Sunday, November 29, 2009

My greatest dream. My greatest fear.

So many time-changing things have happened this week that it almost seems sacrilegious to list them together. My uncle's (the one younger than me) marriage. Thanksgiving with family in Nauvoo. Incredible experiences in the temple. Amazing opportunities to share the Gospel. A novel whose protagonist resonates with me more than I ever thought possible. Individually, they each could be their own lesson. I learned hope, happiness and simplicity from the marriage. Gratitude from Thanksgiving. Knowledge from the temple. Courage and faith from missionary work. And introspection from my light reading. But I won't do more than mention them, because there is another lesson, even more important that I am trying to learn. Combined together, the experiences of this week seem to shout a message from the Lord meant for me.

I remember being in elementary school and getting a field trip permission slip once. I noticed that the field trip had a fee... but the trip itself was optional. My teacher instructed us to take the slip home and bring it back signed. But, for some reason, even in first or second grade, I felt that the $1.50 would be better spent if it weren't spent on me. I didn't take the permission slip home, and when the field trip came, I watched through the window as the school bus pulled away. I only felt a tinge of regret for missing the fun; I was happy that I had been strong enough to make what I felt was the right decision - sacrificing my own temporary desires for a better good.

That same personal asceticism has followed me throughout my life. I had a hard time taking voice lessons because they cost money and time and it felt like a completely selfish pursuit. I had a hard time competing in sports because I was good... and I felt bad for my rivals and was afraid that success would affect how I felt about myself and inflate my head. There were dozens of times when I couldn't bring myself to apply for scholarships and, when I did, I prayed that the funds would be given to those who needed them most - especially if it wasn't me. And in business ventures I was only happy when I knew that I was giving others much more than I was asking in return.

When I began choosing a direction in life, I wanted something that would bless the world - not something that would bring attention to me. I began as a Music Dance Theater major. I wanted to be a performer... and found incredible joy in performing. But it didn't really feel like it fit - I didn't believe that I could ever really change the world through performance - and so I put it on the back burner for what seemed like a more noble cause - the hard sciences. I finally found the 'noblest of all professions' - teaching (quote by David O. McKay) - and found that I was also in love with it, which made it the best of both worlds. But, in the back of my mind, I felt like a traitor. I had so many gifts and talents and now I was putting them to waste - not necessarily hiding them under a bushel, but refusing to stick them in a candlestick before all the world to see. I went to musical performances and wished to be on stage. I attended lectures and wished to be on the stand. I read books and wished to be an author. And I did a lot of things. I filled my life with so many impressive things that I could honestly say that there wasn't enough time to accomplish all my dreams - to do everything that I wanted to do. Everyone else agreed with me - I was already accomplishing so much anyway. But while being anxiously engaged in good causes is a good thing, it isn't enough. Deep within me, I knew I had never really tried. I had never been willing to let go of my dreams long enough to bring them into reality... where they could grow into mountains of achievement or fall and shatter into a million pieces.

I've always believed that my greatest dreams were out of reach simply because that's what greatest dreams are meant to be - unreachable. The Cinderella romanticism - something to fantasize about, think about, never to really pursue in any meaningful way. But dreams that stay dreams can never bring you happiness - only grief. This evening I realize that dreams are meant to be real. In the pursuit of dreams we triumph and fail. The fulfillment of dreams raises our vision; their shattering rebuilds our destiny. A dream left unconquested - whether from fear of failure, success, or any other reason - consigns a portion of life to the outermost skirts of reality: transient and never really true.

My greatest fear in life has been this: I'm afraid that, in the end, with my talents and gifts and blessings and trials and everything else the Lord has given me, I will have never truly lived up to my potential. I would never learn to overcome arrogance and pride, never share my talents with the world, never accomplish anything worthwhile in mortality, and I would be miserable forever. The opposite is my greatest dream. And while I am not constantly petrified with fear, there are things I've held back because I didn't want to see failure... because I was afraid of success... but things that are a part of who I am and who I want to be. And so I've decided to make my dreams come true - to throw myself so deeply into what makes me who I am that all my dreams will come true. Success will breed more dreams; failure will blaze a road for change.

The realization started when I began reading a book on the plane home from Utah and felt compellingly drawn to the protagonist. It's Howard Roark of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. I don't approve of the moral conduct of the characters, so I'm loathe to suggest it. But Roark, regardless of his morals, in the book represents a person who is so completely calmly confident - of his direction, his goal, and that his life is in line with what he knows he needs to do - that people around him admire him, envy him, and finally think he is proud and hate him. It shocked me because, when I've asked people what they felt about me, some have said that my overwhelming confidence was the biggest issue in our relationship. The most important thing to Roark is personal integrity - being true to what he knows is true. It's the most important thing to me, too. And yet Roark's vision of perfect integrity is limited to architecture (his moral structure doesn't include some of the things I take for granted) and attainable in reality, perfect integrity in my respect should cause me, daily, to change who I am. I've made a lot of changes, but there are still some things I need to work on. If someone in a novel can be so dedicated to a cause, why can't I be that dedicated in real life? And so I realize the dream of living completely according to my ideals... constantly learning and becoming a new person each day.

I turned from the book to the man sitting next to me on the plane. He was from Norway and I said a silent prayer for courage and faith, then dove into a conversation with him. After half an hour of chatting, he asked me some questions about the Church and it turned into a compelling gospel discussion on life, death, and his family. He said something interesting, "You know what's really strange? I think I'm actually going to do this. I'm going to go look up this site and go visit the missionaries." As I spoke to him, I was filled with an overwhelming love... The next dream - being a lifelong missionary in every way possible.

The rest of the week proceeded in like manner; I attended a production in Nauvoo and felt the stirring where my dream to be a performer was revived. I spoke with others about health and wellness and remembered my dream to become an expert in that field - able to answer any question (or at least know where to find the answer) according to the best knowledge of the day. I saw my uncle's marriage and wanted to be a better friend, worked in the temple and wanted to be a lifelong temple-loving Saint, and saw the needs of others and wanted to make valuable changes in their lives, today. And so I will. I am going to try to achieve all of my dreams. It probably won't cause me to become instantly amazing, but it will bring each of my dreams out of the ether and into reality.

Each of us has dreams - the deepest inner desires of our hearts that consume our waking thoughts. Sometimes we have to truly choose between dreams. And sometimes we have to simply pursue them. But, whatever we do, we need to be willing to bring our dreams out of the shadows - to see the specters that shape our subconscious thoughts and mold them in the light of day. If we will, then the Lord can help us to achieve them or to change them to fit His vision for us. I know that God is with us. He has a vision and a plan for each one of us - a plan that centers on learning to be happy. Reach for your dreams. Whether they rise of their own accord or fall will be according to your work and the will of the Lord. Either way, He will guide and direct you... and, as you learn to dream the best dreams, all of your dreams will come true. Go out and be missionaries!

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