Like many people, I’ve been caught up in cottagecore this last year.
In a time full of social, political, and economic unrest, the idea of escaping to a quiet countryside is the ultimate fantasy. No more working 9-5 for wages that barely cover the rent. No more after-hours emails, or last minute shift coverage. No more traffic with all it’s noise and toxic exhaust fumes. No more customer complaints, manager overreach, and co-worker gossip. Instead, you can escape it all with a garden, some animals, and a cozy kitchen in a little cottage. It’s so easy fall in love with the idea of a cottage in the that reality becomes an ugly nightmare.
Our dreams are how we cope with reality.
As a kid, I would transport myself to the magical worlds I saw in books and movies to escape from the reality that my impoverished background provided. As a teenager, I would run scenarios of different careers, homes, and hobbies for my future self to enjoy and build a glamorous life around. In college, my ambitions humbled by “Real world” of low wages, bills, and responsibilities, I simply imagine a better life with a comfortable home, a decent job with decent pay, and a strong support system. I would create pintrist boards that cataloged the little details of a life I thought would be worth living, all in hopes that my “some day” would eventually come. All throughout my life, dreams were both an escape from hard times, and an inspiration to keep me moving forward.
The dreaming started as a reaction, but it also has consequences.
I’m not a teenager any more. Now, I’m in my late 20s, and like most adults, I hope to own my own home one day. Home ownership symbolizes the kind of permanent stability and “made it” status that we crave. With the nationwide real estate market climbing out of reach, at the same time the economy started bouncing, and internet trends romanticizing rural living and homesteading starting popping onto the seen- you can imagine the appeal that growing roots in a place removed from wall street has. And, I won’t lie- it still holds great appeal. My current life is stressful. I work full time, then run a business on the side, and still try to find time for hobbies. I am always constantly worried about money (a trait I doubt I would grow out of even if I won the lottery), and I often wish I could run away and live a slower, simpler life. The truth is, the more I fall for the dream of a quiet, stress-free existence, the less happy I am in my current reality. I have been slowly convincing myself over the last year that my current life is bad, when objectively, it isn’t.
The fantasy encouraged me to forget what I already have.
I am not rich; until about a month ago, I didn’t even qualify as “middle class”. I don’t always like my job. Like most people, work is work, and there are parts of my job I enjoy and parts I don’t. My family argues and fights, my friends can be a little weird, my car is old and beat up, and my apartment is always cold: but overall, I have a great life. In fact, my life is far more privileged and, for lack of a better word, better that I could have imagined when I in my early 20s. My apartment is far nicer than any place I have ever lived. I work a job I didn’t even know existed when I was in high school, and my friends are the kind of friends that my teenage self would be thrilled to know (or in some cases, still know). In short, I am living one of the fantasy lives I created for myself back when I was young and optimistic.
Why does this all matter anyway?
I’m not saying that I should stop envisioning myself wandering through the woods in a white dress, or digging up carrots in a field on my sustainable farm as chickens pick at bugs by my front door. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t continue to imagine how my life could be better, or how I could continue to grow and change in the future. Instead, I am cautioning myself to be careful not to become ungrateful for my current circumstances. Even if I did drop everything to move to rural Idaho, how long would I be happy for before a new dream came along and made me wish for something new?
Dreams are best when you remember they are fantasy.
Dreams are beautiful and inspiring. They can encourage you toward your goals, and sooth you during hard times. However, dreams are always better than the reality. In our dreams we don’t imagine the downsides and bad parts of the world we created; we only see the highlights and final cuts. If we allow ourselves to only only focus on the best parts of our fantasy, and the worst parts of our current reality- of course we will always be discontent with our lives. Instead, I am working to see both the gold and the grime of my daydreams and my “real life”. The fantasies are still worth working toward, but at least now I know that my current life is work romanticizing too.