What I Really Really Want

On having practical dreams

Photo: Ruminatrix/Flickr

All I wanted for Christmas in 1999 was a Nintendo 64.

I’m sure there were other items on my wish list — Barbies, American Girl doll outfits, the latest Disney release on VHS — but the N64 was at the top. If that was all I found under the tree on Christmas morning, I would have been a very happy girl. I did everything in my power to persuade my parents to buy that coveted game console. I was on my best behavior (most of the time). I argued for its educational value at the dinner table, using as much evidence as I could gather as an 8-year-old. I negotiated. I begged. I threw tantrums.

When I found the console under the tree on Christmas morning, I lost my damn mind. I was the toast of our family Christmas celebrations, finally in possession of a toy that (at least 4) of my cousins could enjoy at once. I spent the rest of winter break sitting in front of the TV, playing “Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt” until my eyes started to burn.

Looking back, I don’t think I’ve wanted anything as much as I wanted that Nintendo 64. As I got older, I kind of stopped allowing myself to really want things. I grew more self-aware, and ultimately more self-critical. As soon as I found something I wanted — a new iPod, a digital camera, a part in the school musical — the voice of doubt would immediately pop into my head. Do you REALLY need that? Why would your parents buy that for you? Do you really think you deserve this?

This voice isn’t always that sinister. I see it as a form of protection, in a way. If I don’t get attached to the thing I want, I won’t be disappointed if I don’t get it. Two summers ago, I tried to get tickets for a music festival through a friend. Needless to say, it didn’t work out and the general admission passes were sold out by the time she let me know. Instead of thinking about all the acts I would miss that weekend, I quickly made plans to visit friends at home. I always have a back-up plan.

I’m a dreamer, but a practical one. I work in the entertainment industry, which has always been my dream, but the exact shape of that dream has shifted over the years. In high school, I thought I wanted to study musical theatre and perform on Broadway until a counselor at Northwestern told me I’d have to “eat, sleep, and breathe” music for four years in a conservatory program. I loved performing, but that really didn’t appeal to me. I thought I’d become a broadcast journalist until I realized I would have to break bad news to the masses. I’m very bad at confrontation. I studied screenwriting in college and while I still dream of running my own writer’s room, maybe I am more cut out for the business side of things.

Dreams change. We want different things as we get grow up and gain more experience. I get that. But I can’t help but think that I’m holding myself back from the things I really want in an effort to avoid disappointment. I like to think of myself as a hustler, but when it comes down to it, I choose the path of least resistance almost every time.

I now find myself looking to take the next step in my career, and I’m forced to consider what I really want my life to look like. What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? What kind of people do I want to be around? These questions are terrifying. It’s even harder to narrow down an answer when I know that things can change. This time, I’m allowing myself to dream a little bigger. To want something and focus on that thing, at least for a little while. Because as 8-year-old me knows well, finally getting something is so much more satisfying when you’ve wanted it (and begged your parents for it) for a long time.

Charlotte Dow writes, sings, and hangs out in theatres in New York City. Follow her on twitter @charlottatepie.

This story is part of The Billfold’s I Want It Now series.

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