when you were five years old, no doubt some nosy grown-up once asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” what did you say?
that answer, whatever you said, was supposed to be your “dream.” i’m not talking about the dream where you were hanging out with justin timberlake and that one girl you met on the bus once (but seriously, you’re just about to kiss a mouseketeer who also brings sexy back, and you wake up? uncool alarm, uncool). i’m talking about the kind of dreams they teach you about in school, or in picture books, or from stories of heroes before us. dreams like being a firefighter or curing cancer or becoming the first female president. dreams that motivated thousands and sent messages across oceans. i’m talking about dreams that change the world.
i can’t speak for everyone, but i was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where i was constantly told “anything is possible.” my parents, teachers, uncles, aunts, coaches, neighbors and strangers all preached it. each of us kids in our safe, well-off, bubble of a town didn’t know otherwise. i mean really, the worst thing to happen was not making the varsity team, or having a friend move away, or maybe accidentally calling the teacher “mom.” so when we were told “yes you can,” we all sat with our legs crossed and eyes towards the sky. we soaked it in. we didn’t doubt. each of us vowed to be artists and actors and doctors and heroes. we stood proudly (maybe a little wiggly, but proudly) and promised to change the world, too (i had one friend who wanted to be a tornado, but other than that, all about the world changing). as we heard it, we said it, and then we believed it.
unfortunately in my last few years, reality has started to seep in. as i’ve slowly opened my ears and eyes and mind to the society i belong to, “anything is possible” gets trumped with “nothing’s ever easy.” things cost money. debt is real. there’s illness, greed and jealousy. natural disasters destroy land and homes and family. people die. discrimination is loud, real and powerful. we hate before we love. we take before we give. we say no before we say yes, or even maybe. we chose our friends based on what they put on their facebook page and we judge them all along the way. we’ve lost the ability to do basic math, read a map, or communicate with each other without auto-correct. we argue for the sake of arguing. we complain about everything. we’re obsessed with money and fame and things.
we spend more time taking pictures of sunsets then we do actually watching the sun set. for what? so that we can post photos and feel good about ourselves when someone else “likes” them, and yes, occasionally make calendars out of them. the fact is when we hear of someone’s dream, we as a society are quick to point out why it can’t work, or it’s stupid, or too hard, or has been done before. we say it’s impossible and we believe it.
though i regularly count my blessings and do my best to choose happiness over the above, i haven’t felt like a kid for a long time. yes, i still climb trees when i can, occasionally sleep in living room forts, and still claim roald dahl as my favorite author. i’ll even admit i haven’t grown since the sixth grade, so “being a kid” isn’t completely lost on me. but i’ve lost that intangible, starry-eyed belief. now it’s all about dreading mondays and cursing weekends for being over too quickly. i worry about everything including how much i worry. my bank account is too low, even though it’s not. the problem is, like for so many others, my “dream” turned into my job.
but last week, i received a wake up call. it was from my fifth grade teacher. this particular teacher (let’s call him george) is someone that i think of often and hold in the highest regard. he was very funny and creative and yes, he believed in us. we worked on plays while other classes studied geometry. he pushed us to write and draw and find confidence through our skills rather than our test scores. i’m sure that we did a fair share of science and math, too, but he was one of my few teachers who let creativity do the teaching. for a self proclaimed artist, photographer, designer, and writer, this would be one of the most influential lessons i’ve ever learned.
i haven’t seen george since my dad’s funeral and before that it was probably my high school graduation. as far as i know, george is not on facebook which means he’s not a part of my life. but from the bottom of what seems to be his endless giving heart, george recently donated to my summit for someone pledge.
i do take pride in my goal to raise money for at-risk youth and fantasize about the roof of africa, but i don’t think of it as a dream. i think of it as a goal. to me it’s tangible, difficult, but not impossible. when i sent george a thank you for his generous support, he simply replied “you’re changing the world, but i always knew you would.”
amongst the hate, disappointment and smell of impending doom in the air, sometimes all it takes is someone who still thinks of you as a kid (and someone you still think of as a “grown-up”) to point out that you’ve been following your dreams the whole time.
so, what do you want to be when you grow up? as for me, i want to be dreamer.