Q. I've always wanted to take a year off to travel in India. I've also dreamed of opening a seaside B&B and getting a Ph.D. in art history. But now with a mortgage, kids, and a sensible job, I've shelved these dreams. Should I worry about someday having regrets, or live my life as it comes?
--Gloria Schripner, Colma, California
A. Worry is certainly not your best choice, so cross that off your list. But you can't shelve your dreams, either -- that's definitely out of the question. Don't we all know people who have turned their backs on their best ideas? They slowly shrivel up inside, often revealing signs of bitterness and depression stemming from their deflated passion. Rather, the middle path is the best course to take: Weave your dreams into your current daily life, even if you can't take a year off to travel or earn that Ph.D. right away. You'll keep them alive even as you go about fulfilling your current obligations -- and keep your options open for the future.
First, acknowledge the importance of your desires. Yes, they can act like pestering imps, but they'll behave a whole lot better if you listen to them. Make a list of everything you wish to do in your life, from reupholstering the living room couch to swimming with river dolphins in the Amazon. Write each desire on a single page of paper and keep your collection in one folder. Every time a new desire pops into your head, add it to the pile. This practice creates more room and energy in your mind (since you've committed them to paper) and allows you to sort through and pick which ones you absolutely must pursue. Every month or so, go through the folder and determine which desires you've fulfilled, which ones no longer interest you (throw them away), and which ones you absolutely need a taste of in the near future.
Every now and then, give yourself a sampling of a larger dream. If you can't take a year off to go to India, can you take your family there for a month -- or a week? Or how about reading Indian fiction, studying the Vedas, or taking language and cooking classes? This way, you maintain your innate passion while reducing the intensity of your want. The dream then becomes less unobtainable, less likely to cause regret later on in life if you don't see it completely through. You don't want to question whether or not you would have been happier if you had chosen a different path. By getting a taste of it, you'll know which path is right.
Of course, the truly courageous course in life is one in which you choose to stick with your responsibilities, even when you sometimes feel the cost. Consider your present life as a mindful path, rather than a road of potential regrets. "I could quit my job, uproot my entire family to the seashore, and try to open the inn of my dreams. But instead I'm choosing to stay on a more stable course right now in order to raise my children in the best way possible."
And, finally, give yourself a break. When we're passionate, we often think we need to do it all -- right now. Eventually, the kids will grow up, the house will be paid off or sold, and you'll have more time to explore your dreams. In the meantime, don't ignore the voices of your desires. They nourish the spirit and keep your heart alive.
Jennifer Louden is the author of six books, including "The Life Organizer: A Woman's Guide to a Mindful Year." She leads workshops on self-care and creativity around the country. Visit her at jenniferlouden.com. If you have questions about some of the life issues you face today, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.