If you´re a hard core protestant/member of the Jante society, your answer to this question will doubtless be “yes”. Going for your dream is egoistic, un-useful, even dangerous. It will make you fail, look like a fool, leave you alone without friends, ruin your life, make you broke and disappointed. And, anyhow, it´s impossible, and who do you think you are?
If you are like most people I know, your spontaneous answer will be “no”. Of course it´s good to try to live our dreams, isn´t it? But, wait a minute, why do so many people still find it so hard? In Sweden we have an expression hard to translate but with the meaning “What you want to do and what you have to do are totally different things”, pretty much illustrating the dilemma we easily end up in. We are taught that “important work” feels hard. When something feels good we assume we´re just “playing around” and it gives us a bad conscience. If it´s fun, it must be something un-useful we are doing. And if we listen closer, most of us have exactly the same voices as above whispering in our ears. No wonder we get stopped in our attempts to fulfill our dreams if we deep down believe it will make us lonely and miserable, is it?
Personally, I think that seeing people dare to do what they love is among the most beautiful you can experience. At the same time, I cannot help that I sometimes feel a sting of jealousy as well. How comes it seems to be so easy for them, when it has been so hard for me? It´s at this times, I try to remind myself of all the things I´ve actually gained by not daring to go for my dreams.
For example, some time ago I signed up for a one day singing workshop. Might not seem like a big deal, but considering I´ve longed to be able to sing “for real” since I was a small child, and this workshop was about my first serious step towards making that dream come true, it was a VERY big thing. Roughly it took me 35 years to get ready for this step! That´s actually half a lifetime, so just imagine how much singing I could have done in those years if I had started at the age of seven, when the dream first emerged! Now, if there´s one thing I´ve learned, it´s that wishful thinking about what one could have done never leads to anything better. By many reasons I couldn´t act differently at the time – because if I had been able to, I would have done so. So, let´s take a look at what I did instead.
First of all, it´s not entirely true that I didn´t do ANYTHING about my dream. I did “hang around” where it was music and singing going on. I was always a member of church choirs and school choirs, and did occasional performances at birthday parties and similar events where it was clear the singing wasn´t meant to be “serious”. But somehow I always thought that those people who could sing “for real” had some special ability from birth, something I would never have.
From the age of 9 or so I learned to play the piano. The reason was that my grandmother´s old piano had ended up in our living room, and no-one was playing it, so it wasn´t a very conscious decision. I envied the people who could play and sing at the same time, or effortless take some chords to accompany others singing, like our choir leader did, and I was not one bit interested in classic music, but the teaching turned out to be a standard classic one, with etudes and preludes, so this was what I was doing for quite some years. I learned quite a lot, but naturally I was never really passionate since this wasn´t what I really wanted to do. But, same as with singing, I thought that those people who could play by ear, improvise etc. had some special talent. I didn´t realize it was something that they had learned, and I definitely didn´t think it was something I could learn – it was just too far from my own identity.
By the time I became a teenager; piano lessons had turned totally into something only causing me bad conscience for not practicing. It was obvious it didn´t lead me one bit closer to what I really wanted, and I finally quit. About this time, I instead started to fall in love with musicians. First the obligatory pop star idols, and later real people. I admired their ability to effortless “socialize” with music sooo much! A few times I managed to get together with one of these “music guys” but the relationships always ended up really bad: Being close to someone with the “music identity” just made me feel even worse, like I was a total “all-intellect- boring-nerd- person”. This made me decide I needed to be together with someone who had even more of those “intellect-boring-nerd” qualities – in order to make me feel at least a little bit better about myself. Out of this came a 5 year horrifying experience with a guy I knew from the first time I met him he was SOOO wrong for me….
Some time after finally breaking up from this destructive relationship, I one day got the impulse to buy a saxophone. Playing the saxophone had been on my wish list for quite some time, but until now I had thought I was too old for starting to learn a new instrument. By now I was 30 and some part of me realized that this was actually my longing for singing in disguise – but since singing was all too scary to even think about, a saxophone was not a bad substitute. I got my instrument and started to learn it myself. I was determined not to let any teacher with rules and “must do´s” interfere with my love affair with this instrument, making it into “bad conscience” as had happened with the piano. It was absolutely wonderful! I explored the instrument, followed my curiosity, learned so much and got actually quite good in a very short time. Before I knew it, I had even found some people to play together with, and I had some amazing jam experiences. It´s quite obvious that I hadn´t been able to learn this way if I hadn´t had another musically training in the background. Even if piano and saxophone are quite different instruments, at least I knew how to read music, and I knew some basics about playing.
It was around this time I realized how much my longing for music had affected my love life. As already mentioned, most of the people I had ever been in love with where people that somehow had a “music identity”, and loving them had been some kind of lame attempt to get music into my life. (Julia Cameron describes this phenomenon very well when speaking about “shadow artists” in her book “The artist´s way”) Realizing this helped me to finally mentally let go of a (“music”) guy I had been secretly and unhappily in love with for many years, and thereby open up my heart for new possibilities. Not long after that I met my husband-to be. We actually met on the dancing floor, but except from dancing he has no talent in music what so ever. On the other hand he has many other fantastic qualities, and most of all we just fit very well together. We have now been happily together for almost 8 years, and I doubt this had been possible if I hadn´t been able to let music into my life “for real”.
Now, I´m a person who tends to get almost manic about things for a while and then, as soon as I start to get a grip about it, loose interest. The same thing happened to the saxophone after a few years. (part of it was also that I didn´t have a good place to practice anymore after moving. (Saxophones tends to make a lot of noise…) But now, to my surprise, the piano came back to my life. One day I found it in a second hand store next door to our house, really cheap, and I brought it home. I hadn´t been playing for 20 years and had totally forgotten almost everything I once knew, but in the meanwhile I had learned a lot about playing by ear and improvising from my time with the saxophone. I knew this wasn´t a magical ability some people “just had”, and now, at the age of 35, I finally started to learn how to play the piano the way I always had wanted to.
I got almost manic again, playing day and night until my flat mates begged me to cut down on my practicing hours… but I kept on playing and learning until one day some years later I was ready to start to sing along while playing. Very, very quiet and cautiously at first, I was really shy to hear my own voice, it was so scary, I was almost ashamed for daring to enter this “forbidden” area. And I would NEVER sing if I even suspected someone else could hear. But I kept on trying, because somehow it did feel good to – and to my own surprise I realized that my voice got better after a while – that it actually responded very well to getting “exercise”. I slowly started to realize that the ability to sing or not could have something to do with practice! These days I sing almost every day, so far only in the company of my little boy, but I dare to sing really loud sometimes and it is so much fun!
For a long time I´ve been totally happy just playing (and singing) for myself, I´ve regarded it as my best way to relax, to get in touch with my feelings, to meditate. But recently I´ve once again started to feel a strong longing to do something more with music; to find some people to get together with – I´ve even started to think that it could actually be fun to perform sometimes! And that´s what led me to signing up for that song workshop. I have now decided I want to learn more about singing, I finally feel ready to explore where my dream about singing can lead me. This is awfully scary, but somehow I have also earned some kind of confidence. I am now 42 years old, finally daring to do what I’ve longed for since I was a child, and to get ready I had to learn to play the saxophone, to play the piano, to be unhappy involved with “music guys” and “non-music guys”. I even had to move to a new country and get in touch with a group of people obsessed with finding and living their dreams…
Does this mean I suggest that it was a good thing for me to avoid going for my dream for such a long time? Well, I guess I wouldn´t exactly say that. Of course I wish I´d had the knowledge, the support and the courage to try it out much earlier. Still, since I like to see that everything you experience in life have a meaning, I somehow feel grateful too – since I´m so happy that I now also can play the piano and the saxophone and that I have met such a wonderful (non-musically) man:) It sure was a long journey, but I didn´t come out of it empty handed.
So, what about you? If it sometimes has been hard for you to try to fulfill your dreams, can you see something you have gained from the alternative path you had to take? And have you found something that makes it easier to do things you love these days? Looking forward to hear your stories! /Ann-Sofi