It's so easy to get caught up in all of the things, the steps you set up for yourself on your way to your dreams, that you forget about the growth part. Unless you are intentional about acknowledging and managing it, goal setting can often revolve around this completion high and just be about getting to the next step or to where you think you need to be before you can say "I've made it". That completion high is great, don't get me wrong - it's what makes goal setting so important for actually reaching where you want to be. It keeps you motivated and holds you accountable (if you're doing it right). That sense of accomplishment is what keeps you moving in the direction you think is right. Things finally begin to make sense, your idea for your life may not seem so far fetched anymore and the end is in sight. That's what I used to think about my dreams - they were end goal, they were meaning, they were accomplishment. What I wasn't recognizing was how instrumental those micro-goals were in shaping me into the person worthy of my own dreams.
Problem 1: Blocked
Have you ever experienced a time in your life where you felt like nothing was going right or nothing that you were trying was working or would ever work? Have you ever felt that sense of stagnation where you know, theoretically, what you should be doing, but you have no idea how you are going to bring yourself to accomplish that? I consider myself to be a creatively-minded person who is also functionally fluent in the language of left-brained rationalism. I've grown up around intensely logically-presenting people - I say it this way because over the years and as my relationships with people close to me have changed and grown, I realize that the way people have been made to communicate does not necessarily reflect the true language or personality of their minds. I consider my family to be a wonderful blend of right and left brained, Type A and Type B personalities, but while a lot of people are quick to say they are one or the other and adhere to a sort of binary understanding of people and personality, the world that I see is a lot more fluid and spectrum-based than that binary can accommodate for.
Trying to find a balance that works best for one's own mind can be so difficult. For some, that difficulty can be found within a standardized education system. I did well in school because it was a system developed in a mental language that I could, fortunately, understand and feel somewhat stimulated by. There are some people who don't do well in school, the system doesn't work for them, it doesn't make sense to them. I have seen this so many times where people leave school (a system and institution not built for how they learn and live) and go and excel in life on their own terms, in a world of their own making with a different system and mental language where they are able to more actively and successfully shape their reality. If you don't have the opportunity or the environment to shape your world, you feel blocked. For example, I've had this blog for over two years now, and it's not the first blog-type site that I've had. I had a vision for this site, I was going to post every Sunday and create art and moving content and buy the domain for this site and establish an amazing art and poetry anthology and, and, and...
I found myself in the midst of heartbreak and rejection as well as transitioning into living and working in a country half way around the world from my family, friends, and the only place that I had lived in my entire life. I was in a state of emotional shutdown, and in a lot of ways I am still in that place. I had to focus on surviving and then thriving in a life that I was now solely responsible for. I couldn't allow anything to pose a threat to being successful and making a life for myself. For me, that meant heavily guarding my emotions and not allowing my negative past experiences to taint new relationships that I needed to form. As much as I believe in spectrum-based thinking, I can still tend to be a bit of an all or nothing person. I ended up completely shutting myself down in order to protect myself. I put a lot of personal and emotional energy into my creative projects, so my productivity as a creator has suffered massively over the past two years. I haven't written a poem since Every Beautiful Thing (aka since 2015). The artwork section of the gallery on this site was meant to function as a portfolio for what I envisioned to be constant creative output yet it has fewer posts than my favourites and travel tabs (because I don't have to do much creating when dealing with my photography outside of carefully selecting shots and editing - it's a reflection of how I see the outside world, whereas my artwork is essentially a photograph of what is going on in my head). There is so much fear that surrounds creating the way I want to because I know that it's going to bring up issues that I haven't allowed myself to even recognize let alone deal with.
So now after all of that context, let me get back to the thing about growth. I know what I have envisioned for my life, I know the answer I want to tell people when they ask "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Isn't that great? I know the answer. But do you know why I haven't made the progress I feel that I should have made by now? I didn't allow myself to grow all that much. You can't be who you want to be just by sitting around and wishing it into existence. The question isn't simply about what or who you want to be. It's about what or who you want to be when you grow up. And of course, the growing up I'm referring to here is not the intended use. I'm not talking about age here. I'm talking about personal change and development. Being mentally blocked is, at least in my case, a signal that you are not paying attention to the growth that you need to make and let happen alongside the goals you set for yourself. A flower cannot grow and blossom in soil that has no nutrients in it i.e. if it is never added to or changed. How can one expect their world to change without having changed themselves?
Problem 2: The Destination Illusion
It's easy to think that the allure of the destination you seek will be enough to keep you motivated on your way to getting there (especially if you are sitting a new vision and are just about starting on your journey). I found out the hard way that it's not enough. I found myself tossing away old dreams because I got impatient, then having to go back and sift through the trash heap in my mind to find those dreams again after having berated myself for my lack of patience and perseverance. I've considered myself to be 'lost' a fair few times in my life. Perhaps the most intense example of this feeling was during my second, going on third year of university. I had very recently spent six months in therapy after struggling with my sexual identity or my sexual orientation identity and the effects it was having on my academic and daily life. At that point, I was also very disillusioned with the Psychology department at my university which was heartbreaking for me in the sense that it had been my dream to study psychology and eventually become a registered psychologist since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I had always wanted to combine psychology and the arts in order to help others. My grades were slipping and I wasn't doing as well as I felt I was capable of doing. Everything about the vision of my life was slowly slipping away. I was trying to follow the steps that everybody said I should be taking to get where you want to be in life - very arbitrary steps, mind you: do well in school, go to university, find your future husband, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, etc. Nothing about my life was going in that way - I felt like I was in free fall with no control over my life and no hope of ever getting to feel like I had accomplished something meaningful.
I remember conversations I had with my father, someone who I consider to be successful and whom I admire greatly. I always wanted him to give me answers because, well, he looked like someone who would have the answers. He had everything that I thought I wanted or needed to be striving for, so of course he could tell me how to get there, right? I always asked him what I should be doing, I always told him that I felt lost and that I was at a standstill. His advice was always to keep moving, to take a step in any and despite its direction, to just go and see where life takes you. That advice used to infuriate me. I thought it was some cruel and cryptic joke or riddle that I needed to solve before I could get an answer. I remember thinking to myself, with a huge lump of anxiety just sitting on my chest to a point where sometimes I felt like I couldn't breathe, "What if the way that life takes me is not where I want to go?". It's so ridiculous to me now to recall that, but what I realize now is that I didn't want to have to take control of my life. The thing about being in control and making decisions, is that if something went wrong I considered that to be failure. Then I would have to admit that it was my fault that my life wasn't where I wanted it to be. I wasn't asking my dad for advice because I wanted not to be lost, I was essentially asking for a time machine. I was asking him to make my world appear differently. I didn't want to do the work, I didn't want to have to fail and make mistakes, I didn't want to have to take the blame. I just wanted the world to feel okay to be in. At the time, it was a dark world inside my head. I was discovering who I was and the implications that that had for my life and the vision that I had for my life. I felt like being myself meant that I was going to lose everything. I felt like I was destined for failure no matter what I did. I felt like the world would forever hate and persecute me for who I am. So naturally, I asked the person I love the most to get me out of my own head. I'm not sure how aware my father is of how much of a cry for help that was - I'm not sure if he knows how hurt I felt when I couldn't understand his advice, or just how grateful I am now because I have finally allowed myself to understand it.
I was so caught up in my idea of my destination, that I couldn't understand that my father wasn't trying to assist my disillusionment. He was trying to shift my focus. Here's the cheesy part: It's about the journey, not the destination. I was so worried about having to change this destination that I had been clutching to for so long that I wasn't allowing myself to take in my experiences, to relish in my epiphanies of self, to follow my father's advice. I've seen now that the journey, if you are conscious of it, will always change the destination in some way. That doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. There are goals that I am slowly working towards now, that were in no way even on my radar a few years ago. The journey is filled with moments that are filled with experiences and with people which are, in turn, filled with lessons. What sense is there in allowing your idea of your future to prohibit you from truly living? There is no finite end to growing up. There is always another turn to make. Keep moving.
"Growth is the only evidence of life." - John Henry Newman