The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created–created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination
— John Schaar, futurist
I was one of those people who never dreamed of becoming anything. I never had a dream. I grew up in the Middle East, in a lovely, functional and practical apartment, reflective of the lovely, functional and practical nature of my parents – my mother was a school teacher and my father was an engineer. Late at night, when everyone was asleep, I would sneak into our living room and sit on a large brown couch where I had an unobstructed view of a perpetually star-filled sky. (A distinct advantage of growing up on a desert island, Bahrain, is that the skies are generally always cloud free!) I would sit there for hours and stare at the sky asking only why I had been placed on this earth and what I was to do with my life.
Was I going to be a dancer? No, I had two left feet! A movie star? No, no height, no looks! A singer? I was tone-deaf, so no on that as well. Would I be a person people looked up to? Would I travel the world in 80 days? Would I be a teacher? A doctor? A healer? A lawyer?
I was ten, then.
In fact, star-gazing became a tradition on New Year’s night for me and my friend Nazu. I guess we never had a glamorous social calendar. We’d lie on the trunk of my father’s Volvo and pick out the stars that would help guide us and show us the way. One year, out of the blue, Nazu, gave me a book to capture my poems which I seemed to write endlessly. After that, I would sit and stare at the stars and write in my book. It overflowed with poems about longings, waiting for curtain calls and love to show up at my door. I was always asking, what is my dream, where do I belong, but getting no answers.
I had a hard time fitting in school. I was the one left behind when the girls went for a movie, the last one to know any gossip, the ugly duckling who never seemed to blossom. I was a geek with no imagination, a chemistry genius with no chemistry with any boy in sight and a passionate poet with no inspiration. I wanted to change the world so I could fit in it. I wanted the world to like me but I did not understand that I had to like the world first.
After high school, I left home to study engineering, and lived at a convent with semi-cloistered nuns for several years– they hosted girls in a girl’s hostel. Although the geekiness from my school years had continued, the Universe had been kind enough to give me a room with a horrid view of the highway but a spectacular view of the Bangalore sky. I studied hard, graduating with distinction but still feeling out of place.
Luckily for me, in spite of myself, I found love. I moved to the States to get my masters degree and met my husband, Sameer. He helped open my heart to possibilities and laughed when he saw me staring at the sky on dark nights in Cleveland. I hated it there – the sky was always covered in clouds. “The answer is in your heart” he would say, “ not in the sky.” I would laugh it off but he did get me thinking.
I was in my twenties, working as hard as I could. I was an engineer with two master’s degrees, a six-figure dream career in training and development, a big house, friends, a loving husband and two amazing children. On a personal level I was fulfilled, but on a professional level, something was missing.
Then, one day, my whole world came to a standstill. A very, very dear friend suddenly passed away in a freak accident. She was in her mid-thirties and had been married the same year that I had.
It shook my whole world. I felt I’d been so passive, accepting, and conservative that I was letting this precious life go by and doing nothing about it. I began to not only look at the stars at night, but also to pray. I started a journal, looking for guidance.
They say the universe opens up doors when you are specific about what you need. One day, I sat down in a quiet room and wrote my obituary. Sound far-fetched? It really is not. I imagined who I want to be remembered as. This was not, I told myself, about solving a problem or creating a solution. It was about defining a personal vision.
I came up with obvious things, like wanting to be known as a good mother and wife. I wrote about making a difference and leaving the world a better place. I knew these values I held so dear were not reflected in my professional choices. I began to devour books, magazines, essays on finding “your professional vision” and “discovering what you are destined to do.” It was my husband who casually pointed it out one fateful day. “You are always writing,” he said. “At the drop of a hat you are at the computer. Ever considered writing?” It was true, I had been writing online for a while. In fact, I had written my first book in 2001, a very small, personal cookbook for very little money, on a dare from my sister, since she loved my cooking. Writing was a hobby. It’s interesting how many of us look outside ourselves to figure out who we want to be when often the answers are right under our noses and we don’t see them.
I quit my job and began to write for anyone who would let me: websites, magazines, newspapers, newsletters. I wrote resumes for friends, and edited essays for college-ready kids. I wrote and I wrote. And I became happier and happier. By God’s grace I have written for national and international magazines, newspapers and now have three books to my name. I write a weekly column online for the Washington Post and others.
It is amazing how when you do what you love, you have so much more energy and soul. In the past, I would fill my time with worry, and now that I don’t, time has opened up its treasures to me.
Today, I’m at peace. While I still stare at the stars, I realize that life is about deliberate choices and learning how to make them instead of waiting for something or someone to make them for you. I stopped trying to the change the world. I changed myself. I challenged myself to find my God-given gift. I had to look inside. I had to find my dream and find my faith so I could take the leap. I began to look at my world with a different set of eyes, perhaps a bit wiser, I began to appreciate what the world had already given me.
Today, I as I write this, I am sitting at my dining table in my townhome in Virginia, staring out the wall-to-ceiling windows at a garden with vividly colored flowers and a spectacularly blue sky with a sprinkling of a cloud or two. I turn 40 this summer*. Every decade of my life has taught me something new. I am not sure what being 40 will teach me but I have a few-found sense of freedom that I never had before. I am more confident about myself and my dreams. Today, I feel I can reach out and touch the stars, not just stare at them. And I’m thankful for what they gave me – the ability to dream.
Now tell me: What is the color of your dreams? Where are you headed? Where would you like to go. What is the color of your dreams?
(this essay was written and originally published in 2009)
Thank you for this post, Monica! It is timely for me. For the last few months, like you, I have felt an emptiness most of my life. I catch glimpses of what having purpose might feel like, but then I get distracted by some other shiny object–a new endeavor or interesting ideas from books.
For the last couple months, circumstance has forced me to be still and face myself, my fear and my sense of lack. What has broken through is this question? What gifts do I truly have to give? How can I give them freely?
I don’t have an answer yet but I am spinning closer to it. It is something to do with my love of physical activity and performance combined with my abilities to learn, adapt and teach.
Thank you for this post. I thank you because I think I am lost and this post actually has given me some ideas on how I can find where I want to be in my life. I know several things for sure: I love to make people happy. I love food. I love to help people. I want stability.
I think I will start with an obituary for myself and see what it shows me.
The color of my dreams is a warm, French yellow.
i will be a chef & photographer…..long way to go 🙂 a creative career is what i’d be happy in most. dont feel that level of professional satisfaction yet ! i love star gazing too (seen the best star studded sky at malvan , maharashtra)
wow…The past week hasn’t been the easiest for me, …the color of my dreams right now are a hideous gray…but maybe reading this may just tear thru the gray to reveal a splash of vivid (or at least pastel) color. I still believe in the saying ‘ this too shall pass’
thanks for the inspiration! you have no idea how much I needed to see something like this!
I grew up (in Virginia!) in a house of non-dreamers, my parents are extremely practical and rarely inspired. I went to school and learned not that I *would be someone* but that I *could be anything*. Well, I acquired some skills and memorized an enormous amount of soon-forgotten facts, but little was done that would eventually inspire in me the path to my talents, dreams–my dharma. So, I aced tests and watched TV. I am sad to say I saw very few starts and night skies–I was too busy memorizing dates and watching TV. I went to a prestigious university and graduate magna cum laude and thought that was the ticket–greatness and divine happiness were supposed to arrive. They did not. I moved around, did odd jobs and was depressed. Until I took a job with a chiropractor and began to meet families that followed alternative medicine, drank raw milk, homeschooled their children. That is when I found a part of me that I had never acknowledged–because these things were not part of the ‘go to school, get good grades, get a degree, build a professional career’ model. I wanted to have babies (at home!) nurse them (for years!), grow and cook our food, study wellness (Ayurveda especially!) and educate my kids, not just at home, but in the world, and especially in nature. I am still dealing with mild depression, moderate anxiety, sometimes crippling insecurity, but my dreams are so close–not yet as the old strong tree abundant with fruit, but as a handful of seeds that I have been collecting for a decade and I am just beginning to sow.
My dream – peace in my soul.
It has been such a tumultuous year that I am focussing hard on simplifying my life and living more in the moment, instead of always worrying about tomorrow. It’s a work in progress, and needs constant vigilance or those negative thoughts begin to creep in again. I am already feeling the benefits, and so too is my family. At present we are the happiest and most relaxed that we have been for a year or more. And my dream is that it will continue….
Monica, this is my first visit to your blog, and I couldn’t have started on a more beautiful piece of verse. I’ve been a stargazer since I can remember. I would sleep next to window so that the last thing I saw as I drifted off was a piece of sky. And my two-year old daughter now knows that the moon travels with us when we drive at night. It gives her company. And it makes me feel like we’re going where we should.
Beautiful. The story sounds similar. It is a tough decision to take, to give up a secure career and to jump into something new. Kudos to you for the courage and for all the laurels you have earned.
Thanks, Monica, for reposting this lovely, honest and optimistic essay. There’s hope for me yet!
Monica, thank you for writing such an inspiring post.
For over a year now I was challenged with health and family issues. Recently my Mother passed away which was quite heartbreaking for me. I move along with life and do what is expected of me but not what I want to do.
Your post has made me stop to reflect and re-group.
I am so sorry about your mom. My best wishes and prayers are with you.
I loved reading what you wrote and how you found satisfaction when you began to do what you love. That encourages me at a later stage in my life when most people retire, to pursue what I love which is also writing. I’m in the process of setting up websites in three areas of interest to do so. It’s never too late to pursue what you love. 🙂
You are a good writer by the way and I enjoy reading your writing.
Best to you!
I wrote to tell you the futurist you quoted, John H. Schaar, died December 26, 2011 after a brief illness. He was one of the very few professors I met at the University of California with warm compassion for everyone he met. In some strange way, he was your companion in seeking to live life fully and respectfully during this brief life. When his motorcycle did not run, which disturbed him greatly, I tied a rope to the back of my ’66 VW, then to the shaft of his steering column and we busted through Berkeley keeping the rope taut, until reaching a mechanic friend. He had the same carburetor and took it off his machine and put it on Jack’s. What did it matter that we risked our lives? Never forget your sisters in the stars, the Seven Sisters.
Thank you for letting me know. I did not know he had passed on. May his spirit rest in peace.
Beautiful and inspiring! I’ll never tire of reading this, Monica. You make us believe that dreams can come true. Keep on writing!
Thanks so much!!
How did I not see this in March? Perhaps because now is the time I needed to see this. Have been thinking about some of these things and then I saw your post. So beautiful and inspiring! thanks for sharing it.