Thirty years ago, I had an idea.
Actually, let’s call it dream. Sure, that sounds lofty, but I’m talking about something more than a moment of creative spark. More than a concept for a novel, a solution to a problem, or a way to make a better widget.
I’m talking about a vision of the life I wanted to lead.
It was a simple dream. In it, I’m part of a community of interesting, dynamic, creative people. Painters, inventors, philosophers, novelists, leaders. We are having dinner. The conversation is rowdy, ribald, and urbane. There’s a lot of wordplay and laughter. We’re having a hell of a lot of fun.
I must have been in my early 20s when I first imagined this rich and abundant life. The apartment I saw myself in was humble. There wasn’t much to it, materially. Only things conducive to fraternity, curiosity, and joy: books, a large table where meals would be had, a well-stocked bar.
I suppose the clichéd term for this kind of life is Bohemian. If it fits, I don’t much mind. I’ve been called worse.
Over the years, I went to a lot of places and did a lot of things. I joined many types of communities, of genres ranging from political activism to educational radicalism. I met a lot of people, and a few of them became friends.
The community I had once imagined never materialized. What friends I did have were soon dispersed across the planet. Several times, I too changed cities. You may have heard of the book Bowling Alone, which, when it was published, made me realize that you’re by no means alone if you’re alone.
I’m not alone. I have a family, and I have a good life. Together we have made a little island in the city. Still, there’s a part of me that wants to connect to this amazing community that I had long-ago imagined.
Maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe it never did.
I once interviewed an activist and writer who laughed off the utopian vision of community—you know, a bunch of progressive-minded people living in perfect harmony and respect. Democracy, she said, was about learning to live with someone’s bad breath. I’d add that at least 90% of the grief you’ll have in life will be caused by people. There’s a case to be made for bowling alone.
About a year ago I began to re-evaluate things in my life. For example: why was I spending so much time writing for the newspapers? And what was I getting in return? What did I want in my business? What was the point of all my work?
I could have answered “money,” except for the fact that the newspapers didn’t pay me. And even in my business I was doing a lot of jobs pro bono.
There followed a great deal of deliberation and introspection. I remembered that dream, and got to wondering what happened.
I believed, at a barely conscious level, that my writing—by which I mean my blogging—would fulfill my dream, but it didn’t happen. That took away much of my motivation. Writing is a solitary act, not very much fun while you’re doing it. I realized that I had needs and requirements that weren’t being met.
So I made a deal with myself: from now on, I was going to be more intentional in my work. I know who am and want I want, and I’m only going to invest in the things that honor these. Call it a contract. Helping others is important, so just as I want my work to be meaningful and to have value, I want to help others achieve the same.
When I started to focus on my motivations and needs, it changed everything. I could distinguish what was important from what was a mere distraction. I could see the way forward. And it all began by recalling a dream I’d had almost thirty years ago, and which I had lost sight of in my chasing down of jobs and an income and something called security.
How I wish I had taken more risks!
Or, maybe it’s good that I hadn’t. My family has had a healthy, mostly stress-free life. We’ve been very fortunate, and I’m grateful.
But when you have a dream, you sometimes need to take chances to fulfill it. It’s never too late, at least until it’s too late.