Yet, even in that dreadful darkness can we find beacons of hope. I was engaged in a multi-hour viewing binge about a week ago, when I came upon this delightful video of an address at UWA given by Tim Minchin. The whole speech is full of chuckle-worthy plays on words as well as meaningful--and meaningless--advice. I particularly recommend a stretch beginning at 3:15:
"...I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. "
As a child, I was guilty of sins far worse than YouTube gluttony. You see, I was a dreamer of dreams. But not just realistic dreams, oh no. I had delusions of grandeur the likes of which the world had never seen. (Obviously, I've never quite grown out of them.) You see, fate had predestined me to be the world's most brilliant figure skater. In the evenings, I would consult on high-risk surgical procedures whilst preparing gourmet meals for my five-star restaurant. On weekends, I would paint landscapes worthy of the Louvre and read poetry to thousands of adoring sycophants. I would find the life I was destined to live.
Of course, the two times I attempted ice skating I could not maintain my balance for more than thirty seconds at a time. I had neither the stomach nor constitution to give my mother her weekly allergy shots. I didn't learn to boil spaghetti properly until I was at least 27. My only contributions to art were the scribbles on my bedroom wall, and my poetry stayed relegated to the catacombs of deadjournal, where I hope they yet rest in peace.
None of these things were in and of themselves bad. They were sparkling dreams contrived by a young girl who had been taught that there was no goal so high she couldn't strive to reach it. The problem was never the dream. The problem was its execution. I never learned how to work for those dreams, and so, when I realized their non-sensibility, their impracticality, I gave them up, changed them, shifted them into what I assumed were more meaningful long-term goals.
I have come to realize though, as Tim Minchin did, the value of the micro-ambition. I value these bursts of desire for achievement for two primary reasons. First, as he suggests, they promote flexibility. I cannot imagine what opportunities I might have missed had I been too focused on an ultimate goal. Had I been determined to stick with music education as a career, I wouldn't have moved 700 miles away from the only home I'd ever known to learn a new trade. Had I been determined to continue my doctoral studies, as I had planned to do, I would have both likely lost the love of my life and been another hundred thousand dollars or so in debt. Had I not seen the value of entering one small writing contest, then another, then another, I never would have even considered the possibility of becoming a writer. Had I not been fortunate enough to win one of them, I likely would not be nearing completion of my first novel. Each of these accomplishments arrived thanks to one small shiny thing that managed to distract me from what I thought was my final goal.
Second, micro-ambitions give you something small and achievable to which you can apply yourself much more effectively and consistently than if your life is defined by enslavement to a particular path. My whole adult life has come down to discovering and chasing a series of micro-ambitions. Complete this class. Finish this degree. Get this job. Be admitted to this program. Move to this place. Write this story. Publish this poem. Finish this novel. Whether I knew what I was doing or not, I set myself goals which, while rather large, were small in comparison to my childhood dreams. Because these goals were smaller, I achieved them with an awareness of what could be done now and well, rather than what would take a lifetime of work and might still never see fruition.
At the end of the day, I do still have dreams. I'd like nothing more than to end up on the bestseller list one day. My dreams may be flighty, but I value them more for their fickleness. Every day is another opportunity to make my dreams come true, because every day is an opportunity to bring a new dream to life. For now? My dream is to finish Book 1. Then perhaps Book 2 and Book 3 (both already in the initial planning stages). After that, who knows? Maybe I'll throw in the towel on writing and go back to school, finish that Ph.D. Maybe I'll open a restaurant selling gourmet grilled cheese* or a bookstore or a corner coffee shop with lattes that don't taste burnt (Sorry, Starbucks).
I don't know just yet. I've honed in on the shiny thing of the moment. But as to what comes next? I'm still watching the periphery.
*I'm serious about the gourmet grilled cheese. Ever tried a jalapeno popper grilled cheese? Mine are phenomenal -- definitely better than his. I also make a killer feta/red pepper grilled cheese. Watch out world. It's coming.