A Special Message for the Over Thirty Crowd

"Only a handful of people define their talents prior to acquiring their driver's licenses; few still find themselves in an environment supportive of their aspirations; and even fewer enjoy liberal access to the tools and training necessary for the cultivation of their possible genius. Yet we often compare ourselves with this fortunate few when judging our own abilities. We stand in awe of Mozart, whose tiny fingers danced the keyboards at four; Picasso, who mastered drawing at ten; and even cousin Sally, whose childhood dream of becoming a doctor was fulfilled before her twenty-fourth birthday. 

Most of us, however, gave little consideration to our future prospects as we floated contently down the myriad rivers of childhood and adolescence. We let our circumstances define us; the words of parents, peers and teachers strongly influenced the directions in which we drifted. Suddenly, we find ourselves in grown-up clothes, caught up in the daily grind. We may stop and ask, "How did I get here?" only to uncover no satisfactory answer. Yet the very act of questioning widens our perspective - a revelation may result, followed by the recognition of a latent potential, a dream long forgotten, and an overwhelming sense that anything is possible. Unfortunately, these fleeting moments quickly pass. Our bills seem to be cloning themselves in the mailbox and the telephone is ringing again. We have neither the time to acknowledge childhood fancies nor the energy to follow the oracle's advice and truly 'know' ourselves. Our dreams remain unbloomed. 

We are lawyers yearning to be teachers, teachers who'd rather be restaurateurs, accountants aching to express ourselves with oil paints, homemakers fantasizing about high-powered careers, high-powered career women fantasizing about homemaking, psychiatrists craving lives as jazz pianist, and anyone who houses a dream yet untried. Perhaps, your dream remains unnamed, patiently awaiting definition, and calling to you only when the moon is blue. The subtle nagging of the neglected dream may take the shape of addictive behavior, a sudden anxiety, a midnight epiphany shouting for a more meaningful life, an ongoing depression, or a sense that some mysterious geyser of creative force rests dormant within the depths of your psyche. Listen: If you quiet your mind and still your body, you will feel your dreams beckon. 'Acknowledge us, nourish us, and embrace joy,' they whisper.

Sustaining the dream and working toward its fulfillment is a tough enough task for anyone, and Late Bloomers, in particular, will find themselves constantly battling the dream-destroying affliction know as discouragement. Modern culture is overly youth-oriented. The under twenty-three crowd feasts at the table of dreams, while Late Bloomers, having passed up the edibles ten years back, must now risk their egos for a scrap. Ideally, adulthood would instill us with the freedom and confidence necessary to full grow into ourselves; more often, if simply demands that 'youthful' icons of Conscious Rebellion, Risk, Energy, Creativity and Change are replaced with the more 'mature' deities of Insurance, Stability, Compliance, and Rootedness. In worshipping the latter pantheon, the idea of being 'grown-up' becomes a terminal condition. (No wonder Peter Pan complexes abound in modern society.) Because stability implies safety, the Late Bloomer's anticipated metamorphosis may threaten those who feel comfortable in 'knowing you like a book.' Blooming heralds transformation. When loved ones tell you they love you just as you are, they mean it. So if you're forty-two and itching to master the art of belly dancing, learn the  trombone, or resume working toward that Ph.D. in archeology, don't be surprised if your friends don a worried expression and offer referrals to psychotherapists and marriage counselors. Change frightens most people - a familiar backyard tree cannot uproot itself and dance on the sidewalk without causing a ruckus! Assure your loved ones that while sturdy roots are fundamental to surviving typhoons, joy prefers brightly coloured blossoms and the quivering leaves of wayward branches. Roots and Wings only seem mutually exclusive. Really.

But where loved ones and societal restrictions prove hurdles in the road to self-realisation, the Late Bloomer's greatest obstacle is her own self doubt. The poet William Blake, recognising doubt as an insidious sorcery, wrote, 'If the Sun & Moon should doubt / They'd immediately Go out.' Ah, but you consider yourself neither as radiant as the sun nor as mysterious as the moon, and to prove it you comprise a tall list of prerequisites which need be fulfilled before you begin attending to the dream-in-waiting. You need more time, money, talent, encouragement, hair and a house on the beach; if only you were blonder, taller, smarter, firmer, violet-eyed or shorter. 

Consider the long-suffering protagonist of Charles Schulz' Snoopy comic strip. Every Halloween Charlie Brown receives rocks in lieu of treats. Not because he's prematurely bald, but because he's the type of kid who compels the giver to 'trick' rather than 'treat' - his attitude, if you will, solicits rocks. When Charlie Brown decides to stick his head out the window of his low self-esteem and shout, 'I'm not going to take it anymore,' he'll get candy. Life can be likened to a huge, perpetually changing canvas. How it appears at any given moment depends on who's holding the brush. Charlie Brown has painted himself in clothes of a loser. Unfortunately he lacks the knowledge (and confidence) to don the artist's smock and repaint himself in a happier suit. 

Zen teachers create riddles called koans to impress upon their students this idea that they are the painters of their reality, 'Who is the Master who makes the grass green?'

Dig deep enough into your own pockets and you'll find enough point and brushes to keep you busy until the final sleep. That's right, the answer to the riddle is that you are the master; the green grass exists only in your head. If you don't believe me ask your dog, or a color-blind friend. As the philosopher Nietzsche once noted, 'We are all greater artists than we realize.'

I am a verb

Defining yourself by what you do for a living is a sure way to limit your potential and sabatoge your dream. Imposing labels on yourself (as if you were  a can of Campbell's Soup) may cause you to buy into the idea that you are what you do, and dissuage you from even thinking to add tomato bisque to the cream of mushroom. It helps to think like a Hopi Indian. Because the Hopi language lacks the subject-predicate structure of Indo-European languages, it is impossible to define yourself by your job title when you're not actually on the job. 

For example, a Hopi Woman defines herself by what she is doing at present, understanding herself to be a dancer when she dances; a hunter, when hunting; a mother, when mothering; a cook, when cooking; and a poet, when creating. The Hopi people perceive themselves as being in a constant state of flux - that is, they see themselves as verbs, rather than nouns, realizing that there's more than one answer to the 'Who am I' question. Danger resides in absolute definitions, and we all might find some personal liberation in adopting the phrase, 'I am a verb' as our personal mantram. The focus is on the process, not product; on journey, never destination. The dancer disappears when the dancing stops, clearing the room for the next dreamer, and another dream. 

Unfortunately, many people prefer to subscribe to age-ist notions such as 'old dogs can't learn new tricks' and/or static dogmas like 'rolling stones gather no moss.' Late Bloomers, however, can credit themselves as being smarter than hounds and more limber than stones. Modern science proves that change is the only constant, and physiological fact informs us that our bodies rebuild themselves, cell by cell, approximately every seven years. You won't be a finished product until you're embalmed or frozen! 'Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life' is still a worthy affirmation. 

 What? You say you're too old, fat, busy and tired to care about the infinite potential that lurks right where you are sitting now. Do your father's warnings about the risks of starting your own business still ring in your ears? And what about those mortgage payments and the omnipresent seduction of the television set? Throw procrastination a bone and get on with it. 'I can't' and 'I'm not good enough' are the mantras of the terminally unbloomed. You don't have to quit your job (at least not unitl you can afford to), but you must be courageous enough to risk a few preliminary falls from perfection. 

Whatever you do, wipe your mind clean of any ideas which correlate the pursuit of the dream with shame or failure. You've probably been told, at least once in your life, that if you can't do it right (the first time!), you as well give it up - that dream's just not your cup of tea. Imagine giving away your rollerskates after the first four crashes, or quitting college when it comes time to study James Joyce, or neglecting to ask for that deserved raise because the boss might say no. 

Fear of failure is the only real failure. Fear teaches you to accept limitations before you've ventured far enough to realize where your true limitation stand. Fear chokes imagination, smashes dreams, and conceals the vital purpose of your life. In learning to fear challenges and short-term failure, your forfeit the prerogative to write, direct and star in the performance entitled YOUR LIFE. The proverbial ghost is given up before it's had the pleasure to boogie. But it's not too late: The spirit of life waits just beyond the corner of your doubt. 

Globs of perserverance, a pinch of daring, a dash of imagination, and dollops of self-confidence are the ingredients essential to manufacture the dream. The dream requires work, focused will, and steadfast devotion, but the hour a day spent studying for contractor's license, practicing yoga, penning sonnets, experimenting with watercolors, or preparing gourmet dishes hardly requires sacrificing your children's education or neglecting your spouse. Rather, as your sense of self-fulfillment rises, the general quality of your life will improve. Your work gets smoother, and the kids will learn confidence and creativity by your example. 

If luck blows you a kiss, your leisure may become lucrative. That homemaker who's earned neighborhood acclaim for her oatmeal cookies ('love' being the secret ingredient), now sells a hundred bags a week to the local markets, while the accountant, after cutting his workload and living two years on rice and beans, finally finishes a sci-fi novel and receives a big advance. Sure, international recognition may not always ensue, but remember: Happiness resides in the mind of the optimist."