Martin Luther King wasn’t the only one that had a dream. We all have a dream. Every. Single. One of us. His was big. Huge, in fact, and it makes me sad that to this day, his dream still hasn’t been realised. So I play it safe. I dream small in comparison. Like many people, my dream is to write and publish a novel. It is something I’ve wanted to do since I was ten years old, and I haven’t managed to fulfil it, nor have I managed to shake it.
Long before I decided once and for all that I was going to write my novel, I was starting to think about where I was going with my life. I was turning thirty-five, not particularly old, but an age where you’re supposed to be ‘there’. You’re supposed to be ‘sorted’. To anyone looking at me, I was sorted career-wise: I had a good job, I had money, I had security, I had seniority, but I wasn’t happy. Somewhere along the line, whilst forging ahead and ‘getting on with living’, I had left happiness behind.
Despite trying to ignore it, the dream wasn’t going anywhere. It was hanging around, determined to get my attention. Its tactics changed from pestering to bullying on a daily basis. Some days my unfulfilled dream was like a Jack Russell in a YouTube clip. It would jump up and down behind a fence I had constructed in the back of my mind, joyful and enthusiastic. It was telling me I could do it, that I had to do it. On other days, the Jack Russell was replaced by a mean, playground bully. Taunting me. Jibing at me, Sucking at my confidence and self-esteem and telling me that others can do it, but I’m just not good enough.
That I’ll never do it.
In response, I told myself that one day I’d write a novel but that I just couldn’t right now, because it was too big an undertaking and I just didn’t have time. I constantly used work as an excuse not to write my novel, it was a handy one. I could rely on that old chestnut forever if I really wanted to. Work was always going to be there, this huge obstacle/excuse. But why was I hiding from my dream? It took a long time for me to accept the fact that it wasn’t because it was too big, or that I didn’t have time- but that I was afraid of failure.
I was terrified of having had this dream for most of my life, going for it, and failing spectacularly. Fear was making me procrastinate. Fear was making me look for excuses not to write everywhere I could. Fear was stopping me from making a plan. It was all down to fear.
How did I overcome this crippling fear?
I overcame it by turning the fear around. I decided to use fear as a motivator.
The fear of regret.
About a year ago I came across an online article written by a woman named Bronnie Ware entitled ‘Regrets of the Dying’. This wonderful woman worked for many years in palliative care and had, for the benefit of the living, recorded the five most common regrets that people have on their deathbeds. Ignore this list at your peril!
One of them was ‘I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself…’ another was ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. These two in particular resonated with me. After reading the article I visualised myself on my deathbed (morbid I know, but bear with me…). Not that I have any choice in the matter, but I plan on dying a peaceful death when I’m very, very old, despite having lived a life of debauchery and excess. I’ll be lying in a very comfortable bed surrounded by my adoring, and impossibly perfect progeny. One of my many great-great-grandchildren, a gorgeous little cherub, of course, will lean in and say:
‘Nanny, I know you have achieved much in the 124 years you have been on this earth, but surely you must have some regrets. Tell us Nanny, what is your biggest regret?’
A hush will immediately descend over the room. The many and varied fruit of my loins will move forward, straining to hear my words of wisdom. I’ll open my mouth, and in a feeble, faltering voice say:
‘Not writing my novel’, before uttering a dry, dignified cough and dying with a permanent look of regret stamped on my features.
The more likely scenario is that I’ll open my mouth to speak, but instead break wind loudly, and immediately expire, but regardless, I’ll still regret not having written my novel. Regrets are shitty things to have. What a tragedy it would be, to be preoccupied by regret in the final days of your life, when you should be looking back on all you have achieved. I owe it to that flatulent old lady to write my novel. So that is what I will do. I’ll write it. Be it good, or bad, wherever may lead me, it will be written, and today is as good a day as any to start.