I recently had a birthday. As my birthday is very close to the new year, it is just that much more reflective a season for me. I go over the past year and tally up the positive and negative experiences I've acquired. All things considered, this has been a pretty good year for me and I had mercifully few nagging recollections of missed opportunities or parties where I spilled salsa on the crotch of my pants. These days I mostly notice how much time I didn't spend with friends and family. What I once took for granted, the thing that came so easy only a few years ago- quality time with the people I love, is now something I have to actively work for. Without putting in the effort, I can go long stretches of time, missing vital moments and unable to keep up with the variety of struggles that I could perhaps be of some emotional assistance in. I never had to try to do this in the past. It's as though the earth's rotation sped up and every day I am lucky to accomplish one solitary item from my to-do list. Time for hanging out has just seemed to evaporate as I've tumbled further into adulthood.
When I was a kid I was desperate to be older. 364 days of the year, the fractions "and a half" or "and three quarters" followed any proclamation of my age. The day before my 10th birthday, for example, I was 9 and 3/4ths. The day after, I was 10 and 1/2. Now at 32 I'd much rather call myself 31 and 5/4ths. That's math humor by the way, just in case you were curious how cool I am.
Here in Los Angeles, many of us spend our birthdays in a slump. Depressed over how little we've accomplished, embarrassed to have to conceal another slash on the wall of time and desperate to convince ourselves that we're not too old to be considered relevant. This is then followed with an assessment of the pros and cons of giving up whatever dream we're chasing. You begin considering any other options, forming escape plans and longingly ruminating on your cousin with the steady job with benefits and a salary not dependent on just how much some guy likes his frappachino. You question why you are still out here, what you're doing, if you're just wasting your time and if it's too late to still have an actual life.
The truth is, not every single one of us is supposed to turn out exactly how we thought we would when we were 15. We can intellectually comprehend the notion that not every aspiring artist is going to be good and that just because you want something- even something you are willing to endlessly chase- does it mean you'll get it. This notion used to be devastating for me. It just didn't seem fair and it ran in the face of what we're told as kids of "if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!" What we never bothered to consider is "but if millions of kids are all setting their mind to the same dream, won't it be up to a series of middle men and gate keepers to lord their hollow power over us and keep us from achieving anything?" Maybe the problem is that we just can't seem to diversify our dreams. Maybe if we didn't all want to do the same thing we'd have a better chance at reaching some ground where the population is a little less dense. But then, for that to happen, our culture would need to show us a few more options for winning the "life lottery". The trick is discovering that maybe there isn't just one thing that could make you happy. That maybe there is something else that you're good at- maybe even better at, that you might excel at in ways you could't have dreamed. When I moved to Los Angeles, I wanted to be a screenwriter. I haven't stopped wanting that per say, but it was out of my inability to get a film made that my hobby of street art took a more substantial role in my life. It was a way to just get something out of my system creatively. To take my words to an audience without the need for permission. As time has continued, my street art has become the foremost method of creative expression in my life- one that has satiated me in ways that screenwriting has thus far been unable to. As I've struggled through the years I've lived as one of the millions in this city chasing a dream, it's become clear that we have to keep our hearts open to the idea that maybe we're not chasing the right destiny. We can't beat ourselves up if we change course or modify our picture of the future. Sometimes we can discover that even on the off chance that we actually got what we wanted, would we find that we could be happier doing something else. This is not the same as giving up. Giving up can only be defined by your heart accepting defeat and choosing a life that is unequivocally easier. Redefining your future, discovering a new path to happiness or just trying out something else shouldn't turn us into emotional Flagellants.
So as the new year begins, I challenge you all to take a long look at where you are. You could be on the exact path that you need to be on. Even if you are not the slightest bit successful at it, stay the course and keep your chin up. For those who might have a tiny voice in their heads that asks, "Is there anything else that might not be as frustrating a future to be grasping at?" take a moment to consider this without condemnation. Success isn't just for the people who didn't give themselves any other option. There's no reward for burning every bridge to the future but the one in which you become a movie star. Or a rock star. Or a patient in a time travel experiment. Believe me, I've scoured Craigslist for years and no one is looking for someone to Quantum Leap into different adventures- and if they have, someone else got the gig. It's unfair but I've made peace with it. The point is, I promise you that there is more than one way to be happy. There is more than one destiny in which you make a positive contribution. There is more than one way to give your gift to the world- so keep your heart and mind open to discovering it.