Lately I've been thinking a lot about dreams, and the things that block them. I have heard professionals in various fields - people who have already overcome obstacles and made a name for themselves - say that if you didn't make it, you didn't want it badly enough. I'm not sure that I agree with that completely, but they do have a point. If you want something badly enough, even believing you can't do it doesn't stop you from trying. This blog is a case in point. It is me dusting off my self-esteem and giving writing another chance. Do I honestly think that this will in some way lead to me being published? Probably not, but at least it is an outlet for the desire.
I think most people go through life having given up on a dream, to be a writer, or a lawyer, or a singer. We start to learn what it takes to fulfill our dream, and comparing ourselves to the leaders in the field, and we commit the error that kills all dreams: We think "I can't do that."
At least, that's how it worked for me. I can remember a number of dreams I've given up on: singer, teacher, and artist being just a few. In each case, there was a point, or many points, where I looked at the work of someone who had been doing it far longer than myself and thought, "I can't do that." Whether the statement is true or not almost doesn't matter - the fact is that by saying it, I sabotaged myself. Instead of letting the achievements of those people inspire me to do better, I gave up, in my own mind, the possibility of improving. I let what I thought I could do stop me from doing what I wanted to do.
Now, the phrase also implies that anyone can achieve any dream if they simply want it badly enough, and I disagree with that. Not everyone is cut out to be an Olympic gold medalist, or a brain surgeon, or an attorney general. One of the problems with our culture, in my opinion, is the idea that if you are not one of the leaders (however that is defined) that your work is inherently less valuable. This not only causes the culture to look down on entire classes of employment (construction, sanitation, retail, etc) but also to marginalize the value of those who do basic, necessary tasks in "more respectable" classes of employment.
Anyone can be a leader, but everyone cannot. A world full of CEOs would collapse, with no one knowing how to raise crops, maintain sewer and water lines, or repair any but the most basic structural damages. The example is extreme, but the principle holds true in any field. The singer who puts out one album, or none, is no less intrinsically valuable because she gives pleasure to a smaller audience. The teenager flipping burgers has no less right to self-esteem and to respect from others because he is not the store manager.
It is good and necessary to have dreams of better things, but we as individuals and as a culture need to take the time to acknowledge and respect the role of the followers as well as the leaders. As individuals, we need to not be intimidated by what we think we can do, but rather strive to be the best we can be. Equally, we need to be content if, reaching the peak of our ability, we are not the leaders of the pack.
Don't let what you want to be undermine your pleasure in what you are. And don't let what you think you are keep you from becoming what you want to be.
EDIT Jan. 4, 2013: Feel Good Friday: The Lion in the Mirror is a sort-of follow-up on this post.