“The saddest words of paper and pen are those that say, it might have been”. I have no idea who coined that phrase, but from the first time I heard it as a teen, it’s managed to stick with me. And now as my husband and I are both pushing retirement age, I can’t help but revisit my lost dreams.

I’m not talking about childhood whims, like your plan to be a world class ice-skater after one magical night at the Ice Capades. I’m talking about adult dreams. Career aspirations, financial goals, and worthwhile causes you’d planned on lending your time to.

The kind of lofty ideas that your friends and family may have scoffed at, but you never forgot. Those are the kinds of dreams I find myself revisiting now that middle age can only be seen in the rear-view mirror. Because, let’s be honest, very few of us are going to live past 100.

Many of us frittered away precious years in our twenties when we could have been soaking up a valuable postsecondary education and training. Schooling being the last thing on our minds, we just wanted to get out from underneath our parent’s roof and strike out on our own.

I could have been a doctor, or a lawyer, with the time and money I wasted. But when I was 20 years old and my first paycheck was burning a hole in my pocket, I couldn’t imagine the thought of handing it back and picking up another set of textbooks. I desperately wanted to just get off the farm and see the world, not realizing that what I found wouldn’t always be right for me.

I’ve always admired the high school students who’ve had the singlemindedness to push their distractions aside and head straight into their post secondary educations. They seemed to have a level of focus I wouldn’t be able to develop until my early thirties. Sadly, my dream of attaining a masters, or doctorate degree, would never manifest itself once I left home.  

Back in my youth, I was always drawn to the water. Even childhood fishing trips in my father’s boat were a constant worry for my mother, as she was always afraid that I’d jump overboard to swim in the local Alberta lakes. Even training for my lifeguard’s certificate as a teenager didn’t curb my love of the water, as I never felt like I’d had enough.

Because of this simple fact, I’ve always dreamed of having a swimming pool. A family area to splash around with my kids, or grandkids, as I taught them to swim while instilling a matched love/respect for the water. I was sure that one day I’d be in a financial position to build a massive, inground pool with a heated building surrounding it. In my dreams, the roof and walls were even retractable for summer fun.

Well, as you can probably guess, calmer heads prevailed, and we never spent the $250,000 to $500,000 you’d need to bring a dream like that to life in our Alberta climate. We instead spent our income on frivolous things like mortgage payments, food, and our kid’s educations.

As a fierce animal lover, I’d also dreamed of opening some sort of rural shelter for unwanted pets, or damaged livestock, any animal deemed unworthy or unloved by its owner.

My shelter was another dream that fell by the wayside. Financial responsibilities coupled with the reality of licensing, zoning, and all the operational costs woke me up to the unlikely event that this dream would ever become a reality.

Looking back, most of my dreams had serious financial commitments attached to them that never occurred to me when I was in my twenties. You dream big, and that’s part of what being young is all about. We make plans, no matter how unrealistic, and we imagine how great our life would be when those plans came true.

I don’t begrudge my dreams anymore than I view my life as time spent on wasted opportunities. I just sit back and wonder how the dreams of a senior citizen will look when I reach that milestone?

Dreaming as a child gives us the luxury of feeling that we have decades to accomplish anything we desire. When you reach the magical age of 65, and are no longer looking at unlimited productive decades ahead of you, what is there left to dream of?

I asked my parents, both in their 80’s, and their answer surprised me. They said your dreams of youth don’t disappear, they’re always a part of you. It’s you that changes, and by growing older, maybe a little wiser, your dreams become a lot more realistic.

My mom said that she dreams more of things for her family, financial achievements, and accomplishments that would make their lives richer. Dad chimed in with his dry humor by adding that dreaming in your late 80’s was a lot like buying green bananas. Neither was very practical.

So, as I live in the grey zone between middle age and retirement, I find that I’m still dreaming big. Although I won’t have a doctorate, a swimming pool, or a rescue shelter, I find that I’m still making plans.

I believe that we need to dream. We need to imagine ideas that will enrich our lives and all the lives of those we touch. If financially your dreams are unattainable, then adjust them.  

I’ve taken in some rescue animals, and I still manage to spend a lot of time with my grandkids at the pool, just not my own backyard pool. And although I have no interest in returning to University at this stage of my life, my writing and resulting research seems to fill my need to learn.

My dreams have been adjusted, maybe downsized would be a more appropriate term. But I still have them. And as a proud member of THE FIFTY CANDLES CLUB, I’m pretty sure that I will still be dreaming until the day I draw my last breath.

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