Happiness

Fantasy self or goals? How to figure out if your fantasy life should be your real life

I’ve spoken before about the fantasy self. Sometimes my fantasy self likes expensive whiskey and sometimes my fantasy self thinks I’ll read much smarter books than I tend to read. Sometimes my fantasy self imagines she’ll one day pick up photography and finally grasp the concept of an F-stop. Sometimes my fantasy self adds highly acclaimed television shows to her watch list despite knowing she’ll probably keep watching The Bachelor when she has to choose in her limited time.

My fantasy self is a chill, cool-girl, beloved by everyone and adept at everything. And I’m OK with that. I’m not OK with the time, money, and energy I spend trying to be her instead of embracing the skills I have and the things I’m passionate about.

But for some of you, maybe your fantasy self is the person you truly want to be.

Gretchen Rubin, in her podcast, had two different thought experiments (many more than two, but two that resonated with me) on figuring out what you love and are passionate about.

The first is: What did you do for fun when you were a kid?

The second is: Who are you jealous of?

Both questions tie into your ideal person and can help you figure out if you are dealing with a “fantasy self” or the person you truly want to develop into.

What did you do for fun when you were a kid?

Were you designing houses with your crayons? Were you writing stories? Were you imagining yourself as a doctor, a chef, etc? This is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation with your dream career. As a child, I spent far too many hours on the computer writing stories. As I grew up, I felt that my imagination dried up. In most parts of my life I’ve embraced my more analytical side. I no longer understood the same create-something-from-nothing drive, and most of my creative output comes from exhaustive research rather than the organic output I had as a child.

I still love stories. And I’ve found ways to bring stories into other parts of my life. I adore live theater. I have season tickets to the opera. In fact, upon reflection, my love for stories may be part of my frustration with book clubs. I want a deeper dive into each novel than I tend to get with the typical commentary: “Wow, that character was weird.”

One way my analytical side and my love for stories merge is in editing. I am a fabulous copy editor. In my past editing experience, I’ve had to walk the line between keeping authorial intent and editing for accuracy. It’s an interesting challenge that engages my analytical side, my detail-oriented knowledge of grammar, and my creative best judgment.

Thinking about what you did for fun as a kid can help you find ways to bring that “fun” into your life in a professional manner as an adult.

Who do you envy?

The second question asks you to look at the people around you who inspire envy and analyze why. Are you super envious of your globe trotter friend? If so, why?

In my experience as a traveler, a lot of people say they want to travel, but they don’t have the wanderlust …the full aching feeling for place you’ve never been. Yet, they are sometimes envious of people who travel. Why? Is it the time off? The seeming lack of responsibilities? The independence often required?

It’s not enough to just identify the envy. Figure out which parts of their lives are encouraging that feeling in you.

Then, whenever you feel envy, don’t brush it away. It’s an opportunity for you to learn something about yourself that can improve your own self.

Look at what elements you envy. Then  find ways to fit those into your life so your fantasy life becomes your real life.

I knew a girl who seemed very vapid. She’d received the same prestigious fellowship as me, and while incredibly nice and social, she appeared to struggle when it came to grasping new ideas or concepts. Looking back, I think my negative opinion of her was based on slight cultural differences. She had a better control over displaying her emotions and opinions than I do. She had amazing strengths at spinning neutral things to positive, which grated with my extreme value on honesty. She was never ashamed to talk about her accomplishments, no matter the crowd (or how much she was clearly inflating them). However, she had hustle.

After the fellowship, I continued to follow her on social media. For a long time I envied her. When I was at my lowest, I’m ashamed to admit that I felt like all the things she’d gained in her post-fellowship life were unfair. How could someone that… dumb… get all that? (Note: I have no true sense of her intelligence. This perception was based off the markers that I used to determine ability.) But what she had was hustle (and also some connections).

Now that I’ve strengthened my own sense of self and developed my own version of hustle, I’m not envious of her anymore. She’s still do amazing things with life, but I have no desire to be her. The thing I was envying was that drive and apparent sense of purpose. Finding that and imbuing it in my life removed that envy entirely.

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