To Try to Follow Your Dreams Is to Light Yourself on Fire
My best friend from middle school was on fire. I watched him carefully. When I caught on fire a moment later, I knew how to put out the flames because I had watched him. “This is it!” I thought, feeling like a winner. “I’m finally going to be able to succeed in life!” Just then, the entire dream collapsed into a white line like a 50’s TV turning off. I couldn’t move and somehow I knew I had failed.
2 days later, I was driving to the park. “I should have put him out!” I yelled. Yes, it took me 2 days to figure that out.
I believe that dreams are like pre-thoughts; Little movies full of meanings that your brain hasn’t figured out how to put words to. I listen to them because they know things I don’t know yet.
This one had 2 powerful lessons:
1. Dreams Light Your World on Fire
Last night, I had an hours-long conversation with a good friend and writer. I told him about my dream. Eventually, we started talking about passion and dreams.
“I’m afraid to admit that my life situation is all wrong because it’s like lighting myself on fire until I make changes. Changes take time, so I pretend things are ‘fine’ so that I don’t have to light myself on fire.”
Both of our eyebrows go up. This is new ground. I’ve never figured this out about myself before and he can sense it. I went on:
“I’m in the wrong apartment, I’m not doing the things I want, I don’t have the social circle I want — except for you and a couple of others — and I need to make big moves in my career. It’s hard to admit all of that because I have to go back to my current life tomorrow.”
He nods. Yes, this is exactly the problem. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to light myself on fire! If I have to be on fire until I make the changes that I need to make, so be it. My life situation can change, but only if I admit that I’m not happy.”
I would have made this decision a long time ago, but I was hiding it from myself. I think we all do this — we’re terrified to admit what we really want because we don’t want to be disappointed. It’s so understandable and it’s so sad.
When I finally realized what I was doing — and what my dream was trying to show me — I made the conscious choice to face the disappointment and pain. I have a destiny, and I’m not going to be cut off at the knees because I’m afraid to admit that my current life is nowhere close to my destiny.
If that lights me on fire, so be it.
2. Dreams Die in Isolation
When I describe my dream to other people, they laugh at how long it took me to figure out that I needed to put out my friend.
I reached out to him for the first time in years. Turns out, he had spent 9 years in school to become a doctor…and decided it wasn’t right for them at the last minute. Passion had caught him on fire and it was burning away who he thought he was for most of his life. That’s so painful.
A little context — we both went to college in Louisiana. He went to the more prestigious one. I didn’t know what I wanted to be — he was going to become a doctor. All that to say, there was a little jealous competition there. I’m sure that was one of the reasons we hadn’t talked in recent years.
Jealousy and resentment are toxic. If I’m truly going to “light myself on fire” to burn away the parts of me that I no longer want to be, I have to burn away those feelings too. Reaching out was way easier than I thought.
We aren’t going to survive without other people. If we’re going to light ourselves on fire for a dream, we better have people in our corner.
Otherwise, we put out the fire as it arises. When people ask how we’re doing, we say, “Fine!” We don’t mean it.
Life is too short for pretending to be happy where we are. If there is something in you ready to burn, let it burn.
It hurts, yeah. But we rise from the ashes like phoenixes.
(This is where you get first dibs and deeper dives.)