“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”
I think it’s safe to say most of us have dreams and ambitions for this thing we call life.
Unfortunately, many of us never realize them, nor do we understand why.
In view of that conundrum, I would like to offer you some personal insight about how I overcame my fears and got unstuck, and began to realize my dreams within the realities of this life.
I knew when I was a young girl that I wanted a different life from what I saw around me. My goals were not unlike many out there. I wanted to escape family dysfunction, overcome a legacy of failure, live outside the box created by my family and their ancestors, and become a happier, healthier human being who contributes more to this world and its people.
In many ways, I did overcome some of the dysfunction I cut my teeth on. Even though I married relatively young, at age 19, and had my first child just shy of 20, I accomplished many goals that took me out of a poor, southern, blue-collar, and insular mind-set and into middle-class territory. I married first a Jewish man, then a Catholic. As a girl brought up Baptist, that was a huge departure from expectation.
In 1998, I earned an undergraduate degree. To my knowledge, other than my sister and my uncle, we are the only people from my family of origin to earn any college degree. My uncle earned an associate’s in business and my sister earned an education degree.
When I married the first two times, I married men who were “above my life station.” Each had earned college degrees, and the first one was in veterinary medical school when we met. In fact, he was instrumental in encouraging me to go to college, and assisted me in navigating the frightening process of application, paying for my first college class, and developing better study habits.
My degree opened some doors, of course. Not a lot, but some that made the difference between a life of manual labor and possibly state assistance to feed my kids, against a life of scraping by but sustaining a decent living, as a single mom. Also, the fathers of my three oldest children were good fathers. We were able provide them with everything they needed, monetarily and emotionally, at least to a greater degree better than I had received growing up. Therefore, I broke a cycle of poverty and poor education for my children.
Some changes came with living in a different part of the country, being exposed to different cultures, going to college, and being open to another person’s point-of-view and beliefs.
However, most of the change in my thinking and life legacy have come from my hard work on myself, that which I took to in earnest. I went to therapy, sexual assault survivor groups, and attended a 12-Step group for several years for an eating disorder. I refused to keep playing the victim.
Although it took a long time for me to glean wisdom from some of those activities, life being what it is and me being human and so tragically flawed, I finally came to a place in my life where I refused to remain unaware of myself. I refused to stay caught in the past, and living in a dream of what the future may hold no longer cut it for me. Furthermore, I refused to be unaware of what was going on around me, whether in my immediate bubble or in the world, because burying one’s head in the sand only engenders ignorance, which engenders repeating mistakes made by our ancestors, even if disguised as successes.
My encounters with so many people have also taught me what I do not want to be. I’ve met some nice people who have absolutely NO self-awareness, or if they have any, they refuse to be moved by the pain of staying stuck in a cyclical dynamic rather than go through the process of self-reflection and change.
A good friend of mine once told me an excellent analogy to the cliché, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity.” This quote may or may not be attributable to Albert Einstein, but I digress.
She said, “Kim, imagine you go to a pop machine (in Oklahoma, we call soda “pop”) and you put in your money and press the orange pop button, but get a grape pop instead. You get annoyed, so you try again. You press the orange and get grape. You start to kick the machine, bang on it, try to tip it to get your money or something different back. Meanwhile, you’re acting like a nut job. Instead of going to a different machine, or just going into a store and buying grape pop, you stand there and fight with that stupid machine until all your money is gone. That’s what some people do with their lives.”
She may not remember telling me that little anecdote, but Robin Spears has been a wise woman since she was born, because she said that to me when we were both only 20-years-old.
Robin said this to me so she could speak to how I was handling my relationship with my first husband, as we were already split up and I kept going back for more misery and heartache. She helped me wake up and see how I was choosing to stay stuck rather than learn to move on, which I did very slowly (see my column from last week, “The Art of Letting Go”)
Just because we change how our lives look on the outside, we don’t necessarily change how they look on the inside. We still repeat our past until we learn the lesson. So what that I married men who were educated and from middle-class roots. I was still looking to men to save me, to be the anchor I held onto while I deluded myself into believing I was evolved. Some of the men I looked to were abusive, and some were simply self-centered. They were still emotionally unavailable, just like my parents, and they were still a means to an end I expected to help me rise above the muck of self-loathing or the fear of living this life on my own terms. They may not have beat me up or had a drinking problem, but they still provided me with the familiar while I allowed myself to believe I had deliberately chosen to rise above my upbringing.
What does it take to transform oneself to a higher plane, to that place where we not only see who we are, but how life really is?
It takes courage and a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone.
Courage is not fearlessness, it’s moving into unknown and unchartered territory while scared out of one’s mind, but refusing to back down.
Willingness isn’t simply thought, it’s action.
Self-awareness is an uncomfortable and life-long act of being afraid, doing the thing anyway, and repeating the process.
Here are a few tips on how to become self-aware so you may realize your goals and dreams and affect true change for yourself and your life:
(Note: all the above require allowing energy to flow from our bodies via our hands, eyes, ears, mouths, or all over when music or action moves us. This is how we empty ourselves of pent up emotion and thought and can begin to make sense of them. It empowers us to take control of ourselves and redefine our life story.)
I’ll leave you with a quote I read from Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty. Although I had heard of this quote before, it never resonated with me until I came across it in Jackson’s memoir. Being a diehard basketball fan, and a sports enthusiast in general, I have found sports to be a form of Zen, while playing and while watching. In Jackson’s pursuit to help his team rise above competitiveness to a higher wisdom of teamwork, he speaks of how knowing oneself leads us to know others better, and this leads to a mindset that “me becomes the servant of the we,” wherein all self-awareness leads to growth.
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” -Heraclitus
The following books I recommend:
Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson
Sum It Up by Pat Summitt
Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
Love’s Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom
Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Kim D. Bailey, a Pushcart Prize Nominee, writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and a weekly column for FIVE:2:ONE. She is currently writing a third novel. She’s published in several online literary journals and print magazines. Kim lives in her hometown of Chattanooga, TN. To connect follow at www.kimbaileydeal.net and on Twitter @kimbaileydeal