in which, certainly, no honour, though a good deal of the prestige of inexperience, had been lost, were still looming behind".
--Margaret Oliphaunt, from "The Perpetual Curate"
I discovered long ago that the reality of my life didn't match the daydreams I had when I was a kid, and in particular the daydreams of the college portion of my childhood days. I meet others who discovered it, also. Sometimes even when I've achieved my dreams, I've discovered that much of the appeal of my dream was based on inexperience. For example, when I first got out of law school, I was certain that the only way to practice law was to be in a one or two attorney shop. Instead, I took a rather generous offer to work for a rather larger law firm, because the offer involved high pay and fascinating work. For years, my daydream was to own my own little shop, and I said "if only" more than once. Now, for some few years, I've been part of a little two man shop. We get great cases, make an acceptable if not particularly lavish living, and have none of the office politics which made working for larger law firms very difficult. But it's impossible, even after I got what I wanted, to refrain from looking across the fence back to the roads not chosen. In this case, I'm very glad my dream came true, but the fulfillment of dreams does not entirely simplify the reality of living with them. My career takes a lot of work to keep it going. Other daydreams I've had--my college daydream to be an English professor, my law school and beyond daydream to teach law school, my childhood daydream that I would follow my father's footsteps and be a doctor--all remained unfulfilled. But I do take some consolation in knowing that each of those roads not taken would involve its own challenges and its own frustrations. Of course, even though I'm suitably employed and happily involved with a significant other, the reality of living is much more difficult and myth-shattering than the fluffy candyclouds of daydreams.
For me, it's hard not to judge my choices harshly. I could have worked harder and made more money. I could have worked better and helped more people. I could have been and could be a better husband. I could have been and could be a better child, a better sibling, a better friend. I could have been a saint. I could have been a contender.
I need daydreams and goals. I think a lot of people are concerned about having them, as if wanting something and working to get it is a bad thing. But for me, they are important to have and pursue, otherwise the sense of purposelessness overwhelms. But it's so easy to get into the habit of comparing oneself to others, for good or ill--it's certainly a sin I've sinned. I look at my career and think of how I could have gone into poverty law, and helped the poor, or alternatively gone into a large law firm and made much more money than I have. I look at my marriage and think how much kinder I could have been. I look at my academic record and think of goals I could have achieved, if I had been willing to work instead of cruising through so much of it.
I see other folks who seem to me to be cooler than I am, smarter than I am, much wealthier than I am, more attractive than I am, better at the arts than I am, thinner than I am, and better with people than I am. I think these comparisons can be pure poison in overdose. But I sure make them internally from time to time. Still, the odd thing is that my strong guess is that everyone else makes those same inner assessments, and reaches similar results.
But it's a tightrope. I want to accept myself. I definitely want to accept everyone around me. I want to live without that perpetual acid of comparison and false pride. But I personally never want to accept that this is all I can be. I never want to accept that this is how society must be. I never want to accept that people must behave in the ways they behave. I don't even want to accept that a nobody like me is powerless to help. I know it's a flaw of hubris, but I believe that we are all forces for potential good, not just people who must sit back and accept. I know that this is one more daydream, but I'll dream it anyway. My life has lots of problems and imperfections. I don't imagine that other people are problem-free, or that problems can be solved by confidence alone. But I decline to resign from trying to solve my own problems, or from trying to help in general. I just want to be more effective in doing both. I know that I am a nobody, but I don't think that means I should stop trying. It only means that I should set simple goals, and meet them. I think that what I can accomplish is limited indeed. But maybe I should stop daydreaming, and do what very little I can.