When I was younger I was constantly getting in trouble for staring out the window during the school day. Teachers were always telling me to pay attention. I remember very clearly reading over and over again, the gravestones in the graveyard outside the windows of the small Catholic school I attended and staring at the back of my classmates’ heads. Unless we were learning something new and exciting, I had difficulty keeping my eyelids open. Because I was terrified of my teachers I learned how to zone out without looking like I was sleeping. I learned to daydream with my eyes open. I got really good at it. My dreams were so much more interesting than whatever my teachers were talking about, especially Social Studies. I HATED Social Studies. I dreamt about playing kickball at recess, about playing softball after school, about whatever book I was currently engrossed in.
As I got older and got in more and more trouble for not focusing I learned other strategies to help me get through school. I learned how to pay attention to the teachers in high school by writing down every word that they had to say. I became a great note taker. But I almost lost what I now realize is an incredible skill. I stopped daydreaming during the day, and I no longer remembered my amazing adventurous overnight dreams. I thought I was making progress.
I know that my teachers were doing the best they could and that they had a curriculum to get through. If I wasn’t listening I wasn’t going to be able to whip through the materials that they had to cover. I know that they didn’t choose the books or the subjects, they just did what they could with what they were given. They didn’t know how to work with a student like me. Nobody did, really. I had to figure it out on my own. At least I was lucky enough to be quiet and unfocused. Those kids who happen to be rowdy and unfocused suffer the worst. I’m sad that they didn’t know that I was really smart, just a different kind of learner. I’m sad that there was no one to tell me that dreaming was a good thing, that someday I was going to rely on the skills of being quiet, listening and dreaming as my core competencies. My strengths weren’t exactly of the type that schools tended to encourage, even today.
If any of that strikes a chord with you, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to get back in practice. That your periods of inattention are a skill that nobody filled you in on. That if you put in some time and pay attention, you will find that what used to seem to be random thoughts and wasted time can be pretty laser focused and right on. And you will start to feel like you have a better finger on the pulse of reality than others do. The truth of the matter is that your subconscious is working on hyper drive. And it’s just trying to tell you about it. If you’re a bit ADD like me, then your brain has a constant barrage of information and you are aware of several lines of thought at the same time. The cool thing is that you make connections that other people don’t because they’re not running at the same speed.
So I have discovered in the past few years that I can stop torturing myself for being forgetful and for wanting to drift off in the middle of the day. It isn’t a weakness. It has turned out to be a huge asset. When I allow myself to drift off, I have great ideas. I make connections that other people don’t think to. And now that I’ve learned to listen, it turns out my daydreams have been a direct path to a happier life. Since I’ve stopped berating myself for spending time in “la la land” as my husband calls it, I’ve really honed my skills. My daydreams are basically my unconscious sending me messages.
Listening to my daydreams has led me to opening my own business and starting a life coaching practice even though my schooling has always been leading me to a psychotherapy practice. It has allowed me to believe that I can actually make money doing things that I love. It has led me to say “yes” to things I would have made excuses about before. I crossfit and sew and hike and have a husband and job I love. And my dreams are leading me towards owning a retreat center. I know this is something that is going to happen. I never would have imagined this to be in my future if I had continued to berate myself for being inattentive and forgetful. If I had forced myself to stay in a “comfortable” job.
What fantasies are you holding yourself back from? What would be different in your life if you allowed yourself to dream? Stay tuned for the next post, which will give you some hints on how to turn those dreams into reality.