Our Fantasies, Our Selves: The Year of Carol O’Connor

When you were a kid, did you ever have an ideal image of who you were going to be when you grew up? Way beyond being a fireman or lion tamer or starlet, did you dream of a specific age, lifestyle, and occupation that represented everything you wanted? Alas, I lacked a clear idea for myself in such matters (which may go towards explaining the situation I’m currently in), but this was not universally the case. Take, for instance, a friend here in DC who told me that when she was 8, 9, 10 years old, she knew exactly who she wanted to be: Private Investigator Carol O’Connor, age 36, two kids (no mention of a husband/father in tow). Never mind the fact that my friend’s name is nothing remotely like Carol O’Connor; she’s never met a PI, and why she dreamed of being 36 remains a mystery—even to her. But one thing was absolutely clear in this child’s fantasy, Carol O’Connor had her shit together.

Yowza!

I love everything about this story. I love the fact that her parents got so into it that when she turned nine, they gave her a green briefcase with a Carol O’Connor name plate and a bunch of stamps that said things like CLOSED, URGENT, or OVERDUE in red ink so she could send memos to herself and establish case files. When she was telling me about her doppelganger, my friend said, “So, now I am 36. This is my Year of Carol O’Connor.” I asked her how it felt and she replied something along the lines that having waited her whole life to reach this august age, the only part of Carol’s identity that she had managed was the two kids. “I wish I felt like I had my shit more together,” she mused. ‘The way Carol did.”

So, who’s the Carol O’Connor in your life? What fantasy image of yourself did you harbor back then? What about now (I know you’ve got one hidden away)?

What makes thinking about this so interesting is how it ties into our process of re-booting and adult identities. I believe there is something very real and true about what we longed for as children having a legitimate place in our lives today. Our fantasies may manifest differently than how we first envisioned them, but the underlying qualities remain much the same. For instance, those who dreamed of being a first responder of sorts most likely continue to feel the need of a clear mission to help others. Lion tamers may have morphed into safari hunters or adventure seekers who thrill to master an unpredictable challenge. Starlets, well, they probably continue to seek out attention. Private investigators—figuring out what makes people tick and why they do what they do–that could go in any of a number of directions.

Yet, the other part of Carol’s persona—having her shit together—is a category in which most re-booters feel they come up short. I certainly do. Having enjoyed fleeting periods in my life where I thought everything was in order was enormously reassuring (if erroneous). I hope, some day, to get back there, but I’m not sure that’s possible. The reason I say this is that the tentative quality that is part of feeling confused or finding yourself in a situation where you need to re-boot means that you are questioning things. You don’t have all the answers. Your life is not in perfect order. You may have even done some of it wrong or, if not wrong per se, you wish you could go back and do it differently. Like Carol, we are taking a magnifying glass to aspects of our lives, trying to determine why it doesn’t make sense and how in the world we can put the pieces back together in a more ordered fashion, one with a better fit…

So, if that very together PI opened her case file to assess your real versus fantasy life, what would she deduce? Would she conclude that you’re in pretty good shape or might she make some suggestions as to where you could step up your game? Which of her red ink stamps would she use?

Regardless of her assessment, the Carol O’Connor inside each of us is a persona we need to keep alive because she brings with her a much needed energy. While it is true that I am well past the age to be an Olympic champion, the fact of the matter is I never would have qualified to begin with (being far too lazy and unathletic). As sad as this is, it doesn’t mean I can’t take that ambitious champion and redirect her towards other projects. This is what I want you to think about for yourself.

How can you harness that enthusiasm and the dreams you had all those years ago and bring that into your efforts to re-boot your life today? Which parts of your private fantasies remain relevant and can serve as a vehicle for fulfillment to moving you ahead?

Questioning ourselves and our lives means that we will never feel fully settled, never know for certain that we have our shit together, but this is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes, looking for better answers. Just ask Carol.

Private I

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