Often we have a dream, or an idea of what we want for ourselves.  Maybe it’s about where we want to be or what we want to be doing.  It could, and usually does, include other aspects of life.   Having these dreams of a life different from what we are experiencing as we go through the grind is normal.  It comes from being exposed to alternative paths and the outcomes to those paths.  We commit ourselves.  We are going to do it.  But as you get older, sometimes years or decades will go by and we aren’t any closer to those dreams than we were when we first started having them.  We wonder, can we really get there?  What is keeping this from happening?  Often there is one big thing that gets in the way of doing or being what we want for ourselves.  It’s easy to see what it is too.   It’s right there every day when we look up in the bathroom while brushing our teeth.    

I think some of the problems are inherent in the way the world is structured.  As an example, I know dozens of dual income families.   I also know that the majority of women in those families want to be stay-at-home moms.  For clarification, when I say the majority, I mean exactly that, the technical majority.   Say I know twenty dual income families well enough to know what the mother aspires to have for her life, i.e. a traditional stay-at-home existence.  Maybe eleven or twelve of them would have women who dislike having to work and wish to stay at home and raise the children.  It turns out my personal experience mirrors the information we have on the topic, which shows 56% of working moms would prefer to be stay-at-home if they could. 

The world, well specifically the world since the advent of the industrial revolution,  is not structured around supporting a huge population of single wage earner families.  If you want an average level of the basics of what the world offers, including housing, transportation, medical care, retirement income, etc, you have to be in a dual income situation, i.e. everyone in the median wage earner category has to work.  By default the median is the largest category of workers making up the vast majority of the professional class.  Now it is possible to be a stay-at-home mom if you give up many of the benefits of a middle class life.  Nice house in the suburbs, an annual vacation at the beach or a theme park, a reliable car, etc.  And that, in a nutshell, is the challenge with the aspiring stay-at-home mom being the person they want to be.  It’s hard to give up the things we have been socialized for. So they dream about it, they hope things will change, but they never actually do the thing they want to do unless they got very lucky in their choice of life partner.  They may pull it off with extremely generous extended family support.  Both the wealthy spouse and wealthy family are edge cases.   

We could flip this around.  What if it’s someone who’s working head of household but who wants to go back into extended schooling to change their career.  Maybe they want to go into healthcare.   To my knowledge there are no medical programs, or any other high paying jobs, that pay you a living wage while you are getting the education you want.  Student Loans for enough income to support a family for six or eight years would take more than one lifetime to pay off.   

Beyond structural issues keeping us from being the people we want to be, there are personality issues which can get in the way.  I know several single people of both sexes who aspire to be in stable long term healthy relationships.  Often they have some sort of personality issue that keeps them from entering into healthy relationships.  It’s normal to be attracted to the wrong personality type when you are younger and don’t know any better. It’s not normal when you are older and have so many examples of healthy relationships around you. The bratty girl who “can’t ever find the right guy” because she’s only looking for Magic Mike physiques over emotional stability or the guy who is always “attracted to narcissists” are both examples of people who aspire to being something they are not wired to do.  They could look at others who are in healthy long term relationships, figure out what those personality traits are and try to rewire themselves.  To be successful, they would have to really change who they are at a core level and that is never easy.  

Again we can take this into the workplace.   I am a prime example of this.   I always aspired to be management, with a focus on senior leadership.    I realized after decades that I don’t really have the personality for it.  I overshare, I don’t have a filter with my thoughts and in general I’m not very corporate.  I do still  think I’d be a good enough fit once I got there, but I never really considered the personality needed to get to that point.  Yes, it’s about luck, that is literally half of the process, but it’s also about who you are, how you present yourself, the risks you are willing to take, etc.  My personality gets in the way of this.   So I decided to play to my strengths.   I gave up dreaming of the big corner office and the check that came with it and decided to focus on quality of life and just be more strategic about my future.  

That strategic thinking and planning that I can do with little effort, others can’t.   For many people the thing that keeps them from being who they really want to be is their tendency for emotional decision making.  I have many friends who have made statements like “I’m going to be retired in 10 years and then I’m going to travel the world.”  Usually they will continue to ramble on about all their plans and ideas when we talk about the future.  There are always exotic countries, romantic villa’s, and all sorts of other activities they are going to undertake once they are retired.  When you take a step back it’s plain to see they are not doing anything that will get them to where they want to be.  Worse, they keep hitting the great reset switch when they wind up quitting jobs on emotionally driven whims.  There are other bad decisions they make which set them back but the job hopping, and commensurate effect on their retirement funds, is the biggest block.  Ironically these emotional people would be a great fit for country hopping, you just need to be able to live while you are hopping and that takes money.  Even if you are planning on working in retirement there still needs to be a nest egg somewhere to help ease over the bumps in the road when confronting the unknowns they will encounter. Without the nest egg or the organization and discipline to develop a travel friendly career, retirement can never happen.  

There are physical limitations as well.   I’m going to circle back around to a personal example.  I want to be thin.  I really do.  I work out regularly.  I track everything I eat. I’ve lost weight on occasion, but it always comes back.  My body simply keeps weight on.  The doctors call it set point theory.  It simply means my body has a weight it likes to be at and there is not much I can do about it except continually keep myself in some form of starvation mode, which is a horrible way to live.  I’m ont alone here. There are many people with this particular issue.  No matter how much I dream of being thin, how much I try, the weight will always come back.  It’s not just weight, another, almost humorous example is that I would love to sing and play in a band.  Unfortunately I lack rhythm, I’m tone deaf, and I don’t have the time to even see if I can teach myself to play an instrument or learn to sing.  So no matter how much I dream of wanting to be a local band juke box hero, I’ll have to console myself with audiences consisting of either the instrument cluster in my car or my shower tiles.  

In all the cases I’ve cited here, what people want, including myself, flies in the face of reality.  There are substantial issues that must be addressed for people to become the person they envision for themselves.  Some of these issues can never be overcome.   On the face of it, this makes the answer to the question of “Can you really be the person you want to be?” a probable “No!” But I don’t think it should end quite there.   

Maybe I’m being an unrealistic optimist, but I do think there are ways we can get to where we want to be.  We just need to change the target.  We have to accept who we are and adjust accordingly.  I may not ever be “Skinny Mike” again, and although that makes me sad, I definitely can be “Healthy Mike”.  I may not be able to sing, but I have started to explore how to put on a show with electronic music.   A friend of mine who wanted to find Mr. Right, is ever so slowly coming to the conclusion that he doesn’t exist.  Some of the aspirational stay-at-home moms I know are starting to see that it’s not the panacea they thought it would be.  The next step for them is to start to appreciate what they are getting out of their jobs.  I do think age and experience helps this process along.   And as the years go by, we all may find that the person we see everyday brushing their teeth isn’t much of a problem anymore. 

Posted by Mike Peluso

Mike Peluso writes about the collision between between the business / professional world and life. He also writes about the journey involved with the Peluso Presents efforts including the Blog, Books, and Podcast so that others may benefit from his efforts. From Mike: I spend hundreds of hours working on these articles every year with no compensation other than support I get through donations. You can support with a tip and by Subscribing to the Podcast (and writing a review on iTunes would be really appreciated as well!) One time tips: www.paypal.me/pelusopresents https://venmo.com/pelusopresents

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