The Death of Dreams
"In everyone it dies, this sense of their vast and mysterious significance. But then it is a gradual process. Time administers to us gradually increasing doses of the commonplace, purging us of our fancies, until at last we are immune to all but our more practical ambitions and desires. Our lives become practical and self-contained only by starts" - William McIlvanney, Remedy is None
William McIlvanney was a novelist, short story writer and poet from Glasgow, and one of my favourite fiction authors. While Ian Rankin's Rebus series of books became best sellers and were turned into TV dramas, a reading of McIlvanney's incredible Laidlaw trilogy, about a Glasgow-based detective, using unusual methods in tracking his criminals and enjoying a drop or two of The Singleton along the way shows exactly where Rankin got his inspiration.
As well as being arguably the inventor of the Tartan Noir genre, he also wrote extensively about life in Scotland across the ages, including a portrait of a miner in the depression (Docherty), a man who turns to bare-knuckle boxing to feed his family (The Big Man) and several others. Incredible books, and if you get the chance, do not hesitate to pick them up!
The quote I began this post with, comes from his first novel, about a young man whose father dies and he's left to face his own resentment of his adulterous mother. Incredibly powerful and one of many passages I revisit regularly from his work (including a passage from one of his novels that my dad read at our daughter's christening) because it serves as a reminder. In this case, a reminder that our lives move on and if we're not careful, can become unrecognisable to us.
The day of my final exam at the University of Glasgow was a beautiful late spring day in 2005 and if you've ever visited Gilmorehill in Glasgow, you'll know how picturesque the campus is. It was one of those exams where I was ultra-prepared, I got favourable questions and I powered through it in short order. I re-read my work, satisfied I'd hit the mark and I left early, walking out of the Bute Hall, down through the cloisters and under the Hunter Halls, over the same stones that William McIlvanney walked on in his years there as a student, to the front of the Gilbert Scott Building. I was washed over with a sense of relief, joy, and the adrenaline that always accompanied exams, and walking past the gardens, blooming with spring flowers, I felt untouchable. I've described this day many times, and the feelings that accompanied it. I felt I had the world at my feet - like I could achieve anything in my life. I could be anyone. I really mattered in the world.
Over the years that followed, this feeling was eroded. I did things professionally that I didn't enjoy and so struggled to realise my potential at work. I hadn't been aware of this, but many of my dreams had been tied up in 'achievement' and 'success' in the workplace. I felt so far from that young man, full of hope and potential, that I might as well have been a different person. Those 'increasing doses of the commonplace' creep in slowly to our lives and without taking time to stop and step back from the day to day, we can find ourselves slowly and blindly resigning ourselves to a life that's far from the one we'd dreamt of.
The thing that changed it all for me, was finding the right job and igniting my passion. I'd been coaching sport since 2011, and in 2013 was given the opportunity to become a coach in a corporate environment, which was a transformational moment! At that point, the remains of the fire that had burned in me eight years before, which by this point was more like a pilot light in a boiler, suddenly burst into life and filled me with the sense of promise I'd once held. I've never looked back! The opportunity to help people, to make a real difference in the lives of those I work with, to lead people and help them realise their own potential - all of this was the stuff of my dreams. I felt like I mattered again!
From here, I had the base to start thinking about what really mattered to me and finding ways to make my dreams a reality. The resources had always been there, I'd just allowed my sense of significance to dwindle and allowed my life to be driven by the practical, leaving no space for the fanciful. When that happens, it can be hard to lift your head from the day to day, and before you know it, the weeks, months and years have slipped by you and you stop chasing those dreams and lose sight of what they were.
When did you last stop and reflect on your dreams? Do you still have the same dreams you harboured in your youth? What's stopping you from going after them? If you could take one step today to move you towards your dream, what would it be? Don't let your sense of significance slip away.