To those with a seemingly unreachable dream,
Sometimes I forget that the tattoo on my arm is there for a reason. On the surface, it’s a nice homage to the Harry Potter series and, more specifically, my self-identification as a Slytherin. The underlying reason goes deeper than that.
It was the spring of my junior year in college. Senior year was coming up, and I was thinking about graduation and my plans for after school. My short-term goals included finding a job to pay my bills. Not very specific. My long-term goals were even less defined. I had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I felt a pull to do something worthwhile, something that would bring me joy.
It’s not a secret I have mental health issues. It’s not something I shout to the world, but it’s not something I try to hide either. With my social anxiety and bouts of depression, all I really want is to just be happy.
Right now, this is my life:
It’s a Saturday night and I’m standing in the kitchen alley. Servers are rushing to grab drinks after being double sat only to find we’re out of glasses. There’s a groan of frustration at the far end because there’s still no bread and guests are getting grumpy. The salad station is out of lettuce again, and another bowl has been dropped and broken. Ticket times are climbing, as is the urge to forget everything and simply walk out. I get caught up in the chaos, frustrated, worried about being stuck working a job I never planned to keep after I graduated.
When I’m not at the restaurant, I’m sitting at my desk with my laptop connected to a second screen. I’ve got soundtracks from the Marvel movies playing in the background as my only source of energy. I’m reading page after page, correcting a misspelled word here, changing a semicolon to a comma there. I come across one section where I think I get what the author is trying to say, but I’m not exactly sure, so I ask them what they mean. I see characters come to life and stories unfold, and I’m happy that I get to be a part of the journey my writers go on; yet, the knot in my stomach tightens with each manuscript I get. When will it be my turn to send my work to an editor?
I’ve gotten so complacent, so worried about making sure I pay my bills on time—which a valid concern—and about what people will think of me that I’ve let my fear of instability and rejection hold me back from pursuing what I want. When people ask about my plans for the future, I’m usually super vague and I quickly try to change the subject. Those that do know my goals have mainly been supportive, and I’m grateful, but I can see their hesitation, their concern, their doubt.
Sometimes, I read posts from my creative peers on Facebook. They write about family and friends who aren’t as supportive as they would be if said person went into a business field or a medical field or a STEM field or any other field. And why wouldn’t they be critical? It takes years to build up your skills, but it’s more often than not a complete waste of time because not everyone makes it. Going into art, music, film, writing, just being creative, it’s usually freelance work. There’s no guarantee you’ll make good money . . . or any money for that matter. You have to be talented and you have to be lucky. Only a special few ever really go anywhere, right?
Let’s be honest. Working—or trying to work—in a creative field is hard. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it. That doesn’t mean we can’t make it.
Getting books published, working on sets, becoming an actress, these are all dreams I have, dreams I’m working toward. And I know what you’re thinking.
Are you sure?
Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Are you sure that’s something you want to invest your time and money in? Are you sure that’s going to pay off in the long run? Are you sure you have what it takes? Are you sure . . . ?
Here’s a different question: How many of you know Roger Bannister?
For those that don’t, he’s known as the first athlete to break the four-minute mile. Before, people thought it couldn’t be done. They thought it was physically impossible for the body to run a mile in under four minutes. But Roger knew it could be done. He knew he could do it, so he did.
After him, more and more people were doing the “impossible.” His record has been broken at least a dozen times. Once people saw someone do it, they asked themselves, Why not me?
And why not them? Why not us?
It’s a mental game. When we listen to everyone who says we aren’t good enough or we’re wasting our time, little by little, all those voices mesh together and morph into one—our own. The biggest obstacle all creatives run into isn’t getting a job or being discovered. It’s realizing that even with all the other voices who doubt us, our biggest critics are ourselves.
The thing is, that also means we can be our own biggest supporters. Change your mindset. It’s not about hoping you can do it. It’s believing you can.
Every great painter, actor, writer, designer, singer, everyone in the different creative industries started somewhere. Yes, some of them are naturally more talented, but even talent takes time to refine. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s also not going to happen at all if we do nothing.
I’d rather go for what I want, believing in myself and taking the risk, than continue on a safe path and regret never trying.
Some nights, sleep runs to greet me and I readily fall into its open arms. But then there are nights when my mind refuses to rest and I lie awake for hours because . . .
I can see it: My books are finally finished, finally published. Many of them have already found a home on bookshelves across the country, maybe around the globe. Kids, teens, adults, they’ve fallen in love with what I’ve written. They return to the universe I’ve created in search of an escape, for comfort, or to simply be entertained. Then my words jump out of the pages and onto the big screen, reaching more people than I could have imagined.
I can see it: I’m on set, running around to put props in place. I’m helping lead people to where they need to be. I’m quieting everybody down because we’re filming. Then I’m sitting in a theater, my family next to me. The credits are rolling. The list of actors pass and the names of the crew members advance up the screen. My name appears and one of my siblings or parents points it out. I sit back and think, Wow, I helped make this.
I can see it: A hush has fallen over the set. The camera is rolling, but I hardly pay attention to it. I’ve gotten over my fear of standing in front of a crowd—or at least enough to control my anxiety. The director yells, “Cut!” and it’s a wrap. The movie plays in theaters everywhere. Audiences are captivated by my performance. I can spot friendly faces amid the sea of strangers at the red carpet, and not once do I shy away from a camera.
I can see it: I’m in my own home, thinking about where I am, what I’ve done, and how far I’ve come. I smile and say, “I’ve made it.”
Whenever I feel down and unmotivated, whenever I start to question myself and hang my head, I’ll see the tattoo on my arm. It’s an outline of the Hogwarts skyline with the word “Ambition” written underneath. I am a Slytherin. I am resourceful and ambitious. I know what I want and I’m going to work toward my goals. I will get there.
And so can you, whatever your dreams.