"I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become" --
I recently dreamed that I was at a holiday gift exchange with some powerful women. Not to name drop or anything, but yes, Oprah was there. As we all went around the circle exchanging gifts and bursting into spontaneous tears -- as women are known to do when we gather -- we also shared what we hoped to accomplish in the new year. Some of the women, yes Sonia Sotomayor andReba McEntire were both in attendance, talked about their professional ambitions. Some wanted to best their marathon records or write a few more books, or learn to cook kale chips or a whole number of things that accomplished people must do to continue being accomplished.
When they came around to me, I hesitated. For one thing, even in dreams, you can still be nervous around people like the award-winning violinist Alina Ibragimova, you know?
And then, I either woke up, or I said, "I want to be certain that I am happy."
Can we ever really be certain of anything, the Barefoot Contessa said contemplatively, and handed me a pat of butter.
As a child imagining my adult life, I imagined big things: things like winning a national science grant for my work in quark theory, or getting appointed to a suddenly empty Senate seat or say, going into escrow on a big house in the Hollywood Hills with elevators that drop you right into the pool, with a Capri Sun pouch in hand.
In the future world I imagined, Capri Sun had been modified so that it didn't take such a precise slight of hand to insert the straw, and also, I could easily maintain several successful careers. I didn't imagine the hard work, the leg work, the arm toning, and all else it would take to accomplish the great things I had planned.
And what I really didn't anticipate at eight or 12 years-old was whether or not I would enjoy my journeys, whether or not all these things I claimed I wanted would make me happy. Because when you're eight or 12, and lucky, you're happy that you're having gummy worms with your ear infection medicine. You live in the moment, and you don't ask yourself the big grandiose questions like, "Who am I? And what do I want to do in the world? What is love?" Instead, you ask why it is that if you purposefully cut a worm in half, it survives, but if you step on it accidentally, it dies.
A few years, a couple of jobs, and 1.5 heartbreaks later, I realize that what I really want is actually much harder to achieve than becoming a world famous astrophysicist. Perhaps not practically, because it turns out my pre-calculus teacher was right and I do not grasp the principles behind most major math principles and I also use dull pencils making it very difficult for anyone to see my work.
You see, this vision of Oprah and friends that I had, it shook me to my very core. I've been living my life trying to determine what's next, how I can succeed, accumulate successes, never knowing if I'm actually going to satisfy my soul! To put it in a relatable metaphor: Instead of worrying about gathering enough quarters to make sure I can do my laundry, I should be concerned with whether doing my laundry is going to make me happy.
I've gotten lost in the mosaics of LinkedIn and Facebook; I've spent so much time trying to re-trace the footsteps of people I think I want to be someday. But sometimes, life is just supposed to be about getting dim sum in Arcadia. Because, it's the best dim sum there is, and you've never even had dim sum before, so why shouldn't your first dim sum be the best?
Some people spend their whole lives trying to understand happiness. A classmate of mine wrote his senior thesis about it. I remember sitting there, listening to his presentation on what Nietzsche had to say about happiness, and not caring at all.
Now, I wish I'd picked up at least one nugget of wisdom from that long, useless presentation.
If the little me, dressed in pirate scarves and my mom's old hats could see me now, she'd probably ask me who won the 2000 election and how much my Beanie Baby collection had sold for, and if I'd starred in my one-woman show in Broadway already or if it was just in previews.
I'd probably tell her that the bangs weren't working then and they're not working now, and that I hope it wouldn't disappoint her that my greatest accomplishment to date is my Starbucks gold card.
I'd also tell her how much more difficult all of life is, how easy it is to get lost and think you want something you don't, how banker's checks and a brand new Prius might sound like fun, but were no guarantee of a good time. I'd tell her that in this, my 26th year on planet Earth, all I'm sincerely planning on doing is renewing my commitment to recycling and finding out how to be happy. Whatever it actually means.