From a young age, we’re encouraged by good parents, inspired teachers and nostalgic strangers to pursue our wildest dreams: Dare to dream. The world is your oyster. When you wish upon a star your dreams come true. Somewhere over the rainbow, munchkins have orgies with other munchkins … blah, blah, blah (I forget the exact lyrics).
Sure, this is great advice. You should go skipping in the direction of your dreams. Have an orgie with a munchkin, if you please. Whatever tickles your pickle.
But there’s an awkward part missing from the fairytale that nobody ever addresses:
What happens after the dream?
What becomes of the protagonist after she takes great risks, grows, conquers, and gets all she wishes for? What happens then, huh?
The screen fades. The credits roll. You walk over a sticky carpet of split popcorn to return to your life so that you too can make your dreams come true, just like the movie protagonist.
But in real life, the credits don’t roll and nobody sails off permanently into the sunset.
The film reel just keeps on rolling.
And rolling some more.
Hello? Still there? Yep, we’re still rolling.
Which, if you’re Dorothy Gale from Kansas, may look a little something like this:
Dorothy gets home from her epic voyage to Oz, happily reunited with her much-missed family. Buzzing with stories of emerald city and her cast of peculiar friends, Dorothy’s family pretends to be interested for a few days, and then the reality of life in Kansas starts to settle back in. There are chores to be done. There’s pig shit to be raked. Somebody has to walk Todo. Plus, it’s about time Dorothy got a real job — all this standing around singing about rainbows ain’t paying any goddamn bills. Depressed and missing her Oz pals, Dorothy tries to stuff her empty void by marrying the only available bachelor in Kansas: a good-for-nothing drunkard who’s sweaty face reminds her a little bit of the tin man’s …
So yeah, dream’s over, folks.
After you’ve had bucket-loads of vodka-and-Red-Bull fun, you’ll eventually have to board a flight home, fight traffic on the freeway, submit several years of overdue tax, and begin your life from scratch with an emptied bank account, a fading tan, sandy shoes, and a pile of photos featuring your grinning mug in a bunch of exotic locales. You’re facing horrible truth: your once-in-a-lifetime adventure is ov-ah.
Depressed yet? Wait! There is a moral to this story (I promise).
How to avoid staring at the ass-end of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The idea of having a once-in-a-lifetime ANYTHING is a tragic concept. In reality, everything is once-on-a-lifetime. Today is once-in-a-lifetime. Tomorrow is once-in-a-lifetime. You’ll only ever read this blog post right now in this moment once, and by the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be older (sorry, no refunds).
You don’t hear people saying, ‘This morning, I rode to work on a once-in-a-lifetime train! And I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience of some guy yelling at me for standing on his shoe!’ No, you don’t hear people talking that way and if you did, I’m sure you’d punch them in the mouth. But everything, I repeat, everything is once-in-a-lifetime.
To call only the good moments once-in-a-lifetime is depressingly nostalgic. Just as it’s important to savor the moment, it’s also important to let moments go. You can’t keep ‘em. Life is a sequence of passing experiences, good, bad and ugly. It’s like that plastic bag scene in American Beauty that made no sense. Life makes no sense. I’m making no sense. You know what I mean? (Nope, me either. I just stole more of your life. Sorry about that. I said no refunds!)
But I do have a point and it is this:
To declare something as once-in-a-lifetime puts too much pressure on that experience, and you’ll inevitably pop out the other side depressed and shortchanged. So stop regarding it as once-in-a-lifetime and instead think of your experiences as: One of many adventures in a lifetime. And don’t limit yourself to ‘once.’ While the whole journey happens only once – from beginning to end, from youth to old age – if you only permit yourself one small stretch of happiness; one celebrated experience, you’re in for a lot of ordinary post-dream moments.
If you’ve still got a heartbeat, you’re still on the roller coaster. Enjoy the ride no matter what you’re doing. Don’t mourn the ‘good ‘ol days’ of times come and gone. Stop weeping over pictures of your mug in exotic locales. Instead, embrace what you have now and where you’re going next.
“Let go of the past and go for the future. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.” —Thoreau
Create a new dream. Run away over another rainbow if you want to. Hook up with a midget. But fuhgodssake, whatever you do, don’t settle for misery by marrying the sweaty-face guy.