Four Lessons I Learned From Giving Up On My Childhood Dream

After seven years of 40-hour training weeks and missing my highschool graduation, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted.

1. Success does not equal happiness

I mean… what the hell is ‘success’ supposed to mean, anyway? The feeling of getting an A on your test; or winning the first-place medal; or maybe walking into a room and knowing you’re better than everyone else?

But none of those things have ever made anyone genuinely happy (the same way that alcohol hasn’t ever made anyone happy, or expensive clothes, or getting tons of likes on your post). It’s crazy to think that I thought it could.

But surely, I thought if I worked hard, and if everyone liked me, then I’d be happy. What a funny thing to think. Happiness isn’t a medal you win. Happiness isn’t a before-and-after picture. It’s not even a collection of people who pat you on the back say “yes, you’re good enough now”.

No happy person became happy because they deserved it. You can’t earn happiness. It’s just an emotion. And emotions come and go.

People tried to tell me that success wasn’t the source of happiness, but I didn’t care. “They’re wrong, I know better…they’re just trying to feel better about their own mediocrity”. Being happy without success was the fantasy of someone who’d given up. Someone who settled in marriage, in an unfulfilling job that barely pays, sleeping in every Sunday because they’re mediocre.

But guess what? I love sleeping in on a Sunday. Other times I love waking up early to watch daylight creep through the sky until the sun greets me. But either way, I’m doing it for me, this is my life, and I don’t care whether or not I measure up to some made-up measurement of success.

Success through achievements means nothing if success doesn’t include happiness. And no, contrary to what my sixteen-year-old self believed, being successful will not automatically make you happy.

I’ve stopped trying to be happy. Instead, I try to live and learn and love and cry. I’m not trying to become ‘good enough’. Life is this weird soupy mess and I’m just going to make the best of it.

2. Everything is relative

Everything you believe is an opinion. Reality is shaped by your perspective. Nothing is ever right or wrong, it’s all just perspective.

“The world ultimately is what we say it is.”
― David Friedrich Strauss

A deep-sea jellyfish sees a completely different world than I do. It doesn’t know the feeling of inhaling a big gulp of air, it doesn’t see the vividness of the color orange. It doesn’t feel the way humans do. But it still perceives something — not air or love or color, but something. It has different senses. For the jellyfish, the way it sees the world is the only way the world exists. The world exists beyond what the jellyfish sees. The world also exists beyond what you can see.

How many things exist in the universe that I don’t have the capacity to see?

Even different people perceive reality differently. Have you ever had an argument with someone, only to disagree on the details of an event? Often two people’s memory of the same event is different.

We have infinite blindspots. Some of them are physical, like colors we can’t see. Other blindspots are psychological, mental, or even spiritual.

These blindspots aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just a side effect of making sense of the world. With trillions of bits of energy and matter and stuff floating around in the universe, we have to make sense of it somehow. Sometimes I need have to look at the universe or God or whatever and pick something to believe in, otherwise, I’ll go crazy. There’s just too much to process.

But whatever I believe in is relative and shaped by perspective. We need to make up narratives to make sense of the world. Every narrative paints a different picture. No one sees things the same way, yet it’s all valid.

I’d spent my entire life believing a certain narrative, and giving up on my childhood dream was throwing it all away. All my assumed beliefs disappeared like the floor under my feet. It was scary. I learned that anything I believe is subject to change. It doesn’t matter how I am of any truth. I could still wake up tomorrow and realize it’s all wrong (maybe not wrong, since it’s all relative, but something that no longer fits with my narrative). Nothing is certain, but everything is temporary.

3. True change comes from a shift in values

Some people try to grow all the time, yet they stay the same. You could keep reading self-help until you’re rotting in the ground. Taking a cold shower or cutting out carbs isn’t going to change you.

Real change — not the superficial kind that lives on a comfy list of New Year’s Resolutions — comes from a shift in values. Remember how I was saying that everything is relative? This is putting that relativity into action. Change happens when you shift your life’s narrative.

“We are the product of our past. We start each day where we left off the day before. Changing the way we dress, where we work and live, or even changing a name does not alter our basic constitution. Transformation of the self requires a radical alteration in the way that we perceive the world and derive meaning.”
― Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls

True change doesn’t happen every day, and it doesn’t need to. It’s good to strive for growth, but expecting to do so non-stop is kinda crazy, and completely missing the point of what ‘growth’ is. You don’t have to be constantly changing. Sometimes sitting in the person you are today, and showing up as the best version of you, is enough.

Every so often, if you continue to strive to be the best you, you will change. It hurts. It’s tough. It usually happens when you realize that your old narratives are no longer serving you, so you throw them out.

True change happens when the things you believe about life change. It happens intrinsically, from the inside out, and once it starts, there’s no going back.

4. No sacrifice is ever really wasted

Some people study years for a degree, only to realize that they want to switch paths. Some people change careers at 50 years old. Others will invest years into a relationship that goes nowhere. And lots of people change their minds. That’s okay.

Changing your mind after sacrificing time and effort can be scary. Sunk cost fallacy makes giving up feel like you wasted your time. But I don’t think any effort is ever wasted, even if it didn’t lead you in the direction you originally intended.

Maybe this is something I tried to convince myself because I gave up everything — going to highschool, living with my parents, having a normal life — to chase this dream.

But I don’t think that’s the case. I truly feel that life experience is what makes us who we are. I wouldn’t want to be a version of myself without that life experience. Because of that, my sacrifice could never be a waste.

When I run into childhood friends who had a ‘normal’ adolescent experience, I realize that they are exactly the same. Their clothes may be a bit trendier, their voices a bit more confident, they aren’t the same baby-faced virgins I left behind — but they’re the same. They are the exact same person they were ten years ago, only older.

My sacrifices changed the trajectory of my life forever. I can never go back to coasting through life.

Okay, I might have lied…Bonus point number 5.

5. Any choice worth making will hurt. A fuck ton

Chase your dream? Pain. Give up on it to pursue something different? Also pain. Fall in love with someone? So much pain. Decide not to fall in love? A different type of pain.

Anything worth doing hurts. Life is made up of tiny silly things that don’t really matter and a few other things that really matter.

Just because the decision hurts doesn’t mean you’re making the wrong one. It just means that it matters. Any choice worth making isn’t easy.

The only thing worse than a difficult choice is making no choice at all. After all my years of training, devotion, and sacrifice to my dream, I realized that it could never make me happy. I loved it, but I knew that I’d spend the rest of my life miserable. I made the most difficult choice, and I’m better today because of it.

In the end, I knew that my childhood dream wasn’t what I expected. So now, I’m taking a new path.

Hey, we’re both tiny specks in a universe full of stars that happened to exist at the same time. Cool!