Dragon shaped clouds

Miramar Beach, Florida. January 3, 2024.

It has been more than a year since I’ve been back here, this particular beach that holds many special meanings. It’s where I vacationed with family way back in the 1980s, when my sister and I rode waves on a scratchy blue-and-red canvas float. It’s where I visited with my mom on a business trip many years later, eyes wide at the beauty of a place that looked different from my little-kid memories. It’s where Chris and I would escape to for long weekends when he would visit me at college, and it’s where we were married shortly after that time. It’s where he and I proudly owned rental properties these past handful of years, and where we thought we would move after I transitioned out of studio ownership and he transferred offices. The planning spreadsheet we made was called “Our Ticket to the Beach.”

We spent year after year working toward that goal, sacrificing for it, inching it along, and when the move ultimately faltered, and we sold that property and stayed in Texas, I faltered too. The plan—the dream move we planned for—didn’t work out, and it affected me more than I expected. It came on the heels of other recent challenges: saying goodbye to our beloved pup, navigating business ownership during the pandemic, measuring the health costs of stress, dealing with a loved one’s difficult diagnosis.

This accumulation, coupled with a new loss of direction, I became depressed. Rudderless, I didn’t know what to do with myself. For so long we had this overarching goal. Then we achieved it and discarded it in less than a year. Quite literally, I wasn’t where I thought I belonged. A mix of sadness and anger settled into my soul—a grieving, in a way—and as I worked through those feelings, they shifted something in me. Though sometimes I’m still wading through that emotional muck, it’s the concept of choice that kept my head above water. It’s what I keep returning to for comfort. My choices matter; all of ours do.

I must choose to help myself by insisting that I manage my physical symptoms, move my body, open my heart, shift my career, and seek growth from this experience. And decide on new dreams instead of being hung up on the old ones. My word for this year is “restore.” I’ve never been one of those people to set such an intention, but here I am doing it. Restoring myself. Tapping into who I used to be and discovering who I am now; who I choose to be, not who I should be. I don’t like the uncertainty of this discovery process, honestly. It’s uncomfortable sometimes. But it’s also kind of freeing. Having choices is a privilege I can’t take for granted.

Now, I can see that it was (is!) useful to go through this faltering phase. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a gift. Though perhaps it one I didn’t know I needed. A kick-in-the-pants reminder that plans are good guidelines and goals help us make those plans, but improvising from it all is where the real magic happens. Developing that kind of agility only comes when things don’t work out like you thought, and it is a muscle you have to exercise. It’s a beautiful thing to realize a flop might actually be fortune in disguise, if you muster up the audacity to think of it that way. If you have faith in it being so. If you choose that point of view.

I was reminded of this as I stood in awe of the sky several days ago and saw a magnificent, glowing dragon-shape at sunset. In Western cultures, dragons are often seen as bad omens; symbols of greed, danger, and evil. In Eastern cultures, they are seen as positive signs; symbols of wisdom, prosperity, protection, and health. Western dragons breathe fire; Eastern dragons breathe clouds. This Chinese New Year of 2024, in fact, will be The Year of the Dragon. How auspicious!

Under this sky, through this vibrant filter, I am choosing to see the Eastern dragon, to believe in its symbolism. I notice the Western dragon too, but acknowledging isn’t the same as believing. It is a welcome to one and a nod to the other. I want to see—and focus on—the good, the possibility, and still accept that the rest exists. I want to breathe clouds more than I breathe fire. That choice, I think, will shape what comes next.