My greatest fear in life is never living up to my potential. I know there in an amazing stamp of heaven on me… (known less in an “only me” type of way and more in a “there’s a unique divine image in everyone” type of way). I know I’m made for great things, whatever exactly that means. But I spend a lot of my life paralyzed by the possibility of missing out on something because I’ve chosen something else. On my worst nights, that fear forces me to stay awake longer than I actually want to, typically striving for a sense of tangible accomplishment if my day didn’t feel quite fulfilling enough.
Place this struggle against the backdrop of my early-twenties in St. Louis, Missouri, a city that served as the gateway to the west when America was first stretching its legs. Under the world-renown arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion. Some years ago I wandered among the exhibits that described the exploration of Lewis & Clark, the courage and catastrophe that marked the Native American experience, and my personal favorite, the life of the cowboy. I paused to write down the words of one such maverick, aptly named Charlie Goodnight:
“All in all, my years on the cattle trail were the happiest I have lived. There were many hardships and dangers, of course, that called on all a man had of endurance and bravery; but when all went well there was no other life so pleasant. Most of the time we were solitary adventurers in a great land as fresh and new as a spring morning, and we were free and full of the zest of of those who dared.”
Charlie’s words got me then, and they still get me today.
Shortly after my time in St. Louis, I learned about a town called Blue Camp Twenty, just up the road from my own house in Kansas City. “Blue” because it was on the Blue River, “Camp” because it was meant to be temporary, and “Twenty” because it was just outside of Independence, one of the final legitimized stops before pioneers faced the Wild West.
Many of these adventures were heading toward Santa Fe, where they dreamed of living out their days in pioneering fashion, making a new home for themselves on the open stage of the frontier. They stopped near Blue Camp Twenty to make final provisions for themselves before setting out into the vast, unconquered unknown. After 24 hours they grew familiar with the camp. After a couple days they began to enjoy the provisions available at the general store and the post office. After a couple weeks they began to reconsider their dreams and settle into their comforts. Near Blue Camp Twenty, another settlement sprung up to host the growing number of once pioneers. They called it “New Santa Fe.”
Dreaming can be a great process, but sometimes the idealism involved in dreaming means that once you’re on the precipice of fulfillment, reality kicks in and you realize what a cost comes along with the breakthrough. There’s nothing wrong with a dream changing. In fact, sometimes the journey toward a vague goal provides an opportunity to discover your actual dream in some other place along the journey. But more often than not, we let go of the far off, hard earned inheritances that don’t come without a struggle. It has become tragically normal to give up on Santa Fe (insert dream here) and just rename our present, mediocre state “New Santa Fe.”
I don’t want to spend a bunch of effort trying to justify who I could have been and why I’m not.
I don’t want to spend my days pondering possible options of where to go or wondering what I might miss out on.
I don’t want to prepare to live.
I want to live.
I want to go.
I want to be more than potential.