The thought hit me hard one night as a I stared into the darkness of my bedroom: “I will never be a geologist.” When I was younger I knew that I could go back to school and get a degree and have time to develop this interest into a career. But a quick calculation made it evident that I could not get a degree, certainly not an advanced degree, and pay the dues to build a career in geology. I am an avid rock hound and obviously the desire was not a strong enough passion for me to sacrifice whatever it took to make this my career. I was thrown off this ambition when I was younger by some advice I should have ignored and information I should have questioned. In previous years I knew that I could pursue this dream if I wanted to; now I knew that this dream would never be realized.
The pain was not so much that I wouldn’t have this job I dreamed of us a child but that there was a dream of youth that was out of reach. What could-have-been at many points in my life became a would-never-be. Don’t misunderstand me. I am successful in my work and I have realized more than my fair share of dreams. I do not feel deprived nor am I ungrateful for what I have. I have gained much by what I have sacrificed, goals I have pursued, and by God’s good grace. I cannot be bitter because I am too blessed. But I am also mindful that the professional life I am living was not the dream of my youth.
For any reflective middle-aged man there comes a time when he knows some dreams of youth will never be fulfilled. He can point out the wrong turns that cost him precious wasted years and needless pain. With perfect hindsight he can see the missed opportunities that his younger self did not or could not take. He can count the wasted dollars and foolish pursuits that didn’t even yield worthwhile wisdom. In the face of such reflection a man must determine to be bitter about his past choices or learn what lessons he can and move on peacefully.
The Allman Brothers classic “Dreams I’ll Never See” (I prefer the Molly Hatchet version) eloquently describes the despair we feel when our unfulfilled dreams seem oppressive but also need to move on. Unfulfilled dreams must be met with a resolve to “Pull myself together, put on a new face, climb down from the hilltop, and get back into the race” carrying our dreams with us. Even when we know those dreams will not be fulfilled, we can take them with us and enjoy the youthful dreaming and what our dreams mean to us. It may be that in the dreaming itself, not the fulfillment of the vision, we remain open to the possibilities of the future and new dreams we can create.
We have a problem when we do not let go of what we should release. We hold onto the skeleton with an unreasonable hope that we can bring it back to life. Maturity demands we accept the passing of some opportunities and look for new doorways. We must accept that some dreams are no longer attainable and either cherish them for what they meant to us or let them go if they are holding us back. Because a youthful dream was not realized does not mean that we cannot still create rich and satisfying dreams today.
We cannot carry the baggage of the past through the door of the future. In order to be ready to see new possibilities, we must quit looking at the past–whether it was real or imagined–and embrace the dream of tomorrow.