When Did You Stop Dreaming?

The other night, I watched a movie called The Internship, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson doing their usual shtick of har-har-har jokes alongside tenuous plotlines. If you haven't seen it, it goes something like this: Vince and Owen are two salesman who've hit a rough patch, they manage to get jobs at Google (ha) and powered by teamwork and creativity, turn themselves around. There's one scene in which Vince's character messes up, big time, and he decides that everything everyone has ever told him -- that he is bound to fail -- is true. He leaves, and takes a shitty job selling electric wheelchairs for a nursing home. Basically, he gives up and settles for the life he thinks he deserves.

Of course, his good friend, Owen (his character name really doesn't matter, since they are obviously just the duo of Vince and Owen) comes to rescue him with a "when did you stop dreaming?" speech of sorts that goes something like this: so you messed up. Big deal. Try again. Don't you want more than this? 

Then the two return to their team, (spoiler alert) get their jobs, and live happily ever after. There are also plenty of Flashdance inspirational speeches.

In sixth grade, I signed up for the basketball team. A "no tryouts" school rule plus a tall, skinny girl with curly brown hair and braces with minimal hand-eye coordination skills equals . . . you can see where this is going. I sucked. Like, not in the funny, self-deprecating way, but really -- I had zero basketball talent.

So I spent a lot of time on the bench. Watching the other girls. Half not minding it, half wishing desperately I could be fast and furious, sneakers squeaking, back and forth on the shiny court. 

The few times Coach put me in, I both delighted and balked at the opportunity. It was exhilarating, passing the ball, being part of a team, trying to score points. It was also terrifying. Slow and stumbling, I didn't really understand the concept of defense or competition; I felt awkward about shouting or grunting. "Get physical!" Coach would bellow from his chair, pointing energetically. "Shut it down!" Shut what down? I pondered, racing to catch my breath.

Once, I managed to hang onto the ball, speed down the court, and throw it up in the hoop -- after a quick pass from Rachel F. A smile broke upon my face, cheek to cheek, as I heard the cheers of the crowd.

Except . . . oh . . . wait.

I had gone the wrong way.

The wrong way, YOU GUYS. I made a basket for the other team.


I can still remember the palpable heat of embarrassment. The physical rush and joy at seeing the ball go through the hoop, followed by the shocked noises from the other team, the rolled eyes from my own teammates, the pity "it's okay, it's okay!" from Coach. I felt so, so dumb.

Next year, I didn't sign up for basketball. 

I actually don't remember this story very often -- it's not a tale of horror from my youth, or something that makes me cringe. I think it's pretty hilarious, for the most part -- I mean, who makes a basket for the other team? Ha. But that formative feeling of risk followed by shame and embarrassment stuck with me for a long time.

When a risk pops up, people tend to respond along a spectrum of two extremes: they dive in, full speed ahead, or they pull back and wait until they're "ready." (FYI -- being "ready" takes an awful long time to arrive, if ever). Some people have thick skin; at least, they don't care about looking silly or messing up. Some people just flat out don't care what happens, even if it hurts other people or ruins plans or burns bridges or destroys their life. Some people have no choice -- the risk results in survival, and there is not another option. Some people carefully consider a risk for minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, their whole life, always waiting for the perfect conditions or feelings to decide, to know, to be all in, to go for it.

And some people acknowledge the risk -- my idea might crash and burn, he may not love me back, she could decide to leave, I may fail, etc. -- and then move forward anyway.

These are the people I admire. They've left the sidelines. They want to make a mark on this world and they believe in themselves to the point of delusion. They hear, "That's not going to work," and think, "But it might." They are told, "You'll never get there," and respond, "And yet I'll keep trying." They see a blank canvas, a blinking cursor, a piece of wood, a classroom, a dance studio, an abandoned building, and decide to make something come alive.  People who commit to repeated effort, match words with actions, invite discomfort, envision things that don't exist yet. People who say, "What if we . . . ?"

These people also scare me a little bit, because I'm not naturally one of them.

I want to be this sort of person. Sometimes I am. Other times, I am too afraid and too tired and too enmeshed in my comfort zone. I'm often a sit-on-the-couch-er. And a make-snacks-er. And a complainer. And once in a while, I default into the type of person who hangs out, watching from the sidelines.

Afraid to make waves. Afraid to step in. Afraid of being wrong, of messing up. Afraid of not being perfect.

It's safe on the sidelines, and it's nice when everybody likes you for not making waves, but damn, it is lonely and boring.

We hang out on the sidelines and hold back alllllll the time.

I see it in the yoga studio, when we break down an arm balance or posture, and certain students literally sit down and watch other people try something new. When I ask them to give it a shot, their response is, "Well, I'm not flexible" or "that pose isn't for me."

I see it in corporate cubicles, when coworkers schedule endless meetings where nothing gets down and gripe about red tape but celebrate their twentieth anniversary of being an employee. It's the health insurance, or the paycheck, or the job security, or the safety in knowing the bureaucratic ins and outs of a company, or wanting to make partner and get the corner office.

I see it in friends who are presented with a new love or job or opportunity and their first responses involve pointing out all the cons, all the risks, all the ways in which it could go wrong. 

People who get stuck. Who want something more, but have decided that this life, this marriage, these circumstances -- it's just the hand they're dealt and now they've got to stick it out. 

Or, it's the opposite. People who can't seem to get their shit together or commit to anything. People who flee to place after place, forgetting that they can never leave themselves behind. People who don't know what their dream is because they never stand still long enough to figure out what makes them tick and what hits them like a sick punch in the gut.

People who decide, eh, this is good enough.

I see these people, and I think, I never want to be like that.

Except for the times that I am, exactly, like that. 

It's amazingly, frighteningly, easy to stop dreaming and settle. There's an extremely fine line between comfort and complacency. Every time I fall into this sidelines mode, I have to actively pull myself out. Almost every single day. Over and over. And over again.

Because I don't always want to be vigilant. I don't always wanna hustle or do the work. It is exhausting and it never ends and nobody is there to do it for you, ugh.

To which the universe says, too bad, so sad.

For every dream of mine, my mind has an immediate reason why it can't happen or won't work. Like, IMMEDIATELY. And sadly, too many people hear that instant naysayer of the ego and they listen. They stop. They say, "Okay, I guess I can't . . . [lose the weight, earn more money, find love, get rid of all this clutter, feel happier, say how I really feel, be considered for the promotion, etc.]

We all fear complacency, but the truth is, we also like to be comfortable. As soon as we get cozy, we don't want to leave. 

Yet, if you want any of your dreams to become a reality, you've got to get off your ass and get moving. You have to become a master of telling your mind to shut up, yes, this is uncomfortable, but you're doing it anyway.

Otherwise, you stop dreaming, you settle, and one day, you wake up asking yourself: didn't I want more than this?

Because you do. You want more and you deserve more. Your dreams have purpose. Start tomorrow, however small. Wake back up -- you're meant for more than a life of pure comfort. Get uncomfortable.