What have you dreamed dearly for and are now grateful it didn’t come true?
Yesterday I went through my last memory box. A hermetically sealed plastic tub full of artifacts from my junior high and high school The oldest was an Operation Desert Storm t-shirt from ‘91 that all my friends had signed at the end of eighth grade. It smelled musty and of history. (Funny that – I recently watched Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade and a lot of things are accurate. Anyway – a tangent for another time.) The newest being all of the brochures and applications for colleges that I wanted to attend.
I am fortunate. The scholastic side of school was almost always easy for me. Between being an over-achiever to gain recognition and self-worth and being intellectually gifted; I had good grades and was in plenty of extra-curricular activities. I was kind of one of “those kids” who did well, and yet also part of the misfit “good yet not too good” crowd, which I’m grateful for. It balanced me out.
Around this time, I was (I believe) ranked 4th in my class and had a GPA above 4.0. (How is that even mathematically possible? Well – A+ grades in AP courses were worth more than 4.0. You know – those types of games that overachievers thrive on.) I had several college options, though two were at the top. West Point (which my father, a Staff Sergeant in the Army, wanted me to go to) and MIT (which I thought I wanted to go to).
I aced all the intellectual tests for West Point, had a recommendation from a local representative, yet my physical scores were mediocre. They offered me a re-test, which I never took. I realized, somewhat unconsciously, that going was merely for the prestige and achievement, not because it was the life I wanted. It was my father’s dream.
I was in the running for MIT, though could never be sure exactly where I stood. Yet, this was my dream. I could imagine being on an East Coast college campus. Working in the computer and robotics labs. Designing the future. Actively creating beautiful and exciting things.
Even though I could see myself there, my senior year began to take a turn. I found it harder and harder to remain interested in school. I grew bored. I spent more time reading, playing with computers on my own and in theatre than I did on homework. I had this beautiful, red Isuzu pickup that I loved driving. She was bright red, had white, sporty rims and a manual transmission. When I was in it, I was free.
I began to desire more and more freedom. Rather than going to school, I would drive to El Paso. Sometimes I would go to bookstores. Sometimes to the Cielo Vista Mall. Sometimes to CompuCity just outside the mall, to look at all the hardware and software that I couldn’t afford. Sometimes I would simply drive out to the middle of the desert and spend the whole day reading. I remember reading Stephen King’s Different Seasons, while laying down on the beige bench seat of that truck, sweating in the desert sun as a cool breeze flowed through the rolled-down windows.
I did this so much, I began to get warnings at school. Not one to back down, I figured out how to forge doctor’s appointment notes and used them for excused absences. (It also helped that I had been a stellar student up until then, so I had a lot of social credit to spend.) In total, I missed nearly a third of the school days that semester. And my grades dropped. I got a D in AP English and lower grades than normal. I slid from 4th in the class to 11th. (Yeah – poor me, I know. Ha!)
Then I got this rejection letter from MIT and it all became real. I wasn’t going to MIT. My dream wasn’t going to come true. I couldn’t just fuck off and expect things to be handed to me. I felt like a failure. I took a scholarship to NMSU and went there, with everyone else. I kept the rejection letter and framed it. I would look upon it and think, “Fuck you! I’ll show you what I can do! I don’t need you or your damn fancy-pants college.” While that may have been true, it came from a hurt and insecure place. Proving I was enough, rather than showing what I could do.
What once seemed so big, now seems so small in retrospect.
I couldn’t have predicted the path since. Flunking out of NMSU. Meeting a beautiful, loving woman that I would spend 7 years with. Moving to Pennsylvania as a result and going to Penn State. Dropping out after I ran out of money. Getting a ton of computer certifications. Getting hired at a software startup. Going back to college at West Chester University for Theatre. Starting my own company. Losing my parents. Facing financial ruin. Driving an ambulance to Mongolia. Meeting incredible people at OTK. Exploring the fringes of our world, both internal and external. Making deep, genuine friends. Riding a motorcycle to the Arctic Circle. Losing my father figures. Finding my tribe. Consciously choosing to become a man. Moving into a loving community. Finding wholeness and peace. Choosing to walk the path of an artist. A lifetime of experiences that I would not trade for any sum of money or fame.
I am grateful that these old, future dreams did not come true. Had they, this ride may not have been as wild, and often, fun as it has been. I may not have come to know myself in the way that I do. I might still feel lost.
As for the memory box, I have taken photos of the items that I want to be able to look back on. I have kept a couple photos that were dear to me. The rest, I took out to my fire pit and released. The MIT rejection letter and all. Sitting there, I let them go. And I felt a weight lift that I hadn’t realized was there. I feel more present. Living in this very moment and enjoying it.
These words are from my dear friend Jamie and perfectly sum this up: “Interesting how our old future dreams sometimes are so disconnected. It’s hard to see them and then accept them and their “never becoming-ness” and then to be grateful they never became…”
So, which Old Future Dreams are you ready to let go? Write them down. Write why they were important. Write why you’re grateful they didn’t come true. Burn the paper. Exhale. Let them go.