I spent half a decade of my life living as lean as I could, hoping that I would eventually reach a point where I felt secure in my finances again.
So much time has passed since April 2006, since that day when I realized how truly precarious the financial situation in my life really was. Since then, I’ve been running from that moment, making every good choice I possibly could make.
It’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve felt that my financial and professional life has been anywhere close to healed. Even today, things are not as I would like them to be. I still have a mortgage I’d like to pay off. I still have a dream of living in the country. I have big professional dreams.
The success you want – the success truly worth having – doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years to make a mountain of debt go away. Years. It takes years to put your career on a track that you want it to be on.
Countless choices. Countless projects. Countless decisions to not spend money. Years and years of them.
Yet, there is success on the other side.
* * *
Often, when I’m practicing on the piano, my fingers feel incredibly clumsy and uncoordinated. I’ll sit there, flailing away at Clocks or Scheherezade, and I feel as though this piece is completely beyond me. I can’t possibly play this with any level of sophistication, I’ll think, and I’ll move on to something else.
For some reason, though, I go back to it. I’ll flail again. I’ll sound bad again. I’ll flail yet again.
Every once in a while, though, I’ll play some little phrase and it’ll sound beautiful. I’ll try to hold that perfect moment in my head for just a little while, and the memory of that wonderfully executed phrase keeps me going.
As time goes on, those little phrases become more frequent. It takes time, though – a lot of it. It is often estimated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach a level of professional excellence at a particular task.
It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but I can see little hints of it here and there.
* * *
A few years ago, I started a “dream fund.” This “dream fund” consists of money we’re setting aside to build the house both my wife and I dream of. There are trees nearby and perhaps a stream. There’s a barn behind the house. There’s some grass for the children to play on. Inside, there’s a pleasant little place for me to write, preferably one with a view of those trees.
When I first started that fund, the promise it held felt so close. I could almost believe that I would be able to close my eyes, wake up in a few days, and that fund would be full. We’d be moving into that house we’ve dreamed of.
When dreams meet reality, though, reality often wins. Our fund is still small. It has a long way to go before it can buy us that dream.
Each week, that fund grows a little bit. I watch it grow, and I make sure that we always have the resources to keep it growing.
Some day, we’ll be able to have that home we’re dreaming about. However, I now see that it’s a journey of a thousand miles, and each day is merely a step on that journey.
* * *
My greatest dream is to write a novel, creating a fictionalized world that will take people away from their lives for a bit, make them dream for a while, then return them back to their lives, perhaps a bit better for the process. I dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing that book on the shelves, a printed instance of the story I have in my mind.
I’ve written several novels over the years. None of them are good enough. I can tell by just a few pages that they’re not compelling enough to make it.
Yet, each time I get involved in the process of writing one, it’s better than before. The characters are more real. The plot turns are a bit sharper. The experiences are more engaging. The ideas left behind are more valuable.
I’ve seen more rejection letters than I can possibly count. With each one, I don’t see failure. I see a lesson that moves me closer to the letter that I dream of seeing.
* * *
My oldest son is five years old. In those years, I’ve watched him turn from a fuzzy picture on a sonogram into a helpless baby, then into a destructive toddler, then, slowly, into a quiet and thoughtful young boy who asks me questions about the nature of God and about the plight of others in the world.
Along each step in that journey, Sarah and I have been there. We’ve answered countless questions. We’ve patched up countless scratches and bruises. We’ve read countless stories. We’ve given countless hugs. We’ve nursed countless illnesses. We’ve spent countless hours and made countless hard decisions for his sake. All of these little steps have played a role in developing the boy I see at my side as I write this.
I have two other children on their own journeys. One is a three year old girl who is the freest spirit I have ever known. The other is a one year old boy who is just crawling over that cusp between infancy and toddlerhood.
Three stories being written, a page and a sentence and a word and a syllable at a time.
* * *
The great things in life never come easily. If you dream of a great career or a great life, don’t kid yourself into thinking that they’ll happen tomorrow when you wake up.
They will happen, but only if you work for them. They’ll happen only if you put in the hours of care and the countless good decisions that will make them happen.
If you want an easy ride, be prepared to be average. If you want something more, be prepared to work for it and be patient for the results.