I was convinced I would get the job.
As a stay-at-home mum, I’d spent the last five months looking for work: scouring ads, emailing resumes, making inquiries. Then, late last year, I saw it. The proverbial Dream Job. The advertised journalist role was a rare breed: flexible hours, challenging, matched to my level of experience and well paid.
I sent off my resume and was delighted to land an interview, despite needing to borrow a skirt and do some creative layering to pass off my one dressy top as work attire. They loved my work. I was invited to have coffee with the publisher. We discussed which days would work around my kids. I started mentally spending my first pay check.
Did I mention I was convinced I’d get the job?
So it was a shock when I didn’t. The rejection arrived in my inbox at 8:30am; a two-liner saying someone more suitable had been offered the job. Cue the thud of my dream career smacking the pavement.
Mrs Lodwick, my grade six teacher who taught me all dreams were possible, did not prepare me for that moment, staring at the computer screen while my children ate rice bubbles. That moment when my hard work had yielded nothing but a well-formatted resume and a skirt that needed dry-cleaning.
Years of reading fairytale endings in magazines hadn’t prepared me either. I’d read articles of CEOs who emerged from humble beginnings to shape entire industries. Cover stories of celebrities who had miracle babies at 45. Profiles of models – and it’s always models – who achieved a perfect work-life balance while finding their life’s passion, be it organic cosmetics or designer baby shoes. According to reality television, the biggest perpetrators of the great dream narrative, dreams come to those who are determined, along with a $10,000 book deal.
Well, I’m going to come right out and say it. My Kitchen Rules is lying. The magazines are lying. The reality is that for most people, dreams often don’t come true.
I realise in saying this, I sound like the Grinch; a destroyer of rainbows, butterflies and all that is good. To clarify, I’m not against pursuing goals, nor do I resent those who have found their passion in life.
I’m just asking the question: are these dream lives an accurate reflection of reality? Where are the real stories?
Where’s the story of my artist friend Jess, who struggled to sell her work? Or Lisa, who climbed the ladder of her dream career, only to find the long work hours had destroyed her health? Or Denise, who dreamt of working with remote communities in Bangladesh, but had to return to Australia when her daughter needed specialised medical help?
The problem with elevating the pursuit of dreams above all else is no-one knows quite what to say if those dreams fall apart, apart from “don’t give up”, “keep believing” or some story about a street sweeper who grew up to be president.
People mean well, but these words aren’t always true. Dreams can be thwarted. Maybe it’s a health issue or a family circumstance. Maybe – and I’m putting back on my Grinch mask here – the talent just isn’t there. Not everyone can land a record deal or make it to the Olympics. Not everyone can be in the top 5% of their industry.
We’re taught to batter through every obstacle, but is this always the best advice? Although charging ahead makes us feel like Beyoncé, there are times in life when there’s no shame in backing down. It’s a fine line between persevering through difficulty and trying to make happen things that are beyond our control; between the need to persist and the need to gently prise apart that precious dream and make a few tweaks.
My friends know the difference. Jess used her artistic talent to move into advertising and is now being headhunted by other agencies. Lisa moved to the Gosford where she works for a smaller firm, enjoys good health and is a passionate Amnesty volunteer. Denise has found work in Australia supporting overseas health projects. Her daughter, meanwhile, is thriving. All have amazing lives, despite technically not having reached their dreams.
They are also all remarkable people – proof that achievements say nothing about your self worth. I cringe whenever magazines pour over celebrities who are ‘living the dream’, as if the zenith of what it means to be human is found in launching your own label, getting married or having a bikini ready body six weeks after giving birth.
On the other hand, it is tragic when someone believes they are worthless because their dreams have gone awry. Success is a multi dimensional concept, not something that can be measured by whether a network has deemed you one of Australia’s Top 20 Dancers. Living a particular dream doesn’t guarantee a successful life. It cannot answer the question of whether we are happy. Whether we have the courage to stick by our principles. Whether we love others and are loved in return. Whether our lives contribute to something beyond ourselves.
Giving ourselves permission to fail at our dreams also, ironically, frees us to pursue them with great abandon, if that’s our chosen path. Think about it. When your self-worth isn’t tied to achieving a particular dream, you aren’t afraid of what happens if you fail. You’re free to a) persevere, b) change that dream for a better fit, or c) a path I’ve perfected – fail in a blaze of glory and pick yourself up, tattered but whole. You have nothing to lose because you know you’re valuable, even if your dreams never come true.
At least that’s how I live. For now, I’m open to the possibility that my perfect career/dream life/whatever-you-call-it may wander into unchartered territory. Just do me a favour. Don’t tell me my dreams will come true if I try hard enough. They may not.
And if that happens, I’ll still be happy.