For the last four days, I’ve been listening to Sara Bareilles’ new live album. Sara Bareilles, in her own right, is a magnificent artist. She has talent and is obviously inspired. I rarely run into a song that I want to skip, but I think one of the best tracks she’s ever recorded comes at the end of the album. She covers “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” originally recorded and performed by Elton John.
Obviously, this song was written for a very specific purpose- It’s sort of as if he’s denouncing the limelight he’s been thrown into. But I read something much deeper into the lyrics of this song, and it is in that deeper meaning that I find a message for me. Now, I’m not famous. I don’t live a life of charm and sophistication that comes with today’s celebrity status. I don’t know what it’s like to long for a simpler way of life because, as it turns out, I’m somewhat hoping for a life that looks more like that than the status quo type I’m faced with now.
I love to dream big. I think about what life could be like- what I want life to be life. What I love about abut this piece of me is that I’m never afraid to deny something is possible. I’m never afraid to count anything out until I have seen that it isn’t a possibility. To me, the whole world is still a possibility. That’s what makes the message I hear from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” even more powerful.
So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plow
Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road
When I listen to these lyrics, it’s obvious that the message is particular to the storyteller, but when I meditate on them, the message is for me. And for you. And for our mothers. And our grandparents. The older we get, the more afraid we are to dream. The Baby Boomers, especially the women, were given a pretty specific portrait of what life should look like. That, my friend, is the beauty that lies in the poetry of this song.
My favorite part, if you couldn’t guess, is the last line of the chorus: “I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road.” Automatically, I start to define what it is that’s holding me back from dreaming bigger. What’s causing me to stay on the road that makes most sense? Why do I deserve that? Why don’t I want to allow myself to imagine life beyond the “this”? Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to after all these years of wanting to create my own picture of what life could look like: Other people are going to try and decide what my life should look like- They’re going to try to pave me a wonderful yellow brick road. Society gives us its expectations, and we’re supposed to follow in line. This isn’t bad. This is a gift that is passed down to us through generations as standards and expectations begin to change. But I’m not afraid to ask, “What else is there?”
I love to look at the leaders of today from technology moguls to presidents to celebrities and look at how they were able to be so successful. Steve Jobs: College drop out. Hillary Clinton: Women’s activist, and laywer. Ellen DeGeneres: Openly gay, comedian, advocate for social justice of every kind. Each of these people lived and dreamed beyond the roads that had been paved for them. They weren’t comfortable conforming to a picture that they had been told was “normal.” They each want or wanted something beyond the normal. They didn’t care about the popular opinion- they cared about living a life worthy of a story.
If you know anything about me, you know that I rarely do things according to the standards already set. My first bachelor’s degree took me six years because I embraced opportunities that arose to meet me. I’m going back to get another bachelor’s degree- after I’ve already earned a master’s degree. I could live a quiet, safe life in Minnesota, but I know there’s something for me in New York. I do these things because I love having a story to tell. My story is the most important thing I have in my hands. I’ve been given a pen and an empty journal and told to “Go!” And let me tell you, if I wrote a story based on what was waiting for me on my safe path, it would still be a story worth telling. But when I think about the story possibilities that lie on the roads less traveled, those are stories I WANT to be telling.
So what now? What do we do with this arbitrary road that we’re on? How do we begin to dream outside of that?
1. Name and claim.
Know what your yellow brick road looks like. Know what your status quo is. Know what society’s expectations are of you. That’s what’s magical about this- mine is different than yours is different than your brother’s is different than your mother’s. Everyone’s roads are different, but everyone’s roads exist. Once you can name and claim it, you know what to look for.
2. It’s your book. You write the story, other people write the Forward.
Sure, there are people you need to think about. You can’t go through life having no regard for anyone else’s well being. The people who love you have invested in you. But at the same time, the people who love you want you to succeed and see you do amazing things. Let them rejoice in seeing you accomplish things they’ve helped equip you to do. Your story is yours. This is not a co-author situation. But let other people write the Forward. Let them be a piece of how the story came to be. Don’t go to law school because your dad wants you to- Go to law school because your dad always believed you could. Don’t not move to New York because your grandma doesn’t want you to- Move to New York because your grandma helped give you the tools to succeed and be happy there.
3. Write it down.
The one thing I’ve become accustomed to is always having a notebook with me. This is because ideas, inspiration, and creativity can strike at any moment. If I don’t write it down, I will forget. Write it down when you think “Wow, I’d be great at that.” Write it down when you think, “I wonder how much it would cost to go back to school?” Write it down when you think, “I wonder what the cost of living is in that town?” If you never write it down, you never give yourself a chance to dream beyond your current reality, and ideas stay ideas. Writing it down makes it real. Writing it down means you have a phsycial connection to your ambiguous thoughts.
Living and dreaming beyond the yellow brick road is possible for anyone who wants to dream there. Not everyone wants that, and that’s ok. But knowing that there is life on a different path is the first step to finding it. You are created as a creative creature. Whatever source of inspiration or power you believe in, that power has given you the right to creativity. Use it. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. Don’t be afraid to recognize that your future might lie beyond the yellow brick road.