I felt like I was destined to sit at the head of the table with the question that had been assigned to me, “If you didn’t have to work another day in your life, what would you do?”
It was perhaps the most important question that you or I might ever have to answer. The hardest question we might all have to answer because secretly it’s asking, what are your dreams that you’re too terrified to pursue?
I was at a networking night put on by an amazing organization in New Orleans, 504ward. They connect young passionate people in the community with established professionals with the end goal of helping retain talent in New Orleans.
We had all been assigned random seats for dinner so we could network, and little pieces of paper with icebreaker questions had been placed at each table setting. I picked up mine and turned it over in my hands, wondering when I should spring the question. Not now. Everyone needed to do their intros and how-do-you-dos.
In the middle of the entrée, when conversation had simmered to a lull, I pounced.
“I have the best question in the world,” I said picking up the small piece of paper with purpose. The table hushed, everyone gazed up. “If you didn’t have to work another day in your life, what would you do?”
Silence. The clinks of forks and then, like the roaring of a tumultuous ocean, an army of Hmmms. “Never thought about that, hmmm” and “Hmmm, that’s a good question.” Hmmm this and hmmm that.
I picked a woman and said, “We’ll start with you.”
“Me?” She said, doubtfully. “Well, okay. Let me think about it.” She thought and thought and thought and finally said, “I would travel.”
“Travel!” I exclaimed. “I love to travel. Where would you go?”
“Hmmm.” She stalled. “Well, I’ve never thought about that.”
I go onto the next person, but he was even more confounded than the first. “I don’t know. I like my job. Well, uh, I guess I would travel too.”
“Where?” I asked, hopeful that he would at least have an answer to this one.
“Uh, Europe?” As if he was asking my permission to dream about traveling to Europe.
As I went around the table, every single person had the same lackluster response.
Vague answers like, I would travel, or I would move to an island somewhere in the Caribbean.
I couldn’t wait for my turn because I had a laundry list of seething, breathing, living dreams. I wanted to share it with them, hear their thoughts, talk about how this could all become possible.
But no one ever asked me.
After I turned to the last person at the table, asking the question one more time for emphasis, brandishing the little piece of paper in the air like a proud banner, the conversation quickly turned to something else. How hot August was in New Orleans.
I thought to myself, how are we not able to iterate our dreams on the spot?
And then I thought to myself, why doesn’t anyone care about my dreams?
Already, at twenty-whatever, we are all dangerously close to losing ourselves.
We have fallen into that treacherous hole where the work we do for someone else dominates us. Your dreams seep out of you, leached away slowly, almost imperceptibly until you’re a skeleton of who you once were. You’re like rich, beautiful soil sucked of nutrients.
It scares me that no one had an answer to that question, but it terrifies me that no one cared what other people’s dreams were.
Where did we get to a place where a dozen twenty-somethings don’t have dreams that are on the tip of their tongue, rapid-fire ready to take flight?
I love dreamers. The passion in their voice, the way that they walk around with that shine in their eye, willing the world to become their vision.
Dreaming is innate; it’s what explorers did when they drifted across the big wide ocean to new continents, and what the greatest executives and change-makers have done every second of their lives.
What is wrong with us?
Near the end of the dinner, a guy that I had talked to at the cocktail hour approached me. “You work in tech, right? I have an idea for a business.”
We sat down at a table and in a passionate hush we talked about his idea, why it would work and why it wouldn’t work. The world faded around us, it was just rapid fire back and forth.
This is what I had expected at a dinner with 70 twenty-somethings. This. Exact. Thing.
And I realized that maybe not everyone has it them to fight to keep their dreams alive.
Every single day it is a battle to cling to your dreams because when you get home from work, tired, exhausted, hungry you do not write the novel, or play the banjo, or work on the business idea that’s been haunting you for months.
That’s why I’m writing this at 6:30 AM outside my neighborhood coffee shop that hasn’t opened yet. It’s the first thing I do this morning because it’s the most important thing I will do today.
This is the first time updating my blog in almost two months. I’m vowing to never let it go this long. Because blogging about stuff that I care about is one of my dreams.
So tell me, are you a dream-fighter? What are your dreams?