Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Is It Wrong to Dream?

This might seem like a strange question, yet a lot of people in our society (including our friends and relatives) do discourage us from our dreams. For example, when I told my parents I wanted to be a writer, my father was less than enthusiastic. He wanted me to pursue a degree that was more marketable, such as computer science, or even business. And I'm sure some people will laugh if you tell them an incredulous dream, such as perhaps being a billionaire (if you don't already come from a wealthy family that is), or being president of the country. So I ask, is it wrong to dream big? If not, why do people, including our loved ones, often discourage it?

Here's my take on things. Is it wrong to dream big? No, of course not. If people didn't have big aspirations, then the human race wouldn't progress. I mean the reason why we have television sets, cars, airplanes, or even mobile phones is because someone at some time had a big vision. Were they ridiculed? I'm sure they were. And depending on the era, some people might even have been persecuted for their beliefs. Did they succeed? Well, perhaps not at the start. But obviously, we now have the convenience of modern technology, and somebody had to invent them. And it all begins with a dream. Of course having said that, I won't say dreaming big will be easy. In fact, it's painful, and sometimes, even dangerous. The larger your dream the more difficult it will be for you, especially if it's not something that has been accomplished before. I mean a century ago, people would probably believe you more if you said you were going to be president rather than walking on the moon. At the least the former has precedence, and somebody has to be president (although of course, the chances of you being that person was slim). Walking on the moon, on the other hand, is not something that was possible then (but of course, fast forward half a century later and walking on the moon is a feat that can be achieved). Perhaps that's why our friends and family sometimes discourages us from dreaming big. Because obviously, not everyone gets to achieve their dreams. And when you fail, it hurts; the bigger your dream, the more painful the experience. It's like building the Tower of Babel: the higher you ascend, the more devastating the fall. But that's not always the case. What usually drives people to dream big is the similarly big pay-off. More often than not, the bigger the risks you take or the more "impossible" the feat, the greater the reward.

Having said all that, what does it mean to dream? Well, if you don't want to get hurt, don't dream. Settle for less. It's much like courting someone: you can't get rejected if you don't try. Of course similarly, you won't get much excitement either. I don't think our friends and parents don't want us to dream. They just don't want us to dream big dreams, mainly because big dreams entails lots of hardship and suffering. And honestly, who wants hardship and suffering, especially when it happens to someone you care about? It's not that they don't want good things for you. In fact, it's possible to have good things in life by having not-so-big dreams. Sometimes, being average is good enough. Sure, you're not uncovering your full potential, but it also requires less of you. Now I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Being average, is well, safe. People will have different views about you, but in the long run, being average is the least dangerous. For example, take a look at kidnapping. Who do kidnappers kidnap? Usually those who have a high profile, either you're rich or you're famous (since some assume that just because you're famous means you're rich). If you're average, well, there's a good chance you or your family won't get kidnapped. Similarly, people won't pay much attention to you either. I mean who do people pay attention to? The extraordinary people, whether they're a celebrity, a politician, or the president of a company. Big dreams isn't for everyone. But I do believe having dreams (no matter how insignificant it might seem) is vital. It's what drives us to become more human, to be better people.

Of course just because we have dreams does not mean we will achieve them. Perhaps what I see wrong in the world is that people mistake dreams for wishes. We've all heard the statement "I want a family, a house and lot, and a car". Is that a dream or a wish? Well, if you're doing something about it, it's a dream. A dream is a goal, something you try to obtain. If you're not doing anything about it and doing the same old stuff you did before that doesn't bring you closer to it, well, it's a wish. Why a wish? Because it'll never be achieved short of outside interference (such as somebody suddenly bequeathing you his or her wealth, or someone gives you a check of millions of dollars on your birthday). Again, I'm not saying wishing is wrong. We all have wishes. Most of us wishes for world peace or to stop world hunger. Do we expect it to come true? No, of course not. Never mistake a dream for a wish. Dreams are achievable, but only if you exert effort and are dedicated enough to achieve it. To some people, their dreams are their purpose. If you don't have a purpose in life or don't expect to fulfill it, what kind of life are you living?

By now, I think it's fair to say that dreams are goals or can be broken down into several goals. And goals can be planned for if your dream is concrete. I mean if your dream is, for example, to be rich, it would be more helpful if we qualify what "rich" means. If being rich for you means having $1,000,000.00 in the bank, then that's your end goal. Similarly, if your dream is to become president, well, it would be helpful if we became more specific. "I will be president of the Philippines by the year 2020," for example, is a specific goal. Once the goal is set, we know more on how to achieve it. In the case of acquiring $1,000,000 in the bank, well, we must obviously take steps to actualize that. In this case, we can break it down into several, smaller goals. Let's say that in order to achieve the $1,000,000 dollars, we should deposit $1,000 in the bank each month. Assuming no interest is earned, it'll take us 83 years to fulfill that goal. Is that too long? Well, let's say we deposit $2,000 in the bank each month. That'll take us over 42 years to reach our final goal. If working for 42 years is good enough for you, your immediate goal is to deposit $2,000 in the bank every month. I'm not saying that's easy, but it's definitely easier than getting that one million all in one go. If you're dedicated enough in achieving your dream, you have to start somewhere. Depositing $1 in the bank is better than not depositing at all. It's a small step, but a step forward nonetheless. Dreams shouldn't be wishes. We should take steps to actualize it. (On a side note, assuming there's a net interest of 2%, it'll take you 31 years to acquire $1,000,000 depositing $24,000 each year.) For me though, money matters has always been easy to calculate. More often than not, our dreams are difficult to quantify. For example, if your goal is to be a wealthy person, $1,000,000 won't achieve that; that's just a stepping stone and you need other avenues of income, whether it's writing that great novel, having a big business, or owning lots of real estate. Similarly, if your dream is to become president of the Philippines, well, there are several avenues to accomplish that. You could take the normal way of climbing up the political ladder such as running for mayor, senator, vice-president, and eventually the position of president, or perhaps you could take a different route, such as becoming a wealthy individual, or take up a career that gives you a lot of publicity. I'm not saying one method is better than the other, and sometimes, we won't know which is the most effective method until the day arrives to test it, but it's what we can come up with and is the only way we can measure our small successes, at least at this point in time.

Even if everyone breaks down their dreams into small goals, not everyone fulfills their dream. Why? Because it's difficult. No one ever associated dream fulfillment with being easy, at least not initially. There will always be hurdles when you pursue your dream. A lot will be asked from you. The question is, are you up to it? The problem I find with some people is that they think they're entitled to their dreams. A person, for example, might think he's entitled to wealth just because he's worked hard for the past few years. Well, a lot of people have worked hard for decades, and even they aren't rich. Or a writer might think that just because he's had two decades of education that he should get paid a lot for his writing. Well, sometimes even education isn't enough. Personally, I think if you want to fulfill your dreams, you need two things: effort and intelligence. The former is obvious: you'll never accomplish anything unless you exert effort. The latter is perhaps the less obvious one. Millions of people are working hard everyday, yet not all of them are fulfilling their dreams. The difference is not necessarily from their output but in the way they think. The cliche saying is that "there's more than one way to skin a cat". The same is true in attaining our goals. There are several vehicles to accomplish that. Of course not all of them are equal. Some methods are more efficient than others. That's where intelligence comes in, figuring out which is the most efficient method and which is the one appropriate for yourself. Sometimes, intelligence even finds a way to achieve the same results for lesser effort. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying effort is not needed. Rather, effort alone is insufficient. You need intelligence to back it up. But similarly, intelligence without action is also useless. That's why a combination of hard work and wisdom is the most effective method. But of course, both factors won't come naturally to you. It's something you need to learn, something you need to develop in yourself.

Another thing that irks me is when people assume that they'll attain their dreams without personal growth or sacrifice. Everything has a price. If you want your dream badly enough, you'll pay that price. I have writer friends whose dream is to write that great novel or playwright. Thus they participate in workshops and revisions. Why workshops? Because you get criticism there. Criticism is never easy, especially to sensitive people, but it's a necessary process. Why? Because that's one of the ways you'll discover your mistakes or how your work can be improved. In a way, that's also why there are editors. Editors help writers nurture and develop their work. That involves the occasional criticism or pointing out errors or passages that can be improved upon. Some of my friends loathe criticism. Sometimes, it's not a process they want to undergo. For me, that's folly. At least that's so if they want to fulfill their dream. I don't think there's any writer who didn't receive some sort of criticism at one time or another. Sure, the more successful writers nowadays gain accolades from their peers, but even born geniuses aren't perfect. I'm sure when they were starting, they made mistakes or wrote things that didn't please people. I think the important thing is to keep on going and to keep on improving. Criticism in this case is part of the price you have to pay. Long hours editing your work or making revisions is also part of that price. Continual education, reading other works, and exposing yourself to new ideas and subject matter are also steps a good writer needs to undergo. In whatever you do, there will always be a cost. That leaves us with two kinds of mentalities: either it's "suffer now play later" or "play now suffer later". I can't say which one is better: it's your decision which one it'll be. But I have this word of advice: if you want to remain in your comfort zone and don't want to grow, you'll most likely choose the latter. And when that happens, most likely, you won't achieve a big dream. Dreams can change. You can always make your dream smaller. You can follow the advice of the people who tell you don't dream of doing this or that, or that you can't do it. You can always have easy dreams and do easy work. But if you want big dreams, be ready to pay the price.

Speaking of price, you don't necessarily have to pay everything. Obviously, there are some things we won't do. I, for example, won't do something I find unethical or immoral. If my goal was to become the president of a company, I won't resort to embezzling money in order to finance myself, nor would I have my rivals assassinated when there's an opening for promotion. I also wouldn't find ways to get my superiors into trouble just to make a vacancy open in the first place. Each of us has standards that we aren't willing to compromise. If that's the case, well, just find another method. In my example, there are other ways of climbing the corporate ladder, such as providing good output, waiting for the promotion, involving yourself in other projects with the company, volunteering your services, etc. Of course don't confuse this with not doing something that's uncomfortable for you. In the said scenario, it might be inconvenient for you to come home late and miss your favorite TV show just to do extra work. Or you might be sent to another country but you don't want to do so because you're unfamiliar with that nation and unwilling to learn the language. That's laziness and staying in your comfort zone. If this is your uncompromising standard, well, you need to reevaluate your dream. Dream something "convenient". If you want to fulfill a good dream, then you must be willing to give it proportionate time and effort as well. Go out of your comfort zone! It's usually in that way do we grow and become better people as well as expanding our skills and capabilities. But be sure to prioritize the things that you value as well be it your code of conduct, your family, or your friends. And do your research as well. Some of the things we don't want to comprise might just be things that we don't want to do. There are also a lot of misconceptions out there. For example, in the Philippines, many people believe that government officials, businessmen, and the police are corrupt and greedy. Not all of them are. Pursuing a career in government, business, or even law enforcement isn't evil. It's what you do with it that dictates what the results will be. You'll be envied, criticized, and ridiculed by other people, but sometimes, that's part of the price you have to pay. What's important is that you know your reasons for doing so and not what other people believe your reasons are.

Is it wrong to dream? Definitely not. But don't expect dreams to fulfill themselves. We need to exert time and effort to fulfill them. Our dreams always come at a price. The question is, are you willing to pay that price? Do you want your dream badly enough? What are you wiling to forego just to attain that goal? What you must do to achieve your dream isn't a question you ask other people, but rather something you must ask deep within yourself.

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