The Pressure to Dream Big and the Beauty of Wanting Less
“What if I accept that all I really want is a small, slow, simple life? A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think it is enough.” ~Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui
Why do we feel such pressure to dream big? I think it starts in childhood when parents, teachers, and other adults start asking the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
One of the many problems with this question is its premise. In the classroom, at church, at youth camp, at home, you are not alone, and you’re able to hear, understand, and internalize how others might answer this question. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice changes in responses from one age group to the next.
For young children, the answer is very simple and correlates with their immediate environment. A little girl may answer that she wants to be a mother when she grows up. A little boy may answer that he wants to be a police officer. A pre-teen girl might say she wants to be a teacher, while a pre-teen boy might say he wants to be a detective. A teenage girl might want to be a singer when she grows up, or a teenage boy might want to be a football player.
By the time most of these children reach young adulthood, the answers will not be as varied and light-hearted as they used to be. The answers will start to have a certain pattern. The most common answers will be doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, pilots, engineers, etc.
There are certainly many reasons for this, but the one I want to highlight is financial freedom and all that comes with it.
At some point in our lives, we become aware of the power that money wields, and our dreams, aspirations, desires, and lifestyles begin to shape around it.
Where I come from, it’s not uncommon for teachers to advise students not to become teachers, but to try to become doctors or pilots because those professions usually make more money. Everything else is less urgent.
There is a strange story that we tell ourselves that states that, as long as there is money, everything else will fall into place. If you’re already well into your adulthood, you’ve probably made the unpleasant discovery of how untrue this story is. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve changed your goals.
Whether you become a doctor, a teacher, a creative, a small business owner, or something else, our dreams and aspirations usually take on very similar shapes.
Our dreams are no longer just about having a comfortable roof to call home, but about having an enviable location, income-generating properties, and vacation homes as well.
Our desire is no longer just to own a car for convenience but to own two or more cars, preferably expensive and good-looking ones.
Our goal is no longer just to be healthy, to have a perfectly functioning body in terms of strength, balance, flexibility, and proportions; it now has to be defined, toned, provocative, and basically a work of art to see, admire, and discuss.
Even a simple walk is no longer just a walk. You need to count your steps, calculate calories burned, and share your results.
Financial freedom is no longer about meeting everyday needs or putting a bit aside for a rainy season or emergency, but it is now a full-time job on top of your full-time job and side hustle.
With the advent of happiness gurus, vision boards, affirmations, and feel-good culture, our dreams and desires are becoming unbearable. There is now a formula to dreaming and desiring and an expected, standard result to match.
I always find it curious how almost all vision boards across the globe tend to look the same. It is even more curious when you account for the fact that we are all raised in different homes and different cultural and religious backgrounds, we physically look different, our educational background is varied, yet our desires, dreams, visions, and aspirations seem to have morphed into one.
Most common on the vision board are all the material possessions. The unique home, the expensive car, the enviable vacation destinations, the perfect partner, and despite our different genes, bone density, height, etc., the body goals are very similar if not identical.
We are all reciting the same morning and evening affirmations of prosperity and abundance.
You will be hard pressed to find a vision board that is filled with desires related to patience, kindness, apologizing, picking up trash, checking on your neighbor, calling family members more, feeding stray animals, finding contentment in your finances as opposed to making more money, being thankful that the bus stops next to your dwelling and that in that season you have no desire for a car, or making peace with the changes that come with: an aging body, a pregnant body, a sick body, a body that has carried and birthed other humans, a differently abled body, etc. There could be vision boards like this, but it’s not the norm.
We are all free to dream, desire, and visualize the kind of lifestyle we want; we all know this. What needs to be said is that you can also desire little and dream simply, and that your dreams and desires are still worthy.
You are not lazy, you do not possess little or no faith at all because your dream life, the one you visualize and create in your mind, those deep desires and longings, look something like this:
Walking or cycling to all the places you need to get to, buying second hand clothes, living in a simple home, eating what you grow and keep, creating your own entertainment with what you have and having a good time while at it, working and earning less, napping in the afternoon, reading on the balcony guilt-free, wailing away your evenings or weekends chatting with people, be they family, neighbors, friends, or just strangers, and showing up in your life make-up free, or without having to spend many hours and dollars on your appearance.
If you have never desired to wear expensive perfume and you are happy with a basic body spray or nothing at all, your desire is of value.
If you have crooked teeth but don’t have an overwhelming desire to get braces, you are not settling for less; you, my friend, have been touched by contentment.
Maybe you prefer to take walks, practice yin yoga or mat Pilates, or dance to your favorite music as opposed to doing HIIT and sweating at the gym. Yes, you have wide hips, a good dose of cellulite, stretch marks, perhaps a tiny stomach pooch, and the workouts you enjoy will not sculpt that body, but maybe you couldn’t care less.
No, you are not lazy for not wanting to put yourself through military-like training on a daily basis for a lifetime just to be an art form for others to enjoy. If you are at peace and see the value in the kind of body movements you enjoy, that is all there is to it.
If you don’t plan expensive vacations but instead choose to take small breaks in your everyday life—be it going to the seaside on the weekends, going to the beach in the afternoons, or just going for a hike once a week or treating yourself to lunch at a nice restaurant—these are all ways to relax and experience new things. You are not settling for a mediocre life just because you are doing life differently or cheaply.
Being financially poor by today’s standards should not equate, nor does it, to being mentally poor, physically poor, emotionally poor, friendship poor, relationship poor, happiness poor, joy poor.
You are not less of a person because you do not drive a fancy car (or any car), you live in a small apartment instead of a house you own, you do not own any luxury brands or items, you do not vacation in Greece, and you attended a small vocational college (or none at all).
Define what’s important and meaningful to you, and do not cast it in stone. Always allow yourself, your definitions, your ethos, your values, your dreams, your desires, your visions, your affirmations, your emotions, your body, and your belief systems to change, to evolve with time and the changing seasons of life.
Life doesn’t always have to expand, ascend, and increase. It also descends, decreases, and compresses. This is okay. All stages of life are worthwhile and hold value, and you are allowed to enjoy them, be in them, and be at peace while at it.