For the past seven months I've been working on a book about how to make a dream come true.
And to be honest, before I wrote that sentence I had to look at my calendar to see when I started this thing. I was originally going to write "for the past three months." It's actually been seven.
That realization made me cry a little. It's been that long, I thought. Oh my gosh, is this really going to be worth all this time and effort? Am I crazy?
Because for the past few days the road in front of me felt oddly long. And I think it's because I'm right in that thing we call "the middle." I'm setting out to interview at least 100 people about a dream they've achieved, and as of this moment I've interviewed exactly 52 people.
I'm in the "Wednesday" of my project, and Friday feels farther away than it did on Monday, somehow.
"The middle" has me feeling a little sad, a little lethargic, a little hopeless. I do my routine just the same. I plan my day, doing the tasks that have become my full time job for the past few months - reaching out to amazing people to interview, preparing for calls, doing research.
The calls themselves are the highlight of everything; they always brighten my day and remind me what this book is all about.
But it's the time in between that can be the hardest. The time when I wonder if any of this incremental work will actually turn out the way I'm dreaming it will.
Would this be another thing I hope for that doesn't pan out?
I found myself listing "almosts" in my journal this morning - all the amazing things that almost happened to me in the past few years but didn't, like Harvard. Not something I recommend but hey, no journal judgement, right? I needed to do this, needed to validate what I was feeling. And what happened next surprised me. I had a conversation with myself that went like this:
Will all this get me where I want to go?
I honestly don't know.
Can I stop?
I smiled as that word and sentiment reminded me of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.
I had been thinking about her a lot lately as the series wrapped this week. I'd always loved the show but had never fully made the philosophical leap to connect myself with Leslie. The show just made me happy; I'd never analyzed why.
Working on this book for the past seven months had gotten me thinking a lot about dreams, dreamers, positivity, dedication, and persistence. The character of Leslie embodies all of those things, a character whose actions always answer the question with, "Can you stop?" with a metaphorical "Nope."
Sometimes other characters in the show do react to her as if she's crazy. Sometimes they don't understand her persistence. We see the beauty in all these personalities working together. But, honestly, seeing Leslie's crazy was the most relieving part for me. I love the non-Leslie's in my life too, and like her, need them desperately. But I am without a doubt a Leslie "Nope." I've learned I can't run from that. And Leslie has taught me that maybe I shouldn't want to. That even when you feel crazy, even when others think you're crazy - maybe that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Maybe it means you're on to something.
Maybe it means that your persistence will pay off.
Don't get me wrong, I think stopping is okay. As we saw in the show Leslie moved on to new jobs, new adventures. She knew when to move on, how to dedicate her energies in the places where she could have the greatest impact. She was smart.
But no matter what her newest project or job, she was consistent in her caring and trying. Leslie helped me remember that caring too much and trying too hard is okay if you feel like that's who you are. She reminded me that if you feel like you can't stop then maybe you shouldn't.
The idea for this book I'm working on about dreams actually came from a dark moment when I was chastising myself for caring too much and trying too hard. I was wondering if I was wrong to dream, if I needed to stop. Stop caring. Stop dreaming. Stop trying so dang hard.
In the series finale of Parks and Recreation we learn that Leslie wrote that she wanted to be governor of Indiana in her "kindergarten dream journal."
Leslie is a dreamer, I thought. I wondered how I hadn't recognized it before.
In that same episode Leslie goes on to talk about the work that she and her team have done, the "small incremental change every day."
That's what I'm learning as I interview people who have achieved a dream. It's all slow change and small steps, every single day. It really doesn't happen overnight. And that's why it's so hard to achieve a dream.
Because you don't always notice the small stuff each day. We hear success stories like we see flowers growing on a timelapse camera, sped up for maximum emotional impact. When in reality if you stared at that flower every day it would be hard to see it's growth. You might wonder sometimes if it's growing at all. You might want to stop watching. Stop trying.
When you have those days, ask yourself: "can I stop?"
If the answer is "nope" just smile. Know you're onto something, even if it doesn't end up where you think.
Try hard and care a lot. It's what the cool kids are doing now, don't you know?
Dreamers care hard and try hard. I haven't talked to one person who's achieved a dream who didn't try or didn't care an above-average amount.
As I watched the series finale of Parks and Recreation this week I was overwhelmed with the sense that Leslie was giving me permission to try and care as much as I can.
I think that's what her character has done for a lot of people.
And most importantly, the character of Leslie Knope shows us that aspiration isn't something you have to be ashamed of, that it can be beautiful, and that dreaming big is a-okay. I can't speak for everyone, but for me, as a woman, sometimes I just wasn't sure what to do with my ambition. Sometimes I wasn't sure if it was in line with the other parts of me.
Leslie has reminded me that you can be both loving and ambitious, and that maybe, in fact, that's the only kind of ambition that really creates something worth striving for.