Far From Heaven

17 Sep

The Brooklyn Bridge - photo by MAG

Keeping dreams alive is a Herculean task in this society.

I’m always saddened by the reaction that follows someone’s admission that they dream of doing something different than what they are currently doing.  What usually happens is that someone close to the person will say, “You want to do what?  Who? You?”  The person doing the dreaming will then immediately begin doubting themselves [because, of course, these are the people who “know best”], and mumble something along the lines of, “Yeah, well, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about – I’m not going to do it!”

I know this because, in the past, I’ve been on both sides of the exchange, and neither side has made me feel good.  So, I’ve made the choice to shift my thinking and have moved to a new vantage point.

I choose to believe that anything is possible.   

I am not delusional, and I don’t have unreasonable beliefs about achieving the impossible [because as much as I’d love to do a stadium tour with my guitar heroes, it’s not going to happen until I actually learn to play the guitar].  What I’ve come to understand is that the one thing that all people who dream big dreams have in common is that they set goals, they work hard, and they understand that they are not in control of the outcome of the dream.  They see that the dreaming, in and of itself, is the important part of the equation, and that the only things they’re in control of are how much they learn from the experience and what they do with the knowledge.

This became clear to me a few years ago, when I listened to Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement address.  Jobs told the story of how he’d dropped out of college, and that this decision had had a profound effect on the aesthetic features of Apple computers.  Jobs certainly wasn’t advocating “dropping out” as a way to “move ahead.”  The point he was trying to make was that “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

I can see this reflected in my own life.  So many things that have happened and that I’ve done didn’t make sense until much later [sometimes more than 30 years], but eventually I connected the dots.  When I heard Steve Jobs’ speech, it suddenly made sense, and much to my delight, I heard him encouraging people to become intellectual pack-rats.

Personally, I’ve found the pack-rat mentality to be the very thing that makes it possible for me to continue to dream, as well as to be able to support the dreams of others. I can’t know how the dots will connect, I just have to jump in and give things a try.

Recently, after months of resisting, I let go of my preconceived notions and played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time.  My resistance to playing was, ironically, as a result of buying into the stereotypes about how all D&D players are “anti-social geeks who live in their parents’ basements.” However, a friend who is a D&D player, and someone I respect as an intelligent, articulate educator, patiently explained the game in a way that appealed to my interests, and when I said I thought I’d like to try it out, he created a character for me and invited me to join a game.

As a result, I spent an evening with some incredibly intelligent [and hilarious!] people who introduced me to the game and showed me that D&D is about so much more than the stereotypes surrounding sci-fi fantasy role play.  To my delight, I found that the game actually requires many skills that I try and teach to college students every term – research, critical thinking, storytelling, following directions, and teamwork.  It opened my eyes to new tools I might be able to use in my classrooms, new ways of thinking about how to approach problem-solving, and creative challenges, and well, it was just plain fun to play.

My evening playing D&D is just one example of the many experiences that have helped me gain a new understanding of concepts and ideas, of the way other people think and process information, and even of myself and my way of thinking.  It’s these kinds of experiences that have taught me, over and over again, that there is a common thread connecting all knowledge, and the interesting part is finding out where that thread begins.

How does this all connect to keeping the dream alive?

Dreaming requires us to have faith, and in order to do this, there has to be some kind of evidence that the faith is worth the effort it takes to keep it alive.  There has to be a reason to keep believing.

There have been plenty of people who have told me my dreams are crazy, and, at first, it dampened my enthusiasm [and hurt my feelings], but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that these “Dream Killers” are people who have surrendered their own dreams. They feel anger, regret, disappointment, and shame because they’ve let go of the things they hoped to achieve.  In order to justify the choices they’ve made, they try and discourage others from aiming too high or dreaming too big because they don’t want to be reminded of their own failures and they don’t want others to see how fearful they are of taking a risk.

The only thing that can protect dreamers from this negative influence is to fortify their defenses with a wealth of evidence showing that dreams can come true; that it’s better to remain optimistic and hopeful; that it pays to believe.

The evidence that keeps me believing is based on the fact that I see what happens when students take the knowledge they’ve gained each term and use it to fuel their own dreams – and the dreams of those around them.

When I see the light go on as an English student suddenly understands how a thesis statement for a “boring research paper” is connected to the mission statement they want to write for the film company they hope to start;  or when a Cultural Diversity class suddenly understands that putting people in categories that limit who they are – and can be – is a way of making it easier for other people to define them rather than giving them the option to define themselves as individuals; or when an Information Literacy student suddenly grasps the connection between evaluating sources for a research paper and evaluating manufacturers for a product they hope to develop, those are the moments that give me hope and remind me of why I keep believing. And I get just enough of them, at regular intervals, to keep my faith alive.

It’s a cycle, really.  Faith fuels the belief, and belief fuels the faith.

I know what keeps me dreaming [when I want to give up and admit that it’s not possible] is that I’m constantly searching for new ways to convey information to students.  I feel responsible for making sure that someone believes.  It’s not because I think that I alone make the difference as to whether or not my students believe [sometimes it’s their faith that keeps me believing], it’s because being responsible for maintaining hope and optimism, gives me the power to keep my own dreams alive, and the more I do, the happier I am.

Last year, I started this blog as a means of showing students how to blog and encouraging them to dream big. Looking back, I can see how this exercise has helped me overcome my own fears and pushed me to do things that I didn’t know whether I was capable of doing or not.  This blog has inspired me to write – in public – and to accept that nothing I write will ever be “perfect,” but that I can continue to edit while I try and clarify my ideas.  This blog was one of the reasons why I took a chance and believed I was capable of traveling to New York – alone – this past summer. This blog has allowed me to connect with students, family, and friends in ways that might otherwise not have been possible, and has enriched my life in ways I had not anticipated.  And this blog has inspired me to push forward and look for new ways to support other people who are dreaming of doing something bigger and better.

Some of the things I have planned for the next few months just might help jump start a new career path for me, they might help me become a better teacher – and a better person – and then again, they might simply be fun experiences that leave great memories.

Whatever the case, I now know that it’s important to plan and set goals for the future, to work hard at what I need to learn, and to never ever be afraid of dreaming big dreams. And I’ll let you in on a little secret – it’s not that I’m particularly brave or courageous. Most of the time, I’m scared as hell when I start pursuing a new dream.  The secret is that I’m incredibly stubborn about the fact that I believe things can be better because I’ve seen how things can change when I do believe.  Well, that and the fact that, for better or for worse, my stubbornness frequently overrides my fear.

So, the next time you hear someone talking about what seems like an impossible dream, instead of telling them they’re crazy, look them in the eye and say, “I believe.”  Because the more the dreamers support one another, the better chance they have of keeping their dreams alive.  There’s strength in numbers, and that strength can make all the difference.

I encourage you to push past your fears [and the fears of those around you] and pursue your dreams.  When you do [and if for some reason you wind up feeling afraid] just remember that there’s at least one person out here who believes in your right to pursue that dream – no matter how outrageous it seems.

Let go of your preconceived notions of what the outcome should be, do what you want to do, and have fun doing it!  And trust that the dots will all, eventually, connect.

I believe.

I hope you will, too.


2 Responses to “Far From Heaven”

  1. kelly vogt September 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Mary, have you ever watched the movie “Rudy” about the kid who wants to play football for Notre Dame? To me, this is one of the ultimate “dreamer” movies and if you haven’t seen it you should definitely take the time (have a kleenex handy). There is one scene where the dad is telling his son how worthless dreams are. Every time I see the movie this scene makes me mad. Your description of “dream killers” reminded me of it and I think you have described them perfectly!

    You inspire me to dream and I hope that you continue to share with your blog!



    • Mary September 20, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      Kelly, I *love* Rudy!!! I cry every time he gets that third letter, and then again when the whole stadium is cheering “RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!” You are so right about it being the ultimate dreamer movie. I’m glad my description resonated with you!

      I’m so glad that this blog inspires you to dream – you’re one of the people who’ve given me reasons to keep writing, and for that, I’m so grateful. Keep dreaming, Kelly! I believe.


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