Let me confess, and please don’t laugh. I thought I’d be famous by now.
In second grade Ms. Sylvia Bent told me that she’d read my books someday. I took Ms. Bent quite seriously, and I’ve expected to write books – acclaimed books – ever since.
I took the stage for the first time at age four, and throughout my youth I dreamed of stardom.
Fortunately, it didn’t bother me to lay down the dream of being a famous performer in order to teach music and direct theater. I enjoyed the applause without needing to stand in the spotlight. Meanwhile, in the margins of my life I was writing, sure that my students and colleagues would someday say they knew me when.
I penned a novel manuscript in my late twenties. My year of freelance writing didn’t go as planned, but I began a young adult novel and pinned my hopes on that. Sometimes I’ve written for an hour a day; other times (like lately) I’ve put it aside. Still – it’s been there. The project that might vault me to celebrity status.
I feel abashed to admit my ambition, because I objectively, intellectually know that true success is not about conspicuous achievements, but about giving and receiving love. I’ve had many moments in my life when I’ve thought, I could die right now. I have been lavished with love; I have given myself fully.
I was voted “Most Likely to Solve Humanity’s Problems” when I was a senior in high school. For a long time I kept that on my resume. I thought it might make potential employers smile. I also sort of wanted them to know that I was the kind of person who might accomplish valiant, wide-reaching feats.
I’ve just been accepted to Salem State University’s Master of Social Work program. I’m super excited – I’ve been following a trail of vocational breadcrumbs for some time now, and this feels right. Still, part of me wonders if venturing forth into this new, unglamorous calling means I’m giving up on my dream.
When you’re a hard-working, high-achieving young person, people tell you that you can be anything you want. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve found this isn’t true – at least not in my life. Indeed, over the past several years one door after another has closed to me. Perhaps there are many things I could do if circumstances demanded. But my soul answers to a call that my mind rarely hears. I’m lucky to have the luxury of heeding that call, even if it doesn’t lead to the fame I thought was my destiny.
Lately I’ve spoken to a number of friends about my dream of fame. I’ve felt ashamed to admit it. Do I sound like a fool, duped into our culture’s celebrity obsession? I don’t want to be a social media maven or a reality TV star. As a friend said, I want to be “classy famous.” In talking and laughing about it, I’ve realized that the dream wasn’t entirely about acclaim and attention. More so I’ve always wanted to make an impact in the world; I imagined that fame would conclusively prove that impact.
So never mind if my dreams have sounded vain and childish, even to my own ears. Admitting them has been a great relief. I’ve realized that they had come to feel more like obligations than dreams, like I’d be letting someone (God? myself? the world?) down if I didn’t accomplish them. Now the pressure’s off. I want to live a life of love and service and growth; it doesn’t matter how many people know my name.
Perhaps when we are children, we are like shoots from the earth. People say we can become anything because it’s hard to know what a plant could become by looking at a millimeter of green in the soil. But we actually have an internal blueprint that wants to be revealed as we grow. Rather than “You can be anything,” I’d rather tell a child, “I’m so excited to watch you become yourself.” I want to tell me that, too.