I assume you didn’t win last week’s 1.5 billion dollar Powerball lottery. Don’t fret, neither did I. So now what? Back to our jobs. Back to morning commutes and brown bag lunches and hampers swollen with dirty laundry. Back to coupons and car payments. Back to normalcy. Back to complacency.
Whether you bought a ticket or not, you have to admit the days preceding the drawing were fun. Everywhere I went I felt and heard a buzz– the supermarket, work, my son’s basketball practice. And that buzz? That was the sound of adults dreaming. With fistfuls lottery tickets, adults had the audacity to express their dreams. And as they did, their eyes would twinkle, like kids on Christmas morning, and their heads would swirl with diamond encrusted possibilities.
Then came the drawing. Those six ping pong balls showed themselves. And we lost. And our hearts broke and the buzzing stopped and we returned sullenly to brown bags and turnpike traffic.
From my experience as an adult (which I consider to be fairly limited), we litter our lives with “if onlys” and “shoulds” —-“If only I had won the lottery…” “If only I had taken that job…” “I should open a restaurant…” “I should call an old friend…” “I should find time to write or paint or exercise or whittle…”
We often believe that luck is the only way we can improve our lives. So we speak in an endless string of conjectures, “if onlys” and “I shoulds”, which further trap us and stifle our power. Forcing us to live lives, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “of quiet desperation.”
For years I kept thinking– if only I had more time to write and I should write more. And then—get this– I wouldn’t write. I told myself I would do it later. And I never did.
Then something (dare I say lucky) happened… no I didn’t win the lottery… I got sick. Chronically sick. I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis and a degenerative brain condition.
Before I got sick I was in grad school working toward a Master’s degree in educational administration. Why? No real reason. More money? The silly notion of impressing people with an authoritative title? I enrolled in grad school because it seemed like the logical thing to do. I had been teaching for ten years and other teachers my age were doing it. So I followed the crowd, all along knowing it was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to write. And not write research papers or 500 word reflections on pedagogical theory. I wanted to write my story.
While in grad school I could feel my writing dreams losing their buoyancy. I remember, on a cold December afternoon, when I was waiting for the results from a blood test for Huntingdon’s disease, I told my wife I was dropping out of grad school. She thought I was beginning to give up on life. It turns out she was wrong (which you may never hear me say again). It turns out I was finally ready to commit myself to my writing dreams ( I guess the prospect of death was good for that).
Now there are plenty of other areas in my life that I need to substitute “should” with “will”. I will exercise… I will be more attentive to my children… I will consume less Cap n’ Crunch… . But I’m a work in progress (as we all are). Right now, I will write. I believe that committing myself to one “I will” will provide my life with greater traction. I believe one commitment will give me greater courage to challenge, change and improve other areas of my life.
Here’s what I know– adults are better (and more likeable) when they are dreaming. They are bursting with youthfulness and aliveness–which means they are vulnerable and enthusiastic and hopeful as they explore the immense possibilities and promise that life has to offer.
So we didn’t win the lottery. But I challenge you to keep your lottery glow. I challenge you to continue dreaming. And I challenge you to replace one “I should” with one “I will” and start living out your dreams.