I was bombarded this past week with disillusioned dreams and the question that kept popping up is whether or not to still keep striving for them when they sometimes lead nowhere or it’s too hard to get there. It seems like a lot of people I know are feeling kind of lost right now. For my own dream, I have wanted to be a novelist since I was nine years old. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. However, I’m a realist (who also dreams), and I’ve spent my life, like most, trying to figure out a practical plan B. So far I haven’t had much luck.
"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon seem inevitable." - Christopher Reeve
America is a country built on dreams. Our Declaration of Independence declares that our unalienable rights given by God are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We are literally a country told to pursue our dreams. Who better to demonstrate the success of this than the authority on dreams – Walt Disney. When I think of the messages of Disney movies, I think of Cinderella singing “A dream is a wish your heart makes,” or Rapunzel singing, “I’ve got a dream!” while enticing a room full of ruffians to sing along with her. Hercules dreamed of being a hero. Tiana dreamed of opening a restaurant. For the most part, all these characters pursued their dreams by working really hard to accomplish them (except for Cinderella who cheated by having a fairy godmother). And they all achieved their dreams, telling us that we can all achieve our dreams, too.
"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt DisneyHowever, anyone who has pursued a dream and failed can tell you that Disney has lied to you. True, we can pursue happiness, but that doesn’t mean we can always achieve it. Sometimes, our dreams are impractical, and more often we don’t actually really know what we want. A lot of times, we like the idea of something, but then we don’t want to work for it, or we realize we’re not good at it.
I like Mark Manson’s take on dreams in his article, “Why Some Dreams Should Not Be Pursued.” He explained that he used to fantasize about being a rock star, and being on stage playing to a cheering crowd. Even after he dropped out of music school and stopped playing seriously, he kept fantasizing about this dream, until one day he realized he didn’t really want it. As he put it, “I’m in love with the result — the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, putting everything I have into what I’m playing — but I’m not in love with the process.” He later discovered that the fantasy had less to do with being a rock star and more to do with feeling acknowledged and appreciated. He found that as his personal relationships improved, the fantasy faded.
Not wanting to go through the process of putting in hard work to achieve a dream usually means that it’s just not really your dream. You like the idea of it, but if you can’t handle the process, then you maybe should be pursuing something else. However, what if you put in everything you had into the process and it still wasn’t enough? There are two examples that come to mind, one fictional and one true but both are a similar story: Michael Jordan and Mike Wazowski.
Let’s start with fictional monster Mike (warning: SPOILERS AHEAD for Monsters University). Since he was six years old, Mike wanted to be a scarer. It’s still his dream when he enters MU. At school, he excels on every test and is an incredible student, but he learns that he just isn’t scary. Through a series of events, he partners up with Sulley (a really scary monster) and a group of not so scary monsters to compete in the Scare Games. Mike works hard, with Sulley’s help, to try to become scary. His ultimate test comes when he enters the human world and is in a cabin full of children, but fails to scare them. He truly discovers that as hard as he’s worked, he just isn’t scary and never will be. However, he’s the backbone for Sulley being a scary monster, and together they work together in the previous film Monsters Inc. as a great stare team.
There a few things I appreciate about this Disney Pixar movie. 1) The message is not work hard for your dreams and you will achieve them; the message is that sometimes you can’t achieve your dream but you can be really good at another one you never thought about. 2) Mike doesn’t just sit idly dreaming – he works harder than any student to try to achieve his dream. 3) Dreams change – as indicated in both movies, because after Mike realizes he’s not scary, he goes on to back up one of the scariest monsters and make him successful; even better, in the first film Monsters Inc., scarers change into comedians and Mike thrives at making children laugh. In the end, Mike accomplished a dream he may not have ever known he was striving for – to be good at something worthwhile that would validate him and contribute to society. Children’s laughter proves more effective than their screams to power the monster world. As a comedian, Mike excels at making children laugh to provide energy just as Sulley did as a scarer.
The Monster world was a better place because Mike pursued a dream he wasn’t good at and wasn’t meant for, and that led him to his true calling and his best friend. In a similar way, real world basketball legend Mike (aka Michael Jordan) discovered his true calling and what wasn't. ESPN made a list of the top 100 best athletes of the 20th century, and Jordan is ranked in the number one spot. He is above Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. He is considered the best basketball player of all time. He’s a legend, he’s inspirational, and… he was terrible at baseball.
Jordan and his father’s first love was baseball, however he pursued basketball after his older brother who he idolized. During his sophomore year of high school as a 5’11” skinny guy, he was cut from the varsity basketball team, only to later be brought on when he grew to 6’3”. During his high school years, he also played baseball. At the age of 31, 13 years after not playing baseball, he retired from basketball after his father’s death and switched over to baseball. He joined the Birmingham Barons, a minor league team part of the Chicago White Sox system. Just as all the other players, he had dreams of making it to the major leagues.
During his very short baseball career, he worked as hard, or possibly harder, than most to achieve his new dream. No one can claim that Michael Jordan was a top athlete on pure talent alone. However, this did not get him very far in baseball. On the cover of a Sports Illustrated March 1994 issue, it read, “Bag It, Michael! Jordan and The White Sox Are Embarrassing Baseball.” Despite his athletic abilities, he was not a great baseball player. No matter how hard he would’ve worked, he could never become one. The number one athlete of the twentieth century could not make it to the major leagues for baseball, quite simply because he wasn’t a baseball player, he was a basketball player. Thankfully, he returned to basketball, his true calling.
"What I've done is give inspiration to people. Believe in what you believe in and make an attempt at it; don't give up before you even try. ... For all the criticism I've received for doing what I'm doing, it's only an opportunity that I've taken advantage of. If you're given an opportunity to take advantage of something you truly love and dream about, do it." - Michael JordanBoth Mikes share a similar story of working hard to achieve your dreams, and both discovered that it takes more than hard work to get there. I remember being told at a leadership camp that skill and talent are two very different things. You are born with talent, but you can acquire skill. Often times, you need both to be successful. If you do not have the talent for something, that is completely okay, and it doesn’t mean you have no talent at all. It means you have a talent for something else. The trouble comes with finding it.
Hard work and talent are part of the process of achieving your dreams, but there is another important one that both Mikes discovered – letting go of a dream to find your true calling. Often times, if we give up on a dream we are made to feel like we failed at something. Recently, a friend told me that he’s loved music his whole life, but once he realized it wasn’t practical, he sold his drums and hasn’t played since. It broke my heart to hear that because I could never think of quitting writing. It’s who I am and what I love. When I talked to another friend about this scenario, he told me that my drummer friend wasn’t giving up a dream, he was pursuing a bigger one. My drummer friend wanted to one day provide for a family, so he was willing to give up something he loved to find something that will make him money.
I had never thought of dreams in that way. There are the dreams we fantasize about, but there are the bigger and deeper dreams that are more important. Just as Manson realized his dream of being a rock star was really about something else, I think the same is true for many of us. Even Jordan pursued baseball for his dad. Our dreams are not always what they appear to be on the surface. I think it all comes down to what’s most important to you. Financial security? Having a family? Contributing to society? Supporting a cause? Doing what you love?
Since I was little, my dad talked to me about owning a restaurant one day. He wanted to call it “MemJaz” (his nickname is Memo, and my name is Jasmine). I’m sure that’s not what he was actually going to call it, but it still made me feel special. He had worked my whole life in a cabinet company, and though he liked his bosses, he hated having to work for someone. When I was in high school, he took over a restaurant/bar called Biacci’s and had it for one year. He didn’t know a thing about business or having his own restaurant. To top it all off, he opened it during the recession, and after a year he went bankrupt. Talking to my dad about it all years later, he said he didn’t regret doing it and that he learned a lot. His dream was to work for himself and he did it, even if he failed. He told me every successful business person has failed a dozen times before getting to where they are. Now, his brother and him have their own custom cabinet business. It’s not what he wants to do, but he says he wouldn’t trade this to work for someone else.
For my dad, he spent so many years of his life trying to provide for his family doing something that wasn’t his dream. Then, when he strove for his dream, he lost everything (including his new house), and it’s taken years to get back on his feet. I admire that even now he’s never lost sight of the two most important things to him: taking care of his family, and working for himself. Maybe one day he’ll have a restaurant again. Maybe his current business will fail, succeed, or simply stay afloat. I know that it won’t stop my dad from striving for the two things most important to him.
As someone in my twenties, I’m surrounded by people who are all trying to figure it out. We’re all trying to do what we think we’re supposed to be doing, or doing what we need to get by. To some, dreams are what keeps us going, but to others they aren’t so important or realistic. Most of us are still trying to figure out what are true dream or calling is. I think it’s okay to be in this place in life of not knowing but still trying to push forward. I can’t tell someone how to figure out their true dream or how to pursue it, I only know that we each have our talents and should try to discover the deeper things that are important to us. I also know that we are told to dream big, but small dreams are just as important.
For me, I once thought about being a vet, but didn’t want to clean up after animals. I applied to get into a counseling program for grad school, but couldn’t answer the question, “Why do you want to be a counselor?” because I honestly didn’t. The only dream I’ve ever had is to be a novelist. When I think about my dream, I envision myself writing and reading all the time. I don’t dream of success or fame. I don’t have to be the next J.K. Rowling. I also don’t think that’s a realistic dream. My very realistic dream is to simply spend my life reading and writing and hopefully publish things, and I’m already living that out (without the publishing part). The next step is to realize how to achieve my other dreams – having a family, helping people, being able to afford having a house with pets. I don’t know how to achieve these dreams yet, but I know I’ve been setting myself up for them by going to school and getting job experience. I know that achieving any kind of dream requires work and support. Most of all, I know that dreams can change, but I never want to lose focus on what matters most to me.
Why Some Dreams Should Not be Pursued
Michael Jordan Biography
Michael Jordan Playing Baseball