What will you dream when you grow up?

What will you dream when you grow up?

Dreamer is an important label right now.

It always has been, or at least it should be, especially when referring to children. Artist, ballerina, astronaut, professional athlete, teacher, nurse, policeman. Somewhere along the journey through childhood, a hobby became a pastime. A pastime became an obsession. An obsession became a goal. A goal became an ambition. An ambition became reality.

Or at least, these are the stories that make good films.

But Dr. Kevin Leman, family and child psychologist, claims that most people never follow their avocations professionally. They work hard, build a life, and in their retirement years, they return to the hobby they loved most as a child: they take up painting or fishing or non-profit work. They invest their time doing the things they were discouraged from pursuing as young people because they were told they’d never make any money doing them or they weren’t talented enough.

In America, we have the luxury of beginning one career and switching to another, related or not. And many of us–artists and athletes alike–pursue the dream until it plays itself out. We reach adulthood, and we’re afraid to dream again. I say that because I mean that success becomes wholly reliant on the end result. Did you make it? Did you sell a million copies? Were you picked up by the NFL? Have you done a TED talk?

We have a hard time with mediocre, and we have a hard time starting over. But I think that’s the point of dreaming.

I’m starting over. I don’t have a big game plan. Just a gut feeling. A conviction, really, and some aspirations. Yesterday, I started graduate school at the age of 50. This is about 28 years after my mother suggested I start. But she was a teacher, who had always wanted to be a teacher, and she remained a teacher for her entire adult life. She was a very practical and logical dreamer. So there’s that. She gave me the room to dream like I dream, so I did.

I always wanted to be a writer. Naturally, I envisioned high success early on. I published my first book at age 22 and decided to teach because I wasn’t sure what to do next. I’ve been flip-flopping between the two professions ever since, building a not-so-impressive resume. Trying to write my own story, while I write a lot of other things. But with no plaque to hang on my door and some fairly unprofessional business cards with my face on them.

Twenty-eight years have passed. Just in time for early-onset dementia. But I’m American, and so I have the luxury of dreaming another dream. Or the same dream. Or a bigger dream. Or letting God dream the dream for me. I hope that doesn’t sound too spiritual.

Do we write our own stories? Yes and no.  We make the choices, but the choices also make us. They form us into people we never imagined becoming, with ambitions that might slightly differ from the ones we had as children. We’ve matured in our dreams; but I believe it’s important to keep revisiting the old ones.When I let myself dream as if I were a child once more, the world becomes more clearly focused. Life makes sense. And dreams seem clearer, brighter, and more attainable.

So my challenge to you is this: Remember. Instead of worrying about what you don’t know, think back on what you remember knowing about yourself when you were a kid. What do you remember feeling, loving, and experiencing as a child? Dr. Leman says that any memory that doesn’t have emotion attached to it is probably not really a memory–it’s a story you’ve been told about your life by someone else who remembers it (96). Real memories–especially those early ones–are the formative indicators of the life you were going to live.

How do you know what you should be doing with your life? Here are a few suggestions:

  • what do you love to do?
  • what do you recall loving to do as a child?
  • what type of work makes the time fly by?
  • if you lost your vision, hearing, or motion, what would you miss doing the most?
  • what angers you most about culture or work environment?
  • when you’re on vacation, what do you want to do?
  • who or what are you willing to fight for (not literally)?
  • what do you feel convicted to do and guilty for not doing?

So dream those dreams. Dream big. And let yourself off the hook about those million copies or the corner office. Children don’t worry about those things. Perhaps that is why their work brings them joy.

For further reading on this topic, I suggest What Your Childhood Memories Say About You by Dr. Kevin Leman.



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