On the shelf life of dreams

I frequently read personal finance blogs, mostly for the entertainment value: “Make your own laundry detergent and save thirty cents a month!” while the blogger lives in a house with a mortgage three times the gross domestic product of Zimbabwe.

Why, yes, I am skeptical of personal finance bloggers but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, the way I like any good story. I mean, personal finance is like dieting. Eat less and exercise more, that’s how you lose weight. Earn more than you spend, that’s how you save money. What else is there to know? Plenty, apparently.

I even read the comments. On some personal finance blogs, the comments are better than the blog itself. There’s always some guy touting his personal finance blog, and some other guy talking about how to get rich buying gold or whatever the hot commodity of the month is, and so on. So, one day last week, two things came together and produced this blog post.

Item #1: A blog comment admonished the young people to “put off your dreams until you’re financially stable.” (I paraphrase because I didn’t save the comment, not realizing I was going to write a post that related to it),

There’s a lot of irresponsible horseshit that old people try to sell to young ones, and this is an excellent example. The only piece of advice I give to people younger than myself is, “You’ll be middle aged soon enough.” And I figure they can take that as a threat or a comfort, depending on their mindset.

Item #2: A report on NPR about people pursuing their dream to become farmers once they reached retirement age had this poignant comment from one of the farmers: “This was a young man’s dream.” By which he meant he should have pursued it when he was thirty or forty, not sixty-five.

Actually, there’s a third item to add to the mix, and that’s my recent post on revisiting lost worlds (where I talk about how I should have written the sequel to Children of the Wolves back when I wanted to write the sequel to Children of the Wolves).

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you are familiar with the phenomenon of the person who has always wanted to be a writer but. But is currently working as an accountant, has children, is too busy playing tennis, etc. They usually say that when they have time they will write. What you and I know is that a writer writes. Someone who plans to be a writer “someday” is someone who will never be a writer. (I make a small allowance for people under the age of ten, but they should still be writing now if they want to be a writer in the future.)

This is true of every possible dream in the universe. And it is why I despise the concept of bucket lists. If you have a dream, it does not go on the bucket list, for crying out loud. It goes on the to-do list.

Dreams that you do not pursue do not become better or more possible with age. They become less so. To take that dream trip to Kenya requires planning and saving. If you’re not going to do it now, when are you going to do it? Ten years from now, when you have three babies under the age of five? Or when they’re in college? Or when you’re retired on a pension that seemed a lot bigger back when you were working? Are those going to be better times?

When I was younger, I wanted to move to New York City. I never quite had the courage to make the leap. Then I got married, and had a daughter, and life intervened, and I never did it. And after my most recent visit to New York, I finally faced the fact that I never will, not even when I reach retirement age. It wasn’t a sad realization, it was simply an understanding that it was a dream I had outgrown. I have a life here, and my daughter has a family here, and I have friends and am part of a community. I like the pace of the city where I live, and I fit in. New York, I recognized, would never be home to me now. It is too conservative, and too hectic, and too dirty, and too expensive, and too hard to get around.

But that is me speaking now. The me I was twenty-five years ago would have found it amazing and intoxicating and inspiring. That is when I should have moved to New York.
I don’t mean this to sound like an “Oh, I have a regret, and if you don’t want one, you should move to New York right now!” I don’t actually have a regret. I wouldn’t have done my life other than the way it has unfolded.

I am merely using the example to illustrate a point: That there is a shelf life to dreams, and an expiration date.


Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available!
Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

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