Tilt Republic. Johannesburg. New York. Cape Town. London.

Dream on, Dreamer.

It’s seven fourteen and I’m standing on the platform waiting for the 7am train. Its late. Again. Next to me the platform is teeming with people of all ages, all in varying states of agitation at the prospect of having to explain with the same old excuses the reason for their tardiness.

Finally the train slides nonchalantly into the station and as I’m walking towards the doors, I notice a man, probably in his early 60s, hair white-grey, his black suit well worn, climb slowly into the waiting coach and slump down in the same place he does every day, seemingly unaffected by the unnecessary delay. He’s been doing this for a while, a really long while, and as I observe him, I’m suddenly swamped by a deep sadness. For him and for myself. I flash forward 30 years and all of a sudden it’s me, the tiredness seeping through my worn suit, comfortable with whatever might be thrown my way in the knowledge that I’ve seen it all before. Surely this can’t be my future? I don’t want to be this old man.  I don’t want to be comfortable with this situation. It’s all deeply depressing.

There seems to be this romantic notion that a wholehearted quest for the dreams we lost is somehow easily attainable, if someone could tell us how and if we would just put our minds to it.

In reality, there are very few of us following our dreams – and for good reason. There is a point to be made for following your heart, but in all honesty, what does a 16 year old know of life. Or a 25er for that matter. I’m 33 and I’m still a little short in the tooth. This notion that our dreams are something attainable if we simply try hard enough is a dangerous assertion. The problem is that for the most of us, this hope leaves us unfulfilled and feeling just a little more hopeless.

Dreams. We fill our lives with them. From an early age we’re asked what we want to be when we’re older and as we grow that matures from Fireman to Artist, Ballerina to Musician, but then logic kicks in and everyone we hold dear pushes their agenda on us.

“You won’t make money being a musician” they say and advise us to do something ‘real’, something that you can live on, survive on. And so we adjust our dreams and goals and maybe they become something more acceptable, like being a doctor or accountant or business man, MBA in hand, so you can make your millions and take the early exit into a pre-40 retirement.

If you’re one of the lucky ones and get to study, the truth is, you’ll likely end up working 60hour weeks, struggling to pay for the not-quite dream house, moderately expensive car and your 5 credit cards which are the result of low post-graduation pay, ridiculous student loans and the overwhelming feeling that now that you’ve finally started life you need to start stockpiling shit. And the cycle just gets deeper.

Alternatively, you might find yourself achieving your 5-year-old self’s dream of becoming a fireman. And you’d be the shit out of that fireman. At least for the first 15minutes, afterwhich your uniform will get ripped off to the aural nuances of “it’s getting hot in here” as a troupe of 40-somethings, in much need of dream-revival, ogle your firehose.

Your 5-your-old self is weeping inside. And for all the right reasons.

Lets be honest, how many of us have the guts to do what needs to be done? If we did, we’d have done it already. We listen to the preppy encouraging speeches, the internet memes or endless slew of self help books, videos, courses, tapes, podcasts, series… (you get my drift), because it makes us feel good. We’re apathetic, but it makes it feel attainable, because half the excuses we feed ourselves is that we don’t know what to do. None of it ever really helps, because we are pussies; we’re shitscared. We’re too damn fearful to do the small things like move company or jump a shitty relationship, why the hell would we trust ourselves to ditch our “boring ass LIVES” and follow our dreams? So in turn we’re left just a little bit more depressed. A little more hopeless. And this self help shit seems to simply be a great salf, silencing that inner voice that something is wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love the motivational “follow your dreams” speeches. I am a disproportionately large fan of most anything Tim Ferriss (author of the Four Hour Work Week) – probably one of the biggest life-hackers alive today. I’m drawn to that. I get excited. I get hopeful that maybe I can make my life different. The only thing we can be 100% sure of is that we are alive now. And one day we’ll die. And that day is guaranteed to come sooner than any of us expect. It doesn’t make any logical sense to spend our days doing something we hate just so it can fund us doing it again tomorrow (or in reality, we all-too-often end up working tomorrow to fund what we did today). It doesn’t make any sense.

None. So what are we doing?

There’s something that Bane says in the new Batman movie that’s really stuck with me- and I referenced it in a post about beauty on TiltRepublic – paraphrased, it’s that hope in a hopeless situation is the best form of torture. I think for the most part we are worse off knowing our lives could be better, because it requires decisive action from us when we really don’t want to do anything to change.

However there seems to exist an easier option. I’ve noticed a group of people that simply get down and work, do their time and then find pleasure in something else. Be it family,  their veggie garden, Arsenal or the Bokke.

I find it quite attractive and yet I hate it, because I don’t know how to be content like that. It makes me wonder if the secret isn’t so much in freeing yourself to do what you long for, but rather learning to like what you do or more probable – learning to live with it and finding happiness elsewhere.

We live in a society where we always want more. We always want the grass one field over and following our dreams is that big catch-all. Like Scrat from Ice Age with his acorn that’s always just out of reach or gets taken just as he thinks he finally has it, most of us never quite realize our dreams. We have awesome things happen all around us all the time, but we’re so caught up in the fantasy that we miss it and before we know it, we’re at that age, looking back on life and our dreams are dust slipping through our hands.

The downside of this is that it seems to take a cognitive dumbing down of your own potential and dreams. It really takes an acceptance that we are doomed never to achieve that deep ache within our souls. Only once we have conceded to that can we truly accept mediocrity and find fulfilment in lesser things.

Yet it remains attractive nonetheless. It’s less scary, less challenging and promises a quick win. If only we could lose that nagging itch for greatness.

So I find myself stuck between the two, as I suspect is the fate of many of us – too scared to truly follow my dreams yet unable to fully give up on them. Until I make that call I feel as if I’m doomed to walk empty, never fully enjoying life. A slave to the grind yet not numb enough to ignore that call within my soul. I don’t know how long I can keep on at this knowingly living in the middle. I know I will never truly be satisfied with anything less than following my dreams – my whole being longs for a mythical freedom. Something I’m finding tough to define, I just know I haven’t found it yet.

Strangely enough, I don’t think it’s achieving my “dreams” (the mythical child-born pinnacle) that’s the important thing for me. It’s going for them. Knowing that I tried. And in trying there really is no failure. There is failure in giving up. There is failure in not trying. There is failure in settling. But giving it a good go, finding that freedom to become who I long to be – that’s where I want to be.

I started this honestly thinking there was a way out in accepting the lesser road. I was going to tell you all to forget your dreams and rather throw your energy into being content with less, but  fuck that – I can’t bring myself to do it.

To those of you who, like me, are unwilling to fold, but seemingly lacking the guts to go all in, I have this to say:

Place your hands around the stack of chips that is your life and whether determined, hesitant, or with your eyes closed, push those damn things into the middle of the pot. Go all in.

Start being decisive. Start going for your dreams. Just start. Today. Life is great this way – you can always buy back in and the only thing you’ll ever owe is in missed chances.

Yes it’s scary. Fuck it’s scary. I’m fucking scared. But the alternative – being here with the same longing 20, 30 years down the line – is mortifying.

December 9, 2012 Early Tilt