Past vs. Current Dreams: Discerning Which To Chase and Which To Leave Behind

Grapple is a great word. It’s kind of like a simple hybrid for “Granny Smith Apple,” like the whole word was just smashed together. Grapple.

Recently I’ve been grappling with letting go of past dreams to make room for new dreams. I feel like a juggler who bought a new set of juggling balls, but who refuses to let go of the old ones. I am juggling more than I can handle.

I toss around old and new questions, circling in the air around me. I want nothing more than to just put a few of the balls down, but then what kind of juggler would I be? Letting go of old dreams feels like regression to me.

I’ve recently been strongly considering pursuing a Masters in Social Work. And yet my brain screams in caution about academic degrees, What about your Masters in Public Health you’ve always dreamed of? What about pursuing an English degree? Couldn’t you just be a nurse practitioner and maximize use of your degree?

And too – it screams about cities to live in: What about Seattle? What if you go your whole life without living in Washington state? Can you ever forgive yourself? 

And also – it screams about leaving: What if you leave Milwaukee and feel lost? What if you get so homesick you can’t function? And the worst of all – What if you leave Milwaukee and never move back?

My brain has figured out that if I never leave, I never need to worry about being homesick because I’ll never have left. The anxious mind craves safety. In the screaming storms of anxiety, I have been appealing to my brain’s desire. It wants to be safe.

My brain screams about the thing’s I’ll miss – What if you leave and something happens to Terese? Or you don’t see your family for years. Or you want to visit your mother’s grave and you can’t because you are plane rides away. Or what if you relationship crumbles because you’ve moved away?

My brain juggles the past dreams of International Aid. What if you never become a Peace Corps volunteer? What if you never live abroad? And in the next breath it screams the opposite, Do you you really even want to go live abroad? You could be unsafe. You’d have little to no community. Are you doing this because you genuinely want to or because the past version of you wanted to? Are you forcing yourself to do something unnatural for you? Are you throwing away the stability you’ve worked so hard to create?

Anxiety is a beast, and it rages in the midst of discernment. My discernment process feels like walking forward in the middle of a Sahara desert sandstorm. The wind is my anxiety, pushing against me, pushing me back. My journey is forward, yet anxiety makes it radically difficult.

I believe I am destined for something great, and yet, I am so scared to take a step. I am terrified for what this life has in store for me and yet, I fear deeply not becoming my best self.

I have made brave choices in the past – at age 22, I solo traveled for eight months living in strangers homes and working in the dirt. At age 25, I flew alone across the globe with a broken cell phone and throngs of foreign people. I have stood on a stage in front of thousands of people to deliver a university commencement address. I have chosen to dive deeply into my emotions by admitting that I needed professional therapy. At age 17, I chose to keep showing up to my life after I watched my mother die.

If I am brave, why am I so scared? Am I scared because this is the biggest decision I’ve yet to make? Am I scared of my own potential? Or am I more scared of loss? Both I think.

I am terrified. Something is changing, and I do not know where it will lead me or what I will do in the aftermath. I do not know who I will become, and I do not know what I will lose along the way in getting there. Do I want a life of extremity? Or do I want a life of satisfying comfort?

I do not know yet. And I am trying to be gentle with myself in the process. I idealize extremity – why be average when I could be remarkable? Why settle when I could have it all? Perfectionism is fuel and also, shackles. Perfectionism is a train on a track, not a car on an open road with freedom to swerve and turn.

Anxiety wants me to be a train. My soul wants me to be a car.

Thank you, reader, for getting this far. My brain is energized and lost. So, so very lost. Do you have advice? Any/all is welcome.

Another Mary Oliver reflection to close:

“I want to be improbable, beautiful, and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.”


Letting Go of Singularity: How to Redefine Our Thinking About Passion

Year is 2010. We are sitting in our high school auditorium. My friend Valerie, a brilliant violinist, sits on stage and plays the opening notes of a familiar wordless melody. Her seamless playing of every note draws a hush over the students. The violin’s melody serenades us, enveloping us in the crescendo of each note before it fades away. Moved, my heart swells. It whispers, This playing is perfect. Valerie is a master.

Valerie continues to play. Soon, though, another thought creeps in it:

What is the thing I want to perfect? 

Valerie stops. The song is over. As my concentration breaks, a disheartened thought enters, one that will linger for years:

What should I dedicate my life to? …and what if I choose wrong?

We think of career as if we have one shot. With so many options of what to be, of what to study, of what passions to dedicate time to, of jobs to work, how do we choose?

I find myself without a plan. I find myself spinning in the unknowingness constantly, do I move left or right? Up or down? Backwards or forwards? Through the constant questioning, I find myself standing in the same spot, day after day after day, and not due to lack of effort. I am trying. I am trying so, so hard.

Anxiety is historically uncharacteristic for me. Loneliness is too. As is Immobility. Frozenness. Quietness. Erraticism. Dullness. Trepidation. Reservation. All of them. But now, they govern me. My bright and life-loving former self ceded to a fear-based, risk-averse, stagnant, confused, timid version of me. It might not appear like it outside. It’s happening increasingly on the inside, like an unwanted dictator settling into the cushion on her new throne. I am governed by Fear.

I know it. And I hate it. My shoulders have never been so tensed for so long. My eyebrows are furled, and at the end of each day, I have a tremendous ache along my brow line. It aches as if I have spent the entire day exercising them, through really, they have just been squeezed in tension for hours.

This fear of making a wrong move has caused a temporary, nauseating paralysis in my life. I am too scared to take a new job, to move to a new city, to pursue a Masters Degree, to pick up a new hobby, to do anything new, because I am petrified that I will pick the wrong thing.

The fear has become this palpable and governing thing. It’s devastatingly real. I feel like an animal that’s been dead for so long that it’s muscles are now frozen into one particular position. I do not feel confident that I can move myself, change my shape, carry myself into a new career or a new place. I feel immobilized.

It is worsened by the deep knowing that this struggle is not some external force. The struggle is in my own brain. Knowing that the problem is inside of me makes me feel that I, innately, am broken too.

Today, a little sunlight shone in, giving me hope in a new perspective on career. For a long time, I upheld the idea of a singular profession – nurse or writer or psychotherapist or poet. Until today, when I discovered Emilie Wapnick’s community of people who believe the contrary – who believe that being a little good at a lot of things is a good thing. Emilie has named us “multipotentialites.” According to Emilie, multipotentialites are people who are not specialists at one particular field, but who are multi-interested in several fields. The intersection of those fields combined becomes our speciality, but it may not fit into one standard career path. It’s not only ok, but good! Really good.

The discovery has been quietly liberating, introducing me to the notion that maybe my own core belief about career is not so fixed. Instead of feeling like a failure at many roles, I am challenging myself to embrace the many roles. I am not a failure of a nurse, I tell myself. I am a nurse….AND ALSO, I am a nurse who fits more in a niche nursing role (travel medicine). AND ALSO – I am a writer. And I am not a failure of a writer, but I am a writer who does more than just write. AND ALSO – I am an artist, not the best artist in the world, but an artist who appreciates sketching and pottery and dance.

Emilie has created a community for people who feel similarly, who feel that defining themselves as a specialist is not the most effective implementation of their skills nor use of their personality type. Instead, they are people with many skills, skills that often are not associated with a particular career path.

I am a word-based person. I tend to believe that if there isn’t a word for it, it doesn’t exist. Emilie gave me a big gift today – by creating a word to explain what I am. A multipotentialite. This week, I am learning to embrace a new idea of identity, a new way to understand my many passions. I am learning to let go of the idea of a singular calling.

Instead of feeling lost, I am trying to feel grateful, grateful for the many vocations. What a gift it is to feel so many passions calling my name.



Instead of asking ourselves “What is my career?” ask “What are my careers?”

Instead of “What is my passion?” ask “What are my passions?”

And check out Emilie’s community of other well-rounded people at!

What Birthday Candles & Deepak Chopra Taught Me About Becoming a Writer

Do you make wishes? I do. I am a wish-maker-die-hard. I wish when the analog clock reads 11:11. I wish when I blow out birthday candles. I wish when I see a shooting star. I wish when I pluck a white-headed dandelion, blowing its seeds away as they swirl off on a breeze. That is my favorite form of wishing.

I believe in wishes, in part because I’m a six-year-old at heart, in part because I truly don’t see the harm, and perhaps most realistically, in part because I believe in visualization and its correlation to manifestation. If you wish something, and then not just wish it but really begin to concentrate on it, you begin to pour energy into that wish becoming a reality.

One of my favorite recent reads is Deepak Chopra’s The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. Deepak’s work discusses the mind-body connection of health. In this book he explores coincidence, synchronicity, and the power of intention to change our lives. His metaphors are grand, and his syntax lyrical. However, even with my science-based bachelor’s degree, Deepak’s scientific reasoning is a little heady for me. I live in a very artistic feeling-based world, where sometimes physics data and neuroscience information doesn’t appeal as strongly as the lyricism of his spiritual teachings. Those I cling to.

In the book, Deepak quotes an ancient Vedic text, called The Upanishads, which state, “You are what your deepest desire is. As is your desire, so is your intention. As is your intention, so is your will. As is your will, so is your deed. As is your deed, so is your destiny.”

Stunning, isn’t it? It traces the path from desire to destiny.

In this year of immense change, I’ve been thinking frequently about where my next step is. I end up swirling in anxieties about how to get from Point A to Point B. I am impatient, and I am hungry for the manifestation of my career. In Point B, I want to be sitting at my local bookstore signing copies of my memoir. It is so easy to visualize! What is harder to visualize is the scrappy, gritty, daily grind – the practice of writing daily, the networking with other bloggers, the desire to build readership one person at a time. It is not as pretty to visualize. In one vision, I am in my favorite linen pants and funky jewelry, addressing a small group of readers interested in buying my book. In the other vision, I am holding my early morning coffee mug like a security blanket as I huddle in my old gray sweater, typing away at the keyboard. Point B and Point A do not look the same at all, and it feels like a quantum leap across an unknown middle ground.

I find this proverbial section of The Upanishads helpful because they emphasize the process, which does not easily lend itself to patience. We reach the finish line one step at a time, as frustrating as that truth is. We follow the process – first understanding our desire, then setting the intention, then focusing our will, then performing the deed, then becoming our destiny. It is a process; it is all a process.

Wishing, then, becomes more than wishing. If we take off its mask and strip away connotation, wishing is really desiring. To me, there’s nothing wrong with wishes. Because each wish, followed by intention, will, and deed, brings us a few steps closer to our destiny.

Little Winnowers, for us today, the challenge then is to move past the first step – past the step of desiring and onto the next step of intention. If I desire to be a writer, I set an intention for myself: I am going to write every morning.

Honoring the process moves us one step closer to actualizing those desires. Today’s reflection, this glimmer of The Upanishad’s Vedic wisdom is something I will keep close to my heart.

Keep what is necessary. Let go of what is not. Today is a step toward clarity.