Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you knew as it was unfolding, would be one you would never forget? A conversation that would be life-changing because its message was exactly what you were looking for at that time? I was blessed to have one this past week with a great man, a fellow co-worker, Rob over lunch at a small local pizza shop.

With his mother passing away when he was 6 years-old, Rob’s father was left to raise seven kids on his own. Working a majority of his day at his bar and also an alcoholic, his father pretty much left Rob and his siblings to figure life out on their own. Rob struggled in early jobs to support him and his wife, and went to school late, only to have setbacks in finding jobs with his degrees.

He shared with me a piece of advice. “Don’t let life happen to you. Make life happen.”

He thought of this 15 minutes before quiting a previous job because it was stagnant. He wasn’t learning anymore. He wasn’t growing. He was letting life happen to him and always felt a step behind on pursuing dreams in life. In fact, he wasn’t really sure what his dreams were. So those last 15 minutes before walking up to his boss to inform him of his decision, he took a pad of lined paper and a pen and started writing.

After lunch, when we got back to work, he opened the bed of his truck and pulled out a manila folder for me to see. It contained drawings, doodles, and a list on this lined pad paper he had mentioned during lunch. It was a list of roughly 25 dreams he wanted to accomplish. A bucket list essentially, but it listed everything from being a handyman, to writing a children’s book, to inventions he had ideas for, to creating a 3-year teenage Sunday school lesson plan.

And he’s been going after them. He worked as a handyman for 5 years, doing small-scale construction work for many different people. He enjoyed the opportunity to help out so many different people. After finishing his job, he would ask to share the gospel with his clients.

He even wrote a children’s book. He’s almost finished it. It’s titled “Duck Book” and it’s meant to be a tongue twister for kids.

As I look forward to this last year at Penn State as an undergrad, I wonder what’s next and I put so much emphasis on the importance of a few big decisions, in similar fashion to Rob’s focus on finding the perfect job. In fact, looking back, so often the pursuit of the next step in life has constantly clouded my vision from pursuing other dreams.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a fry-cook at McDonald’s.

I wanted to be an engineer (for a train) because that’s the type of engineer I thought my dad was and I thought that was the coolest thing.

I wanted to marry Cinderella, and I made some moves. She was digging me, but I just wasn’t ready to settle down yet. The long distance relationship would have been tough with me in Baltimore and her staying in Orlando. And don’t get me started on how jealous Prince Charming was and how difficult he made things.

I wonder now, where have these child-like dreams gone? Maybe not these dreams specifically, but dreams in general. Have I pushed aside the pursuit of the simple pleasures in life, for the chase of bigger more important things?

If you’re like me, sometimes the “big decisions” can keep us from experiencing the best parts of life. It’s like driving down a highway and failing to observe and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. 

I know over the rest of this summer, I’m going to start my own list and keep it in a manila folder to remember Rob, a man who took the time to share his story and dreams with me. It’s made a big difference in his life, and it was important enough for him to want to pass it along. 

So who knows, maybe I’ll end up at McDonald’s at some point cooking fries, or maybe I’ll end up saying “I Do”s with Cinderella, but in all reality those aren’t my dreams anymore. They change as we change. Regardless of whether or not they actually happen, recognizing your aspirations and the pursuit of dreams is an important part of keeping it light and fun while making life happen.

So what’s in your manila folder?

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