“Sometimes you are in the middle of your destiny before you even know it has begun.”
As a native New Yorker, I always thought Chicago was the “Second City” because it was inferior to New York. I would go out on a limb and say it is a common misconception about how my home of the last 13+ years got one of its nicknames. For those who don’t know better, please accept this as your Public Service Announcement.
As it exists today, Chicago is a result of The Great Chicago Fire. The city that previously existed burned to the ground in 1871. If you’ve ever traveled to Chicago, you probably witnessed the dichotomy of the Chicago Water Tower adjacent to the modern-day skyscrapers that dot the skyline. You can see remnants of the “First City” surrounded by all of the things the “Second City” has become known for: tall buildings, shopping, restaurants, and the grandeur of Lake Michigan.
The Great Chicago Fire was a tragedy and a blessing. As my daughter learned in second grade, the first iteration of Chicago was fairly unintentional. Settlers created the city with attention paid to short-term needs. Following The Great Chicago Fire, the city was reborn with an infrastructure that did not previously exist. A system of grid-like streets and alleys was created. Garbage is now collected from alleys freeing up roadways for transportation. And for those familiar with the intuitive street system in Chicago, if you know an address, you know how to get there.
It turns out that sometimes your dream is not your reality. Have you ever imagined what your life could or should be, only to learn that the thing you wanted is not an option? We all have. In that moment, what choice do you have? Burn it all down.
Of course, I mean that metaphorically. Literally burning things down creates a whole host of other problems that I am not equipped to help you handle. So stick with the metaphorical burning, please, and thank you.
My best example of this was the 2003 NRMP Match. I never intended to leave New York. I was a lifer. Everything I knew and loved existed in The Empire State. I had always dreamed of shedding my Bridge and Tunnel upbringing for life in Manhattan. It seemed so clear and tangible. And then, it didn’t happen. I traded dreams of an East River view for the reality of Midwest living. I would love to tell you that I accepted my new reality on that fateful day in March 2003, but that would be a lie. I refused to date or focus on any other goals during my first four years in the Midwest. I had one singular goal: I was returning to New York, no matter the cost.
If you have been paying attention, my return to New York never happened. Instead, I met my wife, moved to Chicago, and created the family of my dreams. I learned that life outside of New York existed, and to be honest, it’s pretty great here, too. I like it so much that I have begun to refer to myself as a “recovering New Yorker.” And that isn’t to disparage my hometown. I’ll always love you, New York. It is to acknowledge that the dreams that once existed have been laid to rest so that I can fulfill my new dreams. I needed to burn it down to create the life I really wanted.
Dreams are so important. They direct our goals, efforts, discipline, and consistency. Dreams allow us to create a path to the future we want. But while we are busy dreaming and planning, life is happening. As life happens, things change. If we grasp our dreams too tightly, we argue with our new reality and the possibilities that arise along the way. We also create resistance to new opportunities that are made while we chase our dreams. Learning to drop that resistance and allowing (some of) our dreams to burn to the ground reveals paths and journeys that never previously existed.
That fateful Match Day 2003 was one of my most difficult days. It was also the day that I began to learn that dreams do not always come to fruition in the way we imagined, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. The real gold is seeing what you can build from the ashes. I’ll take The Second City over The First City any day of the week. Wouldn’t you?