The most common type of dream I have goes something like this: I’m trying to get somewhere and can’t seem to do it because all kinds of obstacles keep cropping up. Something is lost and I can’t find it. Or the landscape keeps expanding as I try to cross it, or paths keep going the wrong way from the destination. It’s almost always a familiar yet dream-altered setting, and I’m usually trying to just do something like go out with a friend (patiently waiting…) or get to my job or get home, but it’s impossible.

Our dreams are a reflection of what’s going on in real life, so while not as scary as sleep paralysis, my dreams are filled with the anxiety of unfinished tasks in the face of expectations, or just not ever being able to do what I think I should and being stuck and lost, even in a familiar place. That’s my dreams trying to tell me something.

I used to kind of pride myself on not setting goals or making five-year-plans. I don’t own a scale or write bullet journals or create vision boards. I’m wary of the self-improvement industry and its snake oil-selling gurus and slippery slopes into cults or MLM schemes. My philosophy was that “everything gets you to next thing” – parlaying one job or project into the next via portfolio pieces and referrals from people I’d worked with.

But frankly, this approach has gotten me a bit stuck. In my anxious dreams, sometimes I do get to a destination, only to realize I’m not actually supposed to be there and have to find a way back out. In my real life, I’m in a comfortable spot, but just sort of paddling – mostly against the current – and not growing or learning. Where would I rather be? What would I rather be doing? I’m not really sure (but it sure isn’t the Office Space LARPing I’m doing now).

By chance, another freelance client offered me the opportunity to go on a health retreat and write about it. Feeling burned out and busy, I accepted, feeling it was something I had to do. A weekend away at a nice resort, a spa treatment, some yoga – I guess I could manage to get through a few personal development workshops, where I might have to admit being totally lost and directionless, with no answer to the question of what my goals or purpose are.

It turned out that was OK; I didn’t have to figure it all out in the space of a weekend. I just have to stop and listen to what my brain and dreams are trying to tell me, try and remember what it is that actually brings me joy (passions leading to purpose) and identify the limiting beliefs (can’ts) that I’m telling myself.

Mind Map exercise from goal-setting workshop – the objective was to identify things that bring you joy, and then try to connect the circles together to sense any themes or patterns. I had trouble coming up with 10 things …

All of this is much easier when you have a beautiful hotel room with a view of the lake and three yummy meals catered, but there is a follow-up session, so I’ve kept on scribbling in my notebooks about what it is I need to do next. And that’s also why I’m writing this post, to make myself accountable for taking charge and getting off my driftwood and going somewhere I want to be.

After looking at my mind map for awhile, it occurred to me that I wasn’t necessarily happiest when expressing myself (as perhaps I “should” as a writer), but when moving about or learning/using knowledge (winning trivia is always fun). I like being able to share knowledge with others, whether that’s tending to my Little Library or editing someone’s work, or giving directions or writing a process that helps someone do something. In my own arm’s-length, good-deeds-in-secret kind of way, I like making people happy.

And maybe in a world that provides so much in the way of irritation and complication, that’s my purpose: to create happy experiences. That is, some clarity, ease of use, sense, understanding, inspiration, a good story. That’s the idea; it has at least left my brain now.

The “how” is a tale yet to be told.