasons why.
But when we consider those who made good on some or all of a dream notwithstanding their setbacks or circumstances, we have to wonder why some still hesitate to embark on such a journey.
I’ve been thinking of this theme a lot lately, having finished the latest round of edits on my manuscript. What made me keep returning to such a project—in spite of a flurry of conditions that would have served as good excuses to keep it in the drawer and chalk it up to a youthful fantasy?
The desire to write, to express myself, was the main reason. Envy of others who did it was another when I knew I, too, could do it (yes, I’m being honest). The need to combat the forces I can’t control (family circumstances, COVID, etc.) with one that I can (writing), still another.
I thought of two literary works (actually, three, but the third one I braided into my manuscript) that addressed this very issue.
One of them was the Henry James short story “The Madonna of the Future” about an artist who never completed his painting of a Madonna with child. Instead, he talked about it and thought about it. But he never painted it. Instead, the canvas that was to contain it was “a mere dead blank, cracked and discolored by time.”
The “artist” eventually becomes an old man, never having painted, still pointing to his forehead and saying, “The elements are all here.”
Tellingly, he excused his inability to paint by saying, “I waited and waited to be worthier to begin, and wasted my life in preparation.”
I thought about how many of us have said those same words to ourselves. “I’ll do it someday when I have more time” or “I’m not ready yet,” when, in fact, we might not believe we can do it.
What is the result if you never do it? A dead, blank canvas that will be cracked and discolored by time.
The other piece on this theme is Charles Bukowski’s poem “air and light and space and time.”
In Bukowski’s inimitable way, he begins the poem with a quotation from a representative person who lists excuses for not having created: “—you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something / has always been in the / way….” Then this procrastinator proceeds to tell the listener that now that they have a “large studio” with “space and light,” they will “have a place and the time to create.”
Of course, Bukowski dismisses this: “no baby, if you’re going to create / you’re going to create whether you work / 16 hours a day in a coal mine / or / you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children / while you’re on / welfare, / you’re going to create with part of your mind and your / body blown / away / you’re going to create blind / crippled / demented, / you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your / back while / the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment, / flood and fire.”
And if the poet hasn’t made you think by this time, he concludes with this: “baby, air and light and time and space / have nothing to do with it / and don’t create anything / except maybe a longer life to find / new excuses / for.”
So, what are you waiting for? Sit down in silence (but Bukowski would say even silence isn’t a requisite) and create. You might be pleasantly surprised by what transpires.
Your ideal self will thank you.
P.S. If you're wondering how the photo of a leopard ties in, read Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Then you'll understand (hopefully).