4:35 am. Time to wakeup and get ready to go to the gym. I look at my phone and see a text from a good friend who read some of my work only hours before. “What if you don’t have a dream? You don’t know which way you even want to go?” In that moment, right there, is where the magic starts to happen for me. I don’t know what it is. I can’t really explain it fully. I guess the best way to put it is that even from a dead sleep, in the early hours of the morning, my mind can pop off like a firework and worlds are created.
Today, I spent the entire day thinking about this.
What if you don’t have a dream? Then what?
This question brought me right back to the beginning of it all, which, by the way, wasn’t my dream. None of this was. In fact, this is only the tiniest fraction of what I am going after. But it brought me back nonetheless and it took me to a moment where one dream died and I landed in limbo for years.
In the early months of the new year during my sophomore year of college, I walked into my baseball coaches office with a hole in my heart and tears in my eyes. “O.B, I can’t do this anymore. My elbow is falling apart and I told you after the last surgery that I was going to give it 100%, and if it failed on me again, I would be able to walk out of your office with my head held high, hurting, but full of pride.” He knew it was coming. I knew it was coming. I felt like I just pulled the pin on my dream and watched it explode right in front of me. 16 years I had dedicated to my first love – baseball. When the teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I was little, I told them that I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I collected baseball cards (I still have thousands) read baseball books every night and even in some cases was found in my room sleepwalking yelling at the top of my lungs “slide Devin slide!” (The name of my best friend and teammate)
Never again would I pick up a baseball and throw everything I had into it.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me next. In fact, the disintegrated grenade of baseball did a lot more than give me hours upon hours of free time that I never had before. It took my identity with it and with that…put me into a situation in which I would be pulling the metaphorical shrapnel out of my ass for years. The one thing that kept me mentally together, out of trouble, and physically healthy was gone.
Honestly, the best way to put it would be this. Imagine your dream is a bright light in the sky and suddenly it is covered in black tar and dripping down onto you. That’s pretty graphic, but…that’s what came to mind.
So my world was on fire and it only got worse. Everything burned to the ground one night a few months after and I found myself facing my worst possible nightmare and in, without a doubt, the lowest place I have ever been in.
Rock bottom was reached, and I had cratered that sand foundation.
That story is important because it leads me to the actual answer of “What if you don’t have a dream?” It’s important because I admittedly didn’t have this figured out, in fact, even today it has morphed and changed…which I will get into later. But here’s the nugget I learned.
Your dream isn’t about what you want to do. Your dream is about who you want to be.
You might start way ahead of where I did, but honestly, I didn’t know who I was. I had spent my entire life trying to be everything but myself because that kid who acted like himself was bullied, teased, and spent lunches in high school often eating by himself. In fact, I always had this pitted anxiety in me while searching around for people to hangout with…and there was always that awkward feeling of not fitting in and not being accepted. That only made the anxiety worse. I hated high school. I hated it because I hated myself. I hated myself because I didn’t know anything about myself. And this feeling traveled into college despite how much I tried to fit in with other people and different groups.
So i started at square 1. Who do I want to be?
I read a lot, and from one of the books, I can’t remember the title for the life of me – but the author was Napoleon Hill, he had a list of the top 15 characteristics of successful people (definite chief aim, self-confidence, habit of saving, imagination, initiative and leadership, enthusiasm, self-control, doing more than paid for, pleasing personality, accurate thought, concentration, co-operation, failure, tolerance, and the golden rule). I graded myself on each of these – one check being poor, two being okay, three being good. I received a lot of ones and twos. Let’s be honest, more one’s than twos. I knew that with the characteristics of a successful person, I could work my way backwards and utilize those traits to master something.
Then I started off with this – I knew that I wanted to be great at something. I had built myself into a pretty good baseball player (before my elbow fell apart) and knew that I could do that again with hard work. But what was I good at? That question led me to a much more important question.
What would I be willing to try…because I had this little feeling inside of me telling me I could do it.
Now for a lot of people, they can’t even hear those little whispers because they have so many excuses rolling around in their head or they are completely focused on other people’s opinions. But for me, the high school reject who hated himself and never really had the chance to hangout with anyone…I had been pretty used to hearing the voice in my head – whether that was positive or negative.
Then, I came across a quote from Einstein. He said something to the effect of…the most fundamental question you have to answer for yourself is do you live in a world full of love or a world full of hate? I was so sick and tired of living in a world full of hate, blacker than black, that I knew I had to live a life full of love as best I could. I had been through so many unloving moments and relationships that I longed for meaningful love – for friends, significant others and my family.
So I guess I really started with love.
Then with what could I see myself loving? Photography? Writing…Oh Evan you sucked at writing in high school…there went the negative voices again…But I knew that I loved the process of writing my feelings out because I had done that for years when I was upset – which was pretty much almost 5 times a week. So that started growing on me.
What else…well, I have all these characteristics I am bad at…and I want to get better at those. Then, out of pure dumb luck, I was watching a TED video from a guy who said that I should try anything…anything at all for 30 days and if I didn’t like it no harm no foul…but what if I ended up really loving it? So I decided to try writing. I wasn’t great at it…I had no real direction…but I knew that I wanted to get better at being a good person…a person who could be liked by others…a person I could respect in myself and to try to get to know myself.
That sounds simple…but coming from a person who was an absolute shell…that was going to be a pretty big uphill battle.
Then, a few days later, a friend sent me a video on vulnerability, and that opened up the gates. Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear, but also of love and passion. I knew that this was something I had to do, so I let it all loose for everyone to see. Me at my rawest. Me at my worst and my best. I got vulnerable as hell and within weeks, even after one of the hardest situations I had ever had to go through hit me, I started to see what I was made of.
I wrote, nonstop, everyday, for months…and got addicted to it. I loved it because every day I could find something out of that day that helped me become a better person. Some win or some loss that I could use Einstein’s quote for and apply it to my new life centered around love than hate. Really though, that quote defined it all for me.
But I want to tell you something…writing is not my dream. Writing became a vehicle to uncover me…to uncover everything I was, how much bullshit (excuse my language) was in my mind, soul, and body…and how absolutely fake I was. Sometimes, when going through this process, the worst news is going to be the best news – because then you can change it all.
Writing uncovered lessons. Love. Passion. Never Quit. Integrity. Those things are just hollow mantras. Those things have hundreds and hundreds of pages each backing them up. And mostly, they were lessons I learned about things I had done to myself and how my mind created who I was…not things that had just happened to me. So the writing continued on and on, and I started applying the “why the hell not” mentality to just about everything else. I tried going into the gym, and found that I loved the physical side of getting stronger, but even more the mental side of being able to push myself. That added on a new layer of who I was.
I was literally inventing myself…not reinventing because for heaven’s sake I didn’t even know who I was in the first place…but literally inventing as the days went by. People who knew my old self were confused, perplexed, and unsure of what I was doing with my life in the early days. Many discouraged me or took advantage of how caring I was trying to be…and funnily enough, those people aren’t around anymore.
But still no dream.
Yes vision of what I could do started to sharpen. And as the years have gone on…I have learned that luck is what happens when opportunity and preparation meet. How do you prepare? By having the best formed vision you can have. But honestly…that vision might change. It’s not about that…it’s about challenging yourself and moving in a specific direction that you know in your heart will help you become WHO you want to be…not what but who.
And that’s where faith comes in. Faith is being able to know that one day you will see something that you can’t see now. Faith is knowing that you have the fortitude to bring it to life. Faith is understanding that your dream is an ever evolving masterpiece that will never fully be accomplished because it morphs and changes along with you…and as long as you are working on becoming the best human being possible, the stuff in the world that you can do will also morph along with it.
My advice is to see yourself honestly, with total vulnerability, and to see yourself for what you could be. Work towards that person. That, my friend, is called your potential. When you start competing with your potential as a human being and everything you could be in a very positive way, the other stuff will fall into place.
Because when you know who you are down to your core, and you know how to find your heart and soul when you need it, you can apply that to anything that you merely like doing and make it great. And a lot of the times that’s how it works. Macklemore said it best, “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great because they painted a lot.”
When you go cave diving into your soul to understand who you are and who you could be, you will come out with a brand new light and vision that you can shine on anything. You will be able to hear those whispers of things pulling you towards doing specific things. That’s the universe egging you on. Go do those things. Do them with everything inside of you and the rest will pan out.
It’s better to half a life fully lived than a full one hardly lived at all.
Don’t let anything stop you. Any excuse will be eaten for breakfast when you know in your heart that you can do something.
– Evan Sanders