Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” He’s neither the first, nor the last to admonish us to be brave, to take risks, be bold.
We get inspired by the article we read, the meme we see, the commercial we watch, and we’re ready. We can’t wait to slay dragons, climb mountains, alter the course of history. It’s a fantastic feeling, but it’s often short-lived.
Living the life we have imagined takes planning and dedication to the dream. It’s relentless and exhausting. Sometimes it rains or a hurricane blows in, and we can’t see the dream anymore. Our imagination switches to a low gear, that one designed for mountains and mud, and all we can see is the next step. Our wildest dream then is survival. We just want to get across the swinging rope bridge spanning the chasm below. Maybe there’s someone on that bridge with us, cheering us on; maybe they’ve already crossed it, and they’re encouraging us from the other side. Now and then, though, we are alone on that bridge in the rain and the wind, and we think we might just turn around and go back. It’s not that far. It wasn’t that bad on that side. We could stand it a little longer over there. But, we talk ourselves out of going back. It WAS that bad. We could stand it, if we didn’t have another choice, but we really don’t want to. We are alone and exhausted, though, and that wind won’t stop blowing. The rain is perpendicular, and we’re holding on for dear life. So, we go slowly; occasionally, we stop. We stand still in the storm, and we feel it buffeting us, but we hold on to those ropes, and we stand our ground. Eventually, we make it to the other side. It’s been messy, and we’re wrecked, and we hope never to cross another rope bridge. The sky has cleared, though. The wind has turned to a warm breeze, and the rain has stopped. So, we look back across that chasm and KNOW with everything in us that we accomplished an impressive feat. We took ourselves across that expanse, and now, we have an opportunity to start again. And we find people waiting for us. They were there the whole time, but we couldn’t see them for the storm. Visibility was zero. They cheer us and feed you and get us cleaned up. They show us the path we were looking for all along. Some of them walk along, others don’t. Now that the rain has gone and the sky has cleared, we can see the path, too, and we know that we can keep moving in the direction of that dream. It never went anywhere.
Recently, a friend and I went on a hike, up a small mountain, Rabun Bald, 4,695 feet elevation. It’s the second highest peak in Georgia. My friend said the hike was about a mile and, though it was a steady ascent, the trail didn’t have any tricky parts to it. It didn’t have any tricky parts, that’s true. It’s also a steady ascent. About a mile is actually more than one and a half, though. Egads. I am not what one would call a hiker. I can walk all day on the coastal plain and be no worse for wear, but more than once on the way up, I thought I might just say, “go on ahead. I’ll be here when you get back.” I didn’t, though. I kept going, literally, one step at a time. I didn’t know until I got to the peak that the trail was longer than I thought it would be. I didn’t know quite what to expect from the view. I certainly didn’t think I was going to have to climb the not-anything-like-safe stairs to the viewing platform to see that view. The trail is full of switchbacks and blind curves. I had no idea what was coming. I trusted my friend, though, so I followed along. I did stop a few times along the way. I did rest. I did stand in a clearing and see the view from where we were at the moment. And I didn’t die climbing those stairs to see the view. It was magnificent, even with the clouds. I took a picture of the vista, not for the beauty of it, but as a tangible reminder that I’d done a kind of hard thing, or at least not an easy thing.
As I go in the direction of my dreams, trying to live the life I’ve imagined, it helps me to have reminders of things I’ve already done. I know there will be more storms and more dang rope bridges, more chasms. Not everyone is cheering for me. Some people would be thrilled if I stayed in my spot, never moving forward, maybe even moving backward. But those people aren’t my concern.
My concern is moving in the direction of my best self, even when I’m not confident about the path, even when the dream is fuzzy around the edges. My concern is remembering that progress is the goal and that confidence will come. It also helps when I remember that confidence does not equal accomplishment. I don’t know when the next storm will come or how sturdy the next bridge will be, but I do know, that I can hold on, catch my breath, appreciate how far along I am before I move on.