As a child we dream without limits. Our hopes roam free. Our imagination constructs grand and courageous dreams. We become athletes and astronauts, magicians and physicians. We are damsel-saving knights who slay dragons. We are indestructible and fearless, and in our most imaginative moments the impossible becomes possible; our enemy becomes an ally and we befriend a dragon.
As a child, I loved watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I marveled at the men and women who swam, biked, and ran 140 miles of glory in the Ironman. Though undersized and asthmatic, I hoped to one day complete that race. My body had real limitations, but my heart, filled with childhood wonder, would not let that stop me. My limitations were just a piece of the puzzle to be figured out. If you have ever listened to an adolescent describe their future, it’s wide open and filled with limitless possibilities. They dream unconstrained by time, finances, or physical parameters. As adults we marvel at their high-hopes and in our skepticism, we temper their aspirations with feasibly, reasonableness, and realism.
Is it any wonder? Our own child-like dreams became bound in a world filled with limits as life progressed. We yielded to that which was safe and secure. We resigned ourselves to the practical and realistic. Some of us surrendered our journey to the opinions of authority figures such as parents, teachers, and coaches. Over time our dreams became unattainable, a waste of time, or that which wouldn’t pay the bills. Real adversaries: stereotyping, bullying, and discrimination – the side effects of a broken world – eroded our self-esteem, diminished our self-confidence, and tapered our passion. At times we became our own prison warden, relinquishing our dreams out of fear and past failures. Even when these external forces were not restrictive, the demands of maintaining a job, caring for children, or health limitations became too difficult an obstacle to overcome.
With both real and perceived barriers our world got smaller. Our focus became living within limits rather than pressing against them to experience life to its fullest. Our once cherished dreams were discarded as lost relics in dusty boxes. Now we trudge forward on what feels like a predestined path, rather than carving out our own path. The light which once sparked our imagination is snuffed out.
By the time I was 40 years old, my Ironman dream was locked in a box. While my asthma was long gone it had been replaced by a new diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetic. Diagnosed at twenty-six, the Ironman would not be the only dream I would allow to wither away. After a decade and a half of living in the shadows, I began to realize that person I had become and the person I wanted to be were not one and the same. I determined that to move forward, out of the shadows and into life, I had to look back.
To live a no-limits life we must recapture the dreams of our youth and breathe new life into them. Adults spend a lot of time in the past recollecting the good-ole-days; holding them dear as our last great moments. A child instead looks to the future with anticipation and with a vision of what could be. Authentic life demands we do the same. Ironically as adults, we actually have much greater means and ability to execute our dreams than we did as a child, but our imagination muscle has atrophied. Fortunately, as with all muscles, it can be strengthened and exercised until it can once again envision a vast future.
Relying on my inner child, the obstacles of life once again became a puzzle to be solved. I unpacked my old dreams; discarding those which no longer held their splendor and claiming those which did. My heart leaped most at returning to athletic pursuits and the outdoors. Rather than keeping these moments in the past I started placing them in my future. Instead of defaulting to “I can’t,” I began to ask “How can I?” The latter opens a door for action, whereas the former shuts it down. The question “How can I?” looks at fear, norms, and discrimination and begins to question their hold. Rather than remaining bound we begin to examine that which binds us. Our ropes become a puzzle, not a prison.
Faced with a puzzle, the question becomes do you want to stay bound or do you want to pursue the joy beyond. The questions of “how” must graduate to “when?” A hypothetical is turned into a timeline for action. There is joy to be found in this moment alone, having broken through your internal barrier. As our joy spills into conversations surrounding our new discovery and plans we often face another external barrier. We are told we are crazy, too old, or given practical reasons why something cannot or must not be done. Many dreams die here. However, with our child-like spirit, we can shrug off the naysayers. We can look at the practical problems as puzzles. Solving the puzzles then gives us even more confidence in stepping forward towards our dream.
Too often we allow ourselves to be bound from pursuing the amazing things for which our hearts long. Playing it safe or staying where we are can appear alluring in its simplicity, after all, our prison is familiar. Breaking the bonds can seem so hard to do, but you will quickly find that it is not unlike unraveling a rope. It is difficult at first, but once you have released some slack, the rest of the knots fall away quickly. The impossible becomes possible. Are you ready to befriend a dragon?