In my mid-thirties I began having a recurring dream that involved me opening a door in my home and finding all these hidden rooms. I’d wander around, thinking, “how could I not have known about this?” The rooms were always dusty, dimly lit, cluttered with junk. I entered with trepidation, but elated at the possibility of all that space. I’d wake feeling sad, like I’d lost something important.
Life was good in my thirties; I got married, began a challenging career as a high school teacher and fell effortlessly into the dance of domesticity; my husband and I stripped wallpaper and painted a new home, cooked healthy food, worked, paid bills, exercised. We were content.
But at night, I’d get lost in those rooms, feeling anxious and excited at my discovery, thinking, “a little paint here, some bookshelves there…,”then the somber realization upon waking.
Something was missing in my life, but what?
There were times in my thirties where I’d feel the same unease and elation that I experienced in those dreams; when my husband I would write songs together, when I’d get an idea for a short story or when I’d read a really great book, visit a museum or see a thought-provoking film.
It didn’t occur to me overnight, but at some point I realized that the emotions inspired by these brushes with creativity were reminiscent of the anything-is-possible feeling I had in my twenties.
The summer after I graduated college, my head was bursting with plans and possibilities. I started writing a novel, searching for a job in communications and thinking about who I wanted to be in the future.
In the future!
I’d be a published author, a world-traveller and all the other things I knew I could be: adventurous and curious and artistic, and I’d throw dinner parties and meet interesting people and meander around big cities. I’d sit at cafes reading poetry or learn to make art.
When I thought about the future. I meant by thirty. By thirty, I’ll do this or accomplish that.
As my twenties progressed, the quest for my dreams became arduous. I didn’t have a ton of confidence, and I didn’t really know how to make myself be all those things.
Not that I didn’t make half-hearted attempts. Like that time I almost took a fiction writing class. Or the time I joined the Appalachian Mountain Club, determined to become outdoorsy, attended one local meeting and became the recipient of a decade of mail I’d never read. Or when I wrote one short story that was rejected by one publication. I thought about traveling, but couldn’t justify spending the money. I thought about being adventurous, but mostly sat on my couch watching TV.
Then my thirties came and I began wandering secret rooms in my dreams.
By the time I turned forty, all that “adulting” left me feeling flat, an undeveloped character in my own story.
One summer afternoon, as I picked through the hard drive on my computer, I came upon some unfinished stories, ones I began writing in my thirties, only to be abandoned for some more rational task.
I finished those stories, then I started writing every day.
Somehow, someway, that was the spark I needed. Over the next few years, something truly miraculous unfolded; the other dreams and plans I had back in my twenties came out into the light.
I’m calling it “my second-twenties.” My own personal renaissance.
Today, I’m on the way to becoming the writer I wanted to be. I’ve also become a runner. I’ve started hiking too, so I guess you could call me outdoorsy. I’m taking my first ever art class. I throw kick-ass dinner parties. One early winter day, I found myself riding a bicycle with two friends through the streets of Manhattan. Two months ago, a friend and I were chatting with strangers on the metro in Prague. Twenty-something-year-old me would be so proud.
And there’s so much more I want to do.
Opening those abandoned files on my computer led me to discover what Martha Beck, life-coach and author, calls “the essential self.” That was what was hiding in those dusty rooms.
Is youth wasted on the young? Maybe youth belongs to all of us.
A friend of mine recently took up painting. He creates pieces with such vibrant colors I can’t help but feel instant happiness when I look at them. He’d never painted before, but somewhere deep inside, he was a painter. How amazing is that?
“Ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” David Bowie said that.
We owe it to ourselves to wander through those secret rooms and find out who we really are.
And then we should open our hearts and minds to the unease and elation of possibility.