Updated: Feb 25
I found the papers within a briefcase belonging to my late great uncle. It was tan leather with a lock beneath the handle. I remember feeling weary over the lock, as I was already missing several keys to locked drawers. Miraculously, the case clicked opened. When I saw it was filled with papers, I craved putting it on the ‘toss’ pile, but as the executor of his estate, I had made a personal commitment to look at every single piece of paper in his Boston condo. Earlier that day, I had thumbed through stacks of handwritten bank deposit slips from the 1960s. The briefcase looked to be around the same era and had spent the last several decades next to a collapsing bookcase, doing a stellar job of gathering dust. After I deciphered his writing on the pages I held, it only took a few seconds for me to decide the impact his words would have on my life.
Both my grandfathers passed away before I reached double digits, so after I moved to Boston in 2007, my Uncle Joe became a grandfatherly figure in my life. He had been a professor and lived to teach. A key lesson he tried teaching me was to ‘go into the unknown.’ Meaning, don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on living fully today. There were a few hurdles to me learning that lesson: I was extremely risk averse, my plans had back-up plans, and I interpreted ‘living fully’ to mean ‘live your purpose’ and frankly, I had no idea what my purpose was.
Uncle Joe was a gifted writer and for years, he talked about writing a book. At the end of his life, the doctors kept telling me that he might be holding on so he could finish his book. I had to explain that he had been saying that for 7 years. The book would not be finished.
Which is why, after finding that briefcase, I was stunned when I read the headings, ‘introduction to my book’ and ‘for chapter one.’ I had thought his book was an idea he had later in life. Finding those pages made me realize that it had been so much more. It had been a dream for decades. One that on his deathbed, he still wanted to fulfill.
I decided right then that I didn’t want someone going through my papers after my death and reading about an unfulfilled dream. I set out on a mission to identify all my unfulfilled dreams and take action.
Everyone has dreams. They become fulfilled when they become a goal with a plan. Add in hard work and even the seemingly unattainable, becomes attainable. As long as I can remember, I wanted to live in New York City. At age 27, I moved there and for the next five years, I lived out that dream.
There are dreams that go unfulfilled. I wanted a red jeep wrangler. When I bought my first new car – I realized that it was unpractical and too expensive. Sometimes, dreams go unfulfilled because they are postponed until certain pre-conditions are met, often set by the dreamer. I wanted to buy a house with a yard, but not until I was married.
Then there are the pipe dreams. Pipe dreams are something different. They are the dreams we believe are so fantastical that we won’t even speak them out loud.
As I took inventory of all my dreams, I began discovering that through my deepest of pipe dreams,
was also my purpose in life. The answer was always within me, wrapped up in dreams.
I created a risk-averse plan for action, but I kept hitting barriers. The Universe obviously thought I needed to jump in with both feet at once. Unfortunately, for me to accept that, I had to be pushed to the edge: In the scope of two years, I experienced Uncle Joe’s death, taking care of his estate, an unexpected change of job, a move, and my own health challenges that took eight months to diagnose. I can’t explain it, but with each experience, the insatiable feeling of what I was supposed to do with my life kept getting stronger. I finally decided that enough was enough. I took Uncle Joe’s advice and went in to the unknown. Forget that – I leapt, with only my dreams and my newfound purpose in life. A plan was in hand, but no safety net.
I took the leap in August of 2019 and have yet to reach the other side. I feel like I’m suspended in mid-air, with nothing below me. I did everything in one fell swoop: bought a house, quit my job, moved from Boston to Traverse City, and started a business full-time. Every morning I wake up not knowing what the day will hold, and every night I fall asleep not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
Why am I telling an unfinished story? It’s simple: I would make the leap again. I love living in the unknown and when I think about the lack of net below me, it spurs me to give it my all. Doing what I’m meant to do has given me a peace I’ve never known. I could wait and tell you how it turns out, but for me – I’ve already succeeded. Whatever tomorrow brings, I am all in, and when I die and people read about my dreams, they will know that they were fulfilled and that I gave them my all.
I know every situation, dream, and person is different. What I hope you take from my leap is that whatever your dreams are, there are things you can do to fulfill them. It doesn’t matter how it ends up – what matters is that you tried. It doesn’t matter what tomorrow holds; it’s about living fully today.
*An edited version of this story appears in Grand Traverse Woman Magazine, Jan/Feb 2020 issue.