On Dreams

Written on March 24th, 2014

I found myself in the doctor’s office one day for a cold, coughing and wheezing and feeling like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the world to fill my lungs every time I took a step. It wasn’t anything truly debilitating, but it was enough to force me out of school and into the waiting room of the walk-in clinic.

All of the customary questions were asked when I finally made it to an examination room: are you taking medications, what are your symptoms, and of course the ever common wonder all adults have for high schoolers regardless of their health: what do you want to do when you get older? I proudly stated that I wanted to be an author, had dreamed about it since writing a nearly three hundred page long novel about a lost dog in the fourth grade.

I could feel myself smile as I said so, unable to mask my passion for language and my conviction that I could one day accomplish even this. As I thought about the roots of my dream the harsh lighting of the room seemed all at once more friendly, my clogged sinuses like much less of a problem. Every tribulation was always so miniscule in the light of what I believed I could do.

My doctor looked me straight in the face and said: “You probably want to reconsider.”

Guess what? I haven’t.

Dreams are underrated. No elementary school goal making sheet about the number of pages you want to read in a given month will ever truly be capable of instilling in young people the meaning of achievement. For all of our praises of the sweet concept that ‘anything is possible’, too many of us don’t act like that’s what we believe. Adults spend years training kids to grow up with an open mind and high standards only to turn around and welcome them to the real world years later by going back on everything they’ve said. It’s like dreams don’t matter. It’s like, regardless of the goals you set, your life is still going to follow the same prescribed pattern. It’s like it sounds good on paper to tell everyone that they can make a difference, but the second they actually start to try we’re quick to shut them down. It’s like dreams don’t matter.

But here’s the thing: they do.

Yes, it would be foolish to pretend that everything you ever want to accomplish is going be achieved effortlessly if you just have some heart. Yes, dreams can be dangerous when you use the future as a way to escape the present. You cannot hold a dream and expect that to be enough; you must instead act upon it, you must fight to make it a reality, you must sacrifice and cry and find yourself awake at two am because all at once everything seems too impossible. You must wake up the next morning and wipe your makeup off the pillowcase and take your goal from being a crude blueprint to a handcrafted truth, and that task is daunting. Hard work is not to be undervalued, because without it we are nothing. Without it, dreams are just cowardly escapes from the realities we have forged for ourselves that we are too fearful to change, because we know deep down that hard work is called “hard” for a reason.

But just because achieving goals isn’t easy doesn’t mean we should discourage having them. I don’t mean just the truly realistic things. No, even the lofty, far-fetched, middle of the night, ever-since-I-was-a-little-kid dreams need to be encouraged. If you spend too much time worrying about the achievability of your future, you’ll wake up one day near the end to realize that you never did anything you loved at all. The point of having goals is not to give you the most secure life possible, but rather to open the door to what makes life worth living, and this is why they are important. You can never accept things just as they seem, and you can never hang your head because someone warns you that you ought to back down.

When your doctor tells you that it’s too hard to be a success in a field as risky as creative writing, you tell him it’s too hard to stop the words from coming out. You tell him that what would be too hard would be waking up every morning doing something other than what you love. You tell him that you are no fool – you know you won’t be able to lie down and take a break halfway through. But you are prepared for every inch you’ll have to crawl to make it where you want to be. You have to allow the things you can barely imagine to enamor you, to enthrall you, to excite in you the kind of passion that life is all about. Maybe they won’t always happen, maybe things will change along the way, maybe something will go wrong or something completely different will go right and you won’t end up at all where you thought you would, but guess what?

If you don’t have the courage to imagine in the first place, nothing will happen at all.