I don't remember when I decided I was done dreaming.
Maybe it was when I turned 40. For some reason, I recall 40 being the magic age when dreams of being on Broadway and writing a novel should be shelved. They would take the role of good, yet passive memories. Rather than burning like passion within, they'd be looked at fondly, nostalgically - much like paging through a yearbook or a photo album.
Forty indicated it was time to be more serious about the whole adult thing. Time to focus time and attention on things that contribute financially. The things that stirred and inspired me were now being lived out in my kids, and it was now their time.
I didn't resent letting my dreams go to focus on my family, but I did miss them. There were times when I wanted to say, "I was good at this once. People thought I could do something really special." But I found contentment in encouraging others to follow the path where their gifts led them, and I decided that was enough. Except it wasn't.
When Tom came to me two years ago and asked me to choreograph our high school's production of "The Sound of Music," I laughed. Dancing was something I "used to do." There would be nothing for me to offer at this stage of the game.
I'm lucky Tom can be persistent. I joined the production team, and it's among the best experiences I ever had. Still, I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, "Sorry - we were wrong. You really can't do this anymore. Thanks for your enthusiasm, but we found someone else to take over. Can you make bars for intermission?"
I don't remember when I decided I wasn't fearless anymore, but I miss that, too.
Anyway, Tom, Kristen and I produced the local community theatre production of "Spamalot" this summer. During the eight-week rehearsal cycle, I caught myself worrying about whether I had the chops to actually get what I needed to do done. My inner voice kept saying, "I haven't danced in years. That extra weight has settled around my middle and I don't look like a dancer. I couldn't do a high kick if you held a gun to my head. I can't keep all the steps straight - how am I ever going to teach this?" But with a talented cast and Tom and Kristen's skill, it all came together. The production was fantastic, and it's among the best experiences I ever had.
During dress rehearsals, I confessed to Kristen my fears of being inadequate - of not "having it" anymore. You have to know that Kristen is beautiful and bright - with her carriage and confidence, I always have regarded her as being larger than life. She's an actor - a brilliant one. Like so many people skilled in their craft, she is a passionate teacher. So I was surprised to learn that she wrestles with inadequacy, too.
When in the hell did we decide we weren't good enough? Is it age? Is it appearance? Is it prioritizing time and attention on other things? Is it settling?
I read a story once about a mangy dog that hung around a playground. It was friendly, but it suffered from neglect and was understandably smelly. From time to time, the kids on the playground would find a stick to scratch it behind its ears, and the dog would sit, content to have some attention for even a short while.
Life can sneak up on us that way. We keep giving of ourselves, settling for and asking for less and less, until one day, we realize that we're making due with being scratched with a stick.
It's high time we settled for more. If you're not going to be the lead in your own life, who is?
Coincidentally, Jeni recently posted this on social media: "I used to think that if music wasn't a full-time career option, then it wasn't something I could pursue at all. I used to think that, because I didn't have 'the look,' then I certainly couldn't be a full-time musician. I used to think that the older I got, the less likely anyone would even want to hear me, even if I did try. And Yet, here I am, 43 years old, looking older and thicker than ever, and getting set to play my first ever blues festival this weekend. Take that 20 year-old thinking! Turns out some pretty kick ass thing can happen after 40."
Amen, sister. I saw the videos from the blues festival, and you slayed it.
Take heart, over 40s. We're not done yet. Get out of your own way. Show those feelings of "can't", "won't" and "shouldn't" the door. Drag out the dance shoes, the ball glove, the notebook, the football cleats, the saxophone, the dissertation draft, the guitar, the invention, the idea, the course catalog, the paddle board.
I don't remember when I decided I was done dreaming, but I know exactly when I decided to pull my dreams off the shelf and allowed them to stir me back to life.
I hope today is your day.