“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I wonder if adults ask young children this common question because they want to be entertained a bit, believing that the immediate answer might be something outrageous, something silly. “I want to be a dog!” “A ninja!” “A mermaid!” “A dinosaur!”
While some of these things might not be entirely possible to become (at least in their literal sense), I truly believe that the more common answers children have to this question—like a policeman, a fireman, a doctor, a teacher, a musician, or an artist (my five-year-old daughter Zoey is convinced she will own an art gallery when she grows up)—come from a place deep down inside them that is just waiting to become. It’s like their little souls know what their hearts want to do. What their hearts must do. Childhood dreams of becoming a pilot, or a chef, or dancer, or an astronaut, are the definition of the old adage, “the sky’s the limit.”
But then we become adults, where lower-than-sky limits manifest themselves and our “you can be whatever you want to be” dreams turn into “you can be whatever you want to be … as long as it it reasonable, stable and predictable.” And then we blink and our lives become this busy, overwhelming saga, filled with clutter and noise. Jobs, responsibilities, appointments, cooking, cleaning, eating, sleeping, repeating. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to what our hearts and souls are trying to tell us when there’s no space to let in things we need to hear.
But for children—with their uncomplicated lives—it’s easier to leave that space open. If their souls drive them to do something, they can hear the request, listen, and react—often without any hesitation. Ever watch a child as they listen to the first few notes of a song? They sing and dance along to it. Give them a blank piece of paper? They pick up a pen or pencil, and they begin to write, draw, and create.
I was one of those children. When I was asked that ever-important question of what I wanted to be, my answer was that I wanted to be both a writer and an artist. (For a brief time I wanted to be a waitress at the Waffle House, but that’s a story for another day). I had a deep desire to be creative. That creativity was like a little bird I kept inside myself that always wanted to be set free. My favorite place in our house growing up was a little art table, which held a bucket of crayons and a copious supply of blank paper. I spent hours there, crafting and creating and writing. My school art classes fascinated me, and English class allowed me a place to create stories with the seemingly endless amount of words that I held inside my head and heart. I thrived in those classes throughout my entire academic career, winning awards for both.
When it was time for college, I decided to get a BFA in graphic design, and I filled those four years with the most amazing, artistic things: photography, drawing, painting, printmaking, jewelry making, pottery, digital art, art history, and gallery management. My senior project of creating altered books encompassed all of my childhood dreams in one, wonderful place:
Degree in hand, I began to create a career as a graphic designer and developed the brand identity for a local non-profit. And when my daughter was born, I wrote. I kept journals documenting her days, offering advice she might need one day, and whenever the urge struck (which was quite often) writing letters to her, letting her know just how special she was. I even created a freelance graphic design company and received two paying jobs within the first month.
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But then everything started to change.
I moved up from one position to the next in my job and started losing the work that felt the most rewarding. I didn’t like what I was doing anymore, and looked for something new. The job I found was completely different from my previous one; it was a challenging and exciting, but one with limited creative opportunities. At that time I was also struggling in my marriage and trying to find a way to find balance between life and work and raising a toddler with all the attendant responsibilities. The days blurred and suddenly, I was left feeling sick, tired, and lost—like I had no control of what was happening in my life. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep at night because of all the negative, inadequate thoughts that swirled around my head: You should be able to handle this. You’re not working hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough. You’re not doing enough.
You’re not good enough.
Voices like that are dream-killers. Since I didn’t know how to stop them, and with no time for creativity and no end in sight, I stopped writing in Zoey’s journals. I let my company registration lapse. I packed up my dreams and relegated them to my past. I let that little bird with its tiny, flapping wings fall asleep on a hidden perch, caged inside my heart.
Unfortunately, as adults, we often find ourselves feeling lost or trapped in our lives, knowing something feels wrong but not knowing what exactly needs to be changed to make it feel right. What’s worse is recognizing what needs changing, but knowing that if you take the risk to make that change, the repercussions would be life-altering.
But what if not taking that risk is actually riskier than not taking it at all?
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Fortunately for me, I started taking risks. I was kinder to myself and allowed the darkness to finally end. I found myself in a place where I was finally moving forward. And, even better, I silenced those evil voices and let the dreams of my past come home to my heart.
Those dreams have become reality with the creation of The Nostalgia Diaries, which is the place I can write and create and make something beautiful. It’s everything I ever wanted for myself, all wrapped up in an amazing package. I have also made a point to keep Zoey’s journals and my altered books close by. My design company is active again, because I love graphic design and want to continue to help people tell their own story. If anything, these creative elements of my life all serve as visual reminders of what I created in the past. They are just as important as what I’m creating now and help remind me of where I have been and how far I’ve come.
Creating this blog has become a fresh starting point to continue my journey to find the way back to my own best self, and although it’s still in its infancy, I can honestly say that it’s changed the way I look at things. It’s changed the way I interact with my daughter. It’s helped me start a new chapter in my life. It’s challenging me to take a step back so I can notice the things that are truly important in my life.
And I want to help you do the same.
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Everyday Nostalgia is about finding and celebrating connections to your past and using them to create better days today. This week was about looking back to my childhood, remembering my dreams, and using those nostalgic memories to help re-discover my must—the things I must do to make my life happy and fulfilled.
Although this Everyday Nostalgia series looks to the past for its inspiration, it really is about so much more than just nostalgia: It’s about simplifying. Unplugging. Remembering the roots that were your foundation as a child and that are the same roots that keep you grounded today. It’s about connecting—to ourselves and others—in ways that remind us of the way life should be, the way it can feel in spite of how fast everything else may be moving around us. It’s about remembering, but it’s also about renewing, and it’s also about becoming.
So with that being said: What’s stopping you from using your own nostalgic memories and dreams to help create better days for yourself today and tomorrow? Here are some important questions that might help you find the answers.
Eight Important Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Find Your Must
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Someone hands you a blank piece of paper and asks you to tell them your story. What do you write?
If money wasn’t an object, what would you do?
What do you daydream about?
You have an afternoon all to yourself. What do you spend it doing?
What prevents you from finding your must and following your passion? Time? Money? Circumstances?
What can you do to break down the barriers that stand in your way on this journey?
What is one thing you can do today to take action in becoming your true self?
The other day my daughter asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I laughed and told her I already was “grown up.” (I use this term loosely, but if I look at my life, it does appear I’m in the business of adulting.) But she insisted upon an answer, so I thought about her ambitious goal of being an art gallery owner and gave her one: “I want to be like you, Zoey.” Because I want to believe, like her, that anything is possible. I want to believe in myself and believe I can be whoever I want to become.
And then it hit me: These days, I am actually doing these things. I am actively putting my dreams into practice. I’m already starting to be the person I want to become.
Now that I’ve started, I’m not ever going to stop again. Because this process of becoming myself isn’t something that I should do—it’s something I certainly must do. For Zoey, for me, for everyone. Don’t we—and our families, our children, and our loved ones—deserve our best selves?
So in the spare time I find during my busy days, I will let my soul pour out into the words I write, the art I create, and the steps that I take to becoming myself. I will let the caged bird that flaps around in my chest fly free, and no matter what, I will make a promise to myself to never lose sight of my must again.
Week 3 Suggested Reading
Who hasn’t asked the question “How can I find and follow my true calling?”
Elle Luna’s gorgeous, thought-provoking book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, tries to find that answer. “Should” is what we feel we ought to be doing, or what is expected of us. “Must” is the thing we dream of doing, our heart’s desire. This book gives eye-opening techniques for reconnecting with one’s inner voice and explains the importance of mistakes, of “unlearning,” of solitude, of keeping moving, of following a soul path. I’ve read this book cover to cover more than once, and each time I do, I find more nuggets of wisdom and truth. Highly recommended.
Week 3 Suggested Viewing
On September 18, 2007, a year before his death, Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch (Oct. 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008) gave his last lecture. In Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, Pausch talks about his lessons learned and gives advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals. Viewed over 18 million times on YouTube, this presentation is truly moving and inspiring and asks all the right questions.
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