Today I rewind three years to my very first Psychology Today article. I had just relocated and was facing the opportunity to start fresh in a new city. (Original post has been modified)

My partner and I moved to Chicago in late 2010. For the first few months, every weekend was an exploration of some of Chicago's 200 plus neighborhoods and those little out-of-the-way places that by knowing them would eventually make us true Chicagoans.

On one of those early day trips we chose our destination by its very strange appearance on a map. Try this: In Google Maps search "Chicago", click on satellite view, zoom in a bit, and scroll west. Stop when you see the giant crop circle and you've found Fermilab. That mysterious looking 4 mile long ring is part of the national physics lab's particle collider and who wouldn't want to check that out on a Sunday afternoon?

But my story isn't about proton-antiproton collisions. On our way to Fermilab a story came on public radio about a young man who chose to leave his orthodox religion to live a more secular life. One that felt completely foreign and frightening to him. By choosing a life outside of Orthodox Judaism he had to forge a new identity and relearn how to interact with society- how to get a job, how to go on dates, technology.

To preface his story, the interviewer (Terry Gross) shared that she sometimes wonders while driving what it would be like to do something similar. To exit off the highway in a new town and start all over again. A fresh start where nobody knows your past and you can choose to design your identity from day one. Haven't most of us pondered what it would be like to enter into some kind of self-induced witness protection program?

So I thought, what if we just exit into Batavia, Illinois—home of Fermilab and birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln—and never go back? We had never been there before and nobody knew our name. We could stop at a coffee shop, grab a paper and a pencil, and outline an ideal new life. What would we do differently in our fantasy plan? Live bolder? Celebrate more and worry less?

But more importantly, what's stopping us from making those changes now? Are we currently living a life that is anything but authentic? How do we make those changes when we're so swept up in the current of our busy lives?

Maybe pulling over at a Starbucks—or at least pausing at our kitchen table—with that paper and pencil is something we all need to do from time to time. To dig deeply into the questions of who we've become and how we'd like to do things differently.

It's okay to feel like running away- to give ourselves the luxury of fantasy. But we can also intentionally define and design how we want our lives to look differently moving forward. We deserve to ask ourselves the powerful questions that keep us in alignment with our purpose. Or discover our purpose for the very first time...

  • What is great right now and what could be better?
  • When am I the most authentic and when am I just going through the motions?
  • What do I need to thrive and how can I incorporate that into my life?
  • When am I genuinely giving of myself and when am I just pouring myself out in a seemingly endless stream of obligations?
  • What fills me back up when my cup has run empty?
  • What is my voice? What is my style? What are my strengths and values?
  • What do I have to offer and how can I serve?
  • Why am I holding back?
  • What's one small thing I can do today that challenges my status quo and honors what I truly want for myself? 

We can be both realistic about our situation and idealistic about our possibilities. If we go public with a goal, dream, or intention—if we write it down or tell a friend—then it feels more real and may even plant a seed somewhere out there in the world. There is power and purpose in our kitchen table dreaming.

In the words of our consummate American explorer of identity: "Let go of the past and go for the future. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined." (Henry David Thoreau).

By the way, Fermilab was as intriguing in person as it appeared on the map. Oddly enough, the huge underground particle collider has a herd of buffalo grazing the land above it. Strange indeed.

 Photo Credits: Fermilab Photo Gallery


Brad Waters, MSW provides career coaching and consultation to clients in Chicago and nationwide. He helps people define their career direction and take action on life transitions. Brad holds a Master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan and is a blogger and freelance writer whose books are available on Amazon and

Copyright, 2014 Brad Waters. This article may not be reproduced or published without permission from the author. If you share it, please give author credit and do not remove embedded links.

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