I saw a T-shirt the other day: Warning, Life is not a dress rehearsal. But for me it always has been, chatting away to myself as I amble along: Note to self. Regarding 40. Next time dont neglect career to travel as much. Oh, and buy property earlier. Note to self. Next time Im 32 and Im Ruth Ostrow, study neuroscience. Love that stuff.
We all do it. There’s a deranged but understandable defence mechanism called denial in our heads. The good news is it protects us from thinking too much about death; non-existence; nighty-night nurse. The bad news is because we are deluded and believe we are going to get a second chance, and this is just the last rehearsal, we ignore our parents’ warning: “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
We don’t reach our full potential because we procrastinate ourselves to death — literally. “Oops, too late.” Through life there are often times when we know something is not right. What we are doing feels like chewing dried chaff or munching on a cardboard sandwich. We feel uninspired or unmotivated. It may be doing a particular job, or being trapped in a stale and shrivelled relationship. Maybe we’ve outgrown our city or who we used to be. But there is this sense that there’s endless time to go back and fix things for the better. “Yes, I definitely will leave my job but now is not a good time” is the catchcry of millions.
I was inspired to write about dress rehearsal delusion after I read a fantastic headline in Huffington Post that made me laugh and laugh. “The Dog Ate My Homework … And Other Excuses For Not Living Your Ideal Life.” Marketing expert Kathi Sharpe-Ross, author of the Reinvention Exchange blog, opens by quoting comedic actress Lucille Ball: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done, than regret the things I haven’t …”
Sharpe-Ross believes we need to reinvent ourselves and our lives to stay contented. She says: “Sure you have a laundry list of excuses and I’m here to hold the mirror up to you.” She lists: too busy; not sure of what I want to do/be/explore; don’t know what I’m passionate about any more; can’t afford to; afraid to risk failure; what will others think; don’t know where to learn more about what I want to do (too old to retrain); starting something new is too overwhelming; have to help my family, it would be selfish.
Mine is “I’m too tired” — or, rather, “I can’t be bothered”, the more arrogant way I dismiss having a go. But that’s a vicious cycle because I know I’m too tired because I’m not inspired. It’s a state of mind. Nothing comes from nothing and passion generates excitement.
Another of mine is “It’s all been done/said before”. No one wants to hear a rehash of the same story; piece of art; film script. Everything has been said. Yep. True. But is that the point? Isn’t it our own inner creativity that counts — self-expression, even if one is talentless in that field or has no audience? A friend has the same story about business: there’s no room for a new business that does this or that. Sure, but then why are there new businesses popping up and flourishing all the time?
A lot of people say, “I’m too old.” Which isn’t one of mine. I’m back at university again, doing my fourth degree in six years.
It’s not uncommon to see women whose kids have left home going back to study so they can develop that career, or a workaholic partner pursuing creative talents. I know a lawyer who left to become a working artist; there’s my friend, a yoga teacher, who has become a science teacher in her late 40s because of a passion for it; a journalist friend who now zips around the world managing holiday rental properties for people and having the life most of us dream about.
The thing is that these go-getters don’t have more innate vigour or energy. Just a greater belief in themselves — or as one friend said: “I realised that I couldn’t do the same thing my whole life. Getting up each morning to the same routine seemed more terrifying than gritting my teeth and taking the plunge.”
So how does one put a rocket up one’s proverbial and stop living the dress rehearsal delusion?
I think it’s an exercise I did a long time ago, corny and New Age, but it works: “If a genie really came down and you could have what you wanted, what would it be?”
Most people say, “It’s impossible”, or tell me they don’t know what they want. But they do. It may not be specific but they know they want to be travelling; writing a novel; in business; jumping out of planes; dropping out. (I moved to Byron to a rainforest for a number of years. That was a fantastic dream come true that I dared to pursue.)
The thing is, when you dare to dream, you attract things to you. If it’s supposed to be, then doors do open. They call it synchro-destiny — all very New Age, but somehow we do unconsciously draw things to ourselves in our passion.
Brainstorm with friends, let them tell you about yourself. It may surprise you to find that because you love animals so much they always thought you’d make a great pet groomer (I say that because it actually happened to a friend who left her boring job, and she is now very happy).
What makes your heart sing? It may be an idea to read biographies to see how people overcome fear, limitations and adversity.
The Huffington Post has a whole section devoted to Reinvention that makes for interesting reading.
Sharpe-Ross writes in it: “Pick a time each day that you know you can stick to — wake up 15 minutes earlier, 15 minutes of your lunch hour. Make this your new priority. Use this time for research, jotting down ideas and plans, making lists of how you’re going to accomplish your goals, write down the challenges you foresee and how you’ll overcome them.” And ignore the excuses!
Take baby steps but move forward. My favourite quote that sums it up comes from author Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
First published in The Australian.