This is a guest submission by Adrienne from ExperienceLifeFully.com
Sometimes it’s okay to give up on your BIG dream. Sometimes it’s not.
How do you know the difference?
I distinctly remember the day I latched onto my BIG dream. I remember it just as vividly as the day I gave it up.
The Coolest Thing I Could Think Of
It was a September afternoon early in my sophomore year of high school. I had just returned home from a day of fretting over what I was going to do with my life.
The pressure was piling on as teachers and guidance school counselors were eager to help us get started on the right foot for college and our upcoming careers.
I’m certain they had the best of intentions.
After all, that’s what people do right? They go to school, often followed by more school, and then dutifully take their places among the working world for the next 40 years or so.
As a girl with a wide variety of interests and talents, I had no clue where my place in the working world should be. I spent days mulling over questions like:
- What’s a respectable career?
- What makes good money?
- What would make my mom proud?
- What would make me a somebody?
It’s a shame no one was there to ask:
“Hey, have you thought about what you’re naturally good at? Or what you are passionate about? Or what you find truly meaningful?
Let’s take a look at your personality and talents and see what types of career choices might make the most sense for you.”
Instead, my mom asked me, “What’s the coolest thing you can think of?”
“Floating in space!” I blurted without hesitation. “Looking back on the earth from the space station. Being the first person to step foot on Mars!”
It’s true. I’m a space geek at heart. There is just something so sexy and alluring about mysterious far-off galaxies, dark matter, black holes, and supernovas…
Anyway, ever the source of encouragement and support in my life, my mom replied, “Well you could do that!”
And right then and there, the seed of my dream was planted. Just like that, my every thought became hell-bent on becoming an astronaut.
Once again, where was someone to interject with, “Yes, you could, but does that mean you should?
Alas, there was no such voice, and off I marched towards “the coolest thing I could think of.”
Naturally, if I was going to become an astronaut, I would need some sort of science or engineering degree, so I decided on Physics and Astronomy.
Furthermore, if I was going to go to school, someone was going to have to pay for it, because it certainly wasn’t going to be my parents. Since they are both retired from the Air Force, an Air Force scholarship became the obvious choice for me.
After a visit with the school guidance counselor, I knew what I needed to do to make that scholarship mine. So for my remaining years of high school, I threw myself into checking every box possible.
-Student office. Check.
-Community service. Check.
-Summer programs. Check.
-Nerdy clubs and competitions. Check.
Let’s just say, I earned the shit out of that scholarship. I went on join Air Force R.O.T.C., where I continued my streak of getting involved, checking boxes, and trying to rise to the top of this house of cards I was unknowingly building.
Toppling the House of Cards
Surprisingly, the turning point of my BIG dream came packaged as one of the best opportunities of my life.
My junior year of college, I landed a 60-day internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center working on a program that I had once seen on the Discovery Channel – the Variable Specific-Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).
As if that wasn’t cool enough, I arrived at NASA during a very exciting time – the preparation for STS-114, the first shuttle to “Return to Flight” two years after the Colombia tragedy.
Oh it gets better.
The VASIMR lab just so happened to be in same building as the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, where the astronauts train for spacewalks in a giant pool. Sooo, I had the opportunity to spend a good amount of time with the STS-114 crew, including my all-time hero, Eileen Collins, the shuttle commander. (Let’s just say I was more than a bit starstruck.)
So it turns out there is a lot more to being an astronaut than I previously thought.
These guys and gals are dedicated. They spend long days of training for several years before ever stepping foot in space, and some never even make it! Furthermore, this means a lot of time spent away from their families, friends, and many other dreams.
Don’t get me wrong, what astronauts do is amazing, and I have the utmost respect for them. But that summer, I realized becoming an astronaut wasn’t for me. It’s difficult to fully explain, but it’s something I could feel down to my very core.
Sure, floating in space is one of the coolest things I can think of, but it’s not the thing that I want to dedicate the greater part of my life to.
So what happens when you suddenly realize you’ve been chasing an empty dream? Everything you’ve been working towards was for nothing?
The Boulevard of Broken Dreams
For starters, it wasn’t for nothing. I experienced so many amazing things, met so many incredible people, and learned so many valuable lessons on the road to NASA.
There is a lot of value placed on depth in a career, but I say breadth is just as valuable, if not more so.
Besides, I had already made a commitment to the Air Force. They paid for my degree and they were going to get their pound of flesh out of me.
Despite the fact that I was no longer chasing my big dream, I think going into the Air Force was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only was it a steady paycheck with great benefits, but it brought some amazing opportunities my way.
There were parts of my job that I truly loved. Early on, I was given a lot of free reign to let my creativity soar. I was mentored by many wonderful people, I traveled a ton, and I was constantly learning and interacting with people.
But as leadership changed and budget cuts came down the line, the nature of my job began to dramatically shift.
Enter the grind.
There were days where I would sit there behind my computer and feel as though my soul were being sucked out of me. Minutes ticked by like hours as I wrote and answered email after email, created Powerpoint charts, and input data into Excel files.
There were days when I would go hours without knowing what the weather was like outside. Days when I would barely have a conversation with another person.
What I was doing was no longer taking me towards some glorious dream. It wasn’t really taking me anywhere except towards a game I didn’t want to play.
Chasing A New Dream
As the days ticked by, so many new dreams danced through my imagination.
I could see myself sipping french-pressed coffee on my deck…backpacking through far-away mountains…creating challenging and meaningful experiences for others…learning and sharing through my writing…being my own boss and setting my own schedule.
I finally came to the realization, I can’t live behind a desk. I need to be around people, I need to be outside, and I need free reign to create something meaningful.
Despite so many family and friends who thought I was crazy and making a terrible mistake…
I left the Air Force.
I left my comfortable paycheck and awesome benefits to keep chasing my dreams.
During my going-away lunch gathering, my supervisor stood and said some wonderful things about me and my contributions to our team.
And then she broke out the sparkling red wine. Three bottles of my favorite sparkling red wine.
One for my first day of freedom,
One for my separation party, and
One for the first day I don’t receive my Air Force paycheck.
After a round of laughs, she asked the crowd, “Seriously, how many of you would be willing to give up your big paycheck and this kind of security to chase a dream?”
Dreaming of Living the Dream?
And so I ask you, what are you willing to give up to chase your dream? Not the coolest thing you can think of, but something that truly matters to you.
Something that makes your heart beat a little bit faster just to imagine. Something that that leads to more good days than bad ones. Something that will inspire and motivate others around you because you are so passionate about it.
It’s the thing that you will look back on as an old man or woman swinging on your front porch and say, “That. was. awesome! It was so worth it.”
Is what you are doing right now bringing you closer to your glorious dream?
Or are you living in the shadow of an empty dream?
Sometimes it’s okay to give up on your dreams.
Sometimes it’s not.
Adrienne Jurado is a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator facilitator and coach, a writer, a creator of powerful experiences, and a wisdom-seeker on a journey to live an extraordinary life and make a valuable contribution to the world.
Her physics and psychology background, combined with her military experience and love for the great outdoors, brings a unique perspective to the insights she shares at experiencelifefully.com.