We begin by worrying we aren’t good enough, smart enough or talented enough to get what we want, then we voluntarily live in this paralyzing mental framework, rather than confront our own role in this paralysis. Just the possibility of failing turns into a dutiful self-fulfilling prophecy. We begin to believe that these personal restrictions are, in fact, the fixed limitations of the world. We go on to live our lives, all the while wondering what we can change and how we can change it, and we calculate and re-calculate when we will be ready to do the thing s we want to do. And we dream. If only. If only. One day. Some day.
I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater, you see. I was I think five, maybe nine, so stop laughing.
We were watching the Winter Olympics, and the things those girls could do blew my mind, and I wanted to do that. I twirled around the house. I talked about it constantly. And my parents said to me, if you want to do that, you can do that. You can be anything you want to be. Anything at all.
But you have to get up every single day at 4 a.m and train for three hours before school, and then train for three hours after school and spend every night and weekend, and spend all the money you would otherwise have for college on skates and trips and lessons and ice time, and that is all you will do for the next five years of your life. Maybe the next ten years. Maybe for the rest of your life.
Those girls are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. You have to start yesterday. So is this all you want to do? Is that how bad you want it? Is that how sure you are?
On the surface, doesn’t that seem like an awful thing to tell a child? Way to harsh my buzz, Mom.
But in retrospect, it was the best possible thing anyone could have ever said to me. I don’t know who it was that came up with the reductive, lazy, insulting concept that all you need to do is dream about what you’re going to do and it’ll just happen, but I want to punch that person right out. You don’t have to just dream. You don’t have to just imagine yourself doing a triple lutz. You don’t just have to believe in yourself. You have to work your ass off.
You have to have time and money and freedom to do what you dream about doing, and if you don’t have those three things you have to work even harder to get them so that THEN you can start where everybody else has already been for three years and work harder than them. And on top of that then you have to be incredibly fortunate. If it’s something physical you dream of, you have to be physically suited to it and stay uninjured, which sometimes is taking care of yourself and sometimes is just dumb-ass luck and not getting broadsided by a truck on the freeway.
That sounds like condemnation, but it’s not. It’s the most loving, positive thing. You want something? Make a plan. Step one in almost any plan is “get a shitload of money somehow” because have you seen this country of ours lately, but sit down, write a list. Pick something off of it. Do it. Then do another thing. Then another.
Then you’re into it, and it has to work.
Planning is so much better than dreaming. Planning lets you see the cracks in the impossible, figure out ways over the walls in your way. Planning is what gets you past the limitations. Planning is what pulls you out of the panic, and believe me, I still get the panic every time I start something new, that says OHMYFUCKINGGODIAMNOTGOINGTOBEABLETODOTHIS. I get that panic DAILY, and the only thing that stops it is a physical sketch on paper of what needs to get done immediately, what can wait until tomorrow, and what we don’t need to worry about until it’s actually on fire.
And planning gets you to see what you really want bad enough to do all those things. Dreaming shows you the good stuff, the endgame. The gold medal, the applause, the win. But planning shows you the work, the shape of the days it will take you to get where you need to be. A dream is insurmountable. A plan gets you past the dream.
Had I wanted to be a figure skater bad enough, it might have been possible, with enough of a plan. Had I gotten up, every day, at 4 a.m. and trained for three hours before school, and then trained for three hours after school, and scrounged the money, and spent it all, and disciplined my diet, and stayed uninjured, and done nothing but that every day for five years or ten years or the rest of my life, it might have been possible.
That wasn’t what I wanted bad enough. There was something I wanted bad enough, but I hadn’t found it yet. When I did find it, it slammed into me like a wrecking ball and I mortgaged every inch of myself to get it. I have boxes, in storage, full of plans, on thousands of legal pads and notebooks and scraps of calendar pages. To this day, I stay up at night running scenarios, bothering people with them, thinking what if I move this here, what if I do that there. It’s not a dream. I can see it.
I barely remember the figure skaters. I barely remember how I once felt about them.
That was a dream.