I’ve been thinking a lot lately about modern messaging about ‘Living Your Dreams.’ If you’ve ever been on a social network, you’ve already seen the taglines that triggered this post: Give it all up. Get off the grid. Be more courageous. Travel now. Live authentically. Close your computer.
“You don’t have to be a millionaire to live in Hawaii, you just have to want it!” proclaims the host of the show Hawaii Life, in which frostbitten families pick up their lives and move to Hawaii to ‘live their dream.’ This is a relatively recent approach to fulfilling one’s dreams: If you want something – just go and get it. Don’t let things like money and family stand in your way. Dare to dream!
I want it – really, I want it. But I’ve found that hasn’t been enough yet. A Facebook friend posted a picture of some mutual friends recently, and noted that they were ‘brave’ enough to give up their jobs and house in downtown Toronto for a year to travel around the world. She challenged her Facebook friends to try to find that kind of ‘courage’ to do the same!
Many of these memes of people living their dream come with some version of this tagline: ‘I’m Living Proof That You Too Can Live Your Dream!’ So the question becomes: what stands in the way of the rest of us being courageous enough to live the dream? Well, as Georgia says: “Life happens.”
I’d love to be ‘brave’ enough to give up my house, my job and my extended family for a year to travel around the world. From a financial, personal and professional perspective, I’m amazed people do this. I would have about a year’s worth of stuff just to think about first, including how to best go about uprooting Georgia for the sake of my dream. I need my job – it’s a very good job – and I’d like to have it for a while. I need it so that Georgia can have the things she needs, and ensure she has support after I’m gone. I have a house – it’s a nice house – and Georgia likes coming home to it.
We have occupational therapists, tutors and respite caregivers who are part of the fabric of our lives, whom we’ve worked with on developing strong and wonderful connections, and who are now part of our extended family. The idea of taking Georgia away from those supports for a year simply isn’t realistic, and I’d worry about opportunity costs in terms of her development.
So I really don’t want to be told that I’m not ‘brave.’ It’s great if you can – and if you can, you should! – but please don’t make this about being not ‘courageous’ enough if you can’t.
I’d love to give up living eight months in the cold to live in Hawaii. I really would. Interestingly, the families who are on the Hawaii Life show don’t often talk about the extended families or support networks they are leaving behind. They don’t talk about older parents (and grandparents) or children with special needs or networks of friends. They talk about paddleboarding, learning to surf and living ‘off the grid’.
The ‘off the grid’ thing leads me to a specific part of the ‘living the dream’ meme I find frustrating. Much of the rhetoric these days about how we ought to live encourages us to ‘Close your computer,’ ‘Get off the grid,’ and ‘Disconnect!’ But living on that grid is the one single way I have to always be connected to my child when I’m not with her, and as she seeks out more activities outside of home, I suspect technology will become even more vital. I depend, in a very real way, upon the people around Georgia telling me what’s going on with her when I’m not around. I need to be reachable and accessible. I do not have the luxury of turning off my phone to demonstrate how evolved and authentic I am.
As Georgia doesn’t yet have the ability to move independently through the world and communicate her needs, we keep her safe and ourselves sane through technology. I love that I can text with the babysitter when she can’t find the one precious picture Georgia is searching for. In a matter of seconds, I can resolve whatever’s happening. As someone who is so often a ‘Georgia interpreter,’ I am happy to be available by phone or text for a question that requires advanced translation skills.
A typical example: “Georgia keeps asking for the parrot remote. What and where is that?”
Or the classic: “Georgia needs to know exactly what time you’ll be home.” Without readily available answers, these questions prevent just about anything else from getting done.
I still get vaguely anxious when I go for a run without my phone or forget it in my office when I’m at a meeting. I cannot imagine being disconnected – that’s my reality. To have people claim I’m somehow less evolved because I can’t afford to disconnect fails to recognize the reality in which I live.
Technology also provides a great deal of value to Georgia that we can’t replicate in other ways. The things she likes today are versions of the things she liked six years ago. She has an insatiable ability over many years to watch videos by Bob Marley, the Wiggles and excerpts of Caillou (ugh) or Teletubbies. But with an Internet connection, she doesn’t have to watch the same DVDs over and over again – which she would do if we did not somehow intervene.
Now we can direct her to millions of sites for Bob Marley’s music, and Teletubbiesin every language imaginable. The other day, she informed me “Teletubbies speak Spanish and say si.” Access to the Internet allows Georgia to grow in particular ways, to experience new things as she wants to and avoid repetition – at least in one dimension.
Georgia can’t tell her grandparents how much she’s loving her bike riding class or how much fun she had on a school trip. But pictures get sent by email from teachers to parents, and then outwards to extended family. I am happy to have a meeting interrupted by an emailed photo of Georgia with a medal, or a text from Chris with a picture of Georgia riding her bike. She can Skype with her uncle or her grandma or her tutor, all of whom are far away. It helps her learn about relationships and conversations. Being connected is an important way in to my kid, for everyone around her.
I always react to meta-narratives, or claims that there is only one way to be bold or courageous, or only one way to live a dream. To say that we’re less authentic because we haven’t packed up our Toronto house and given up our obviously-too-stressful jobs to live off the grid in a tropical paradise fails to acknowledge the complex realities in which we, and many other families live.
And you know what? My connection to technology does not feel like a burden, nor do I feel less authentic moving through the world with a smartphone in one hand and Georgia in the other. Technology has opened up our world and provided this little family with more freedom. It’s enhanced our ability to be ourselves and to be connected.
I can actually be separate from Georgia but know she has access to me. I can trust others who care for her to reach out and connect us. I don’t actually feel bad I’m not giving everything up to travel the world. I don’t feel less brave than people who have given up their apparently duller lives to backpack across the continent. I’m glad they’re doing it – and I might be able to do it but only if Georgia really wants to. So until then, I’m absolutely fine with not measuring brave using that yardstick.