Dream outside the lines
Someone or something told me dreams were not for me. Dreams were for the smart or the rich or the lucky; but they were not meant for someone from my background with my skin color. This is true for many underprivileged children. Many of them share the same sentiment without ever realizing it. Dreaming and setting goals can be the difference that changes one’s circumstances from “just getting by” to “flourishing.”
Unfortunately, children from low income homes find it hard to dream past their circumstances; often feeling hopeless in the face of others older and wiser than they having never overcome financial or educational struggles.
I was 20 before I held my first dream like a precious egg; I was afraid it would break if I neglected it. So I nurtured it as much as I could and fed that dream until it hatched. Eventually, that dream birthed more dreams for me to mother. Up until that point I had made goals for myself that I achieved but to dream was out of the question for me. While setting goals and achieving them is great, a dream transcends you mentally, emotionally, and many times, financially.
A dream is what stirs your passion and gives you butterflies. It’s sad that so many children today will choose only to pursue goals because they view dreams as a luxury. The difference of a goal and a dream is as simple as this:
21 year old Miya comes for a household where income is low. She decided against college because of the cost and set a goal to get her certification as a hair stylist because she loves doing hair and interacting with women. She is eager to earn money to support herself and help her household. This mentality will be how she earns a living for the next 20 years.
as opposed to
21 year old Miya decided to get her certification as a hair stylist and take business classes at her local community college so that she could eventually open up her own salon. She saw spending money to take classes and getting her certification as an investment to her future. Within 20 years she has 2 hair salons, 14 employees and lives a comfortable upper class lifestyle. She is better able to help her family.
In the first example Miya has set a wonderful goal to become a stylist based off of what she loves to do and the immediate financial need of her family. In the second example Miya actively works toward her dream by taking the necessary steps to get there. The second example isn’t likely to happen without emotional mentoring in the form of encouragement.
Too often we allow our own negative life experiences to seep into the advice we give our youth. “That’s too big a dream, aim for something realistic.” We say this in our own paraphrases without understanding the impact it has. Miya likely had someone encourage her dreams and that helped to give her confidence in pursuing them. But how do you do that?
How do you dream when you can’t see past your circumstance?
One of the important things I’ve learned is, in order to break down the mental barriers of low income children you must expose them to environments that stimulate their mind and expand their world view. Although I was heavily affected by my circumstances in the teen years of my life, I can attribute my creativity, curiosity, and thirst for knowledge to my childhood. Watching history documentaries or nature shows with my dad for hours expanded my world to places outside of our tiny walls.
Constantly wanting to learn more, being equipped with 9,999 fun facts and being a general nerd has all steamed from him. Watching my mother and sisters create from their own imagination, bringing their passions to physical forms spurred me to play with my personal creativity. Children who are given an alternative way of seeing the world, free from the eyes of financial stress, are better able to dream past their circumstance.
It is hard to dream something you’ve never seen.
That’s why connecting children with a mentor can improve the way they view the world and most importantly, change the way they view themselves. Seeing someone living well who shares similar background baggage or physical attributes helps children envision themselves living well, accomplishing the “impossible” and conquering dreams. REPRESENTATION ABSOLUTELY MATTERS! In saying, “If she can make it, then so can I” a child is empowering themselves and establishing that they want more out of life.
Wanting MORE is not a crime
Dreaming bigger than what you’ve personally seen accomplished can feel like a betrayal to those closest to you. It can feel like saying “The way we live isn’t good enough for me.” It can feel like you’re slapping your hard working mother/father in the face.
The truth is that unless we live a dream realized then we all want more. Some of us just forget that. Even our parents or idols.
Another issue is that not everyone dreams the same. Your MORE may not look like my MORE. My more right now is having a successful mentoring program and middle class lifestyle while my boyfriend’s more comes equipped with extra zeros in his bank account. Similarly, I had completely stressed myself out a while ago wanting more for my mother.
She’s amazing and I think she deserves all the gold in the world. One day in her office at school I asked her “Ma, what did you always want to be or dream about being when you were my age?” I thought she was going to give me some off the wall response like a Hollywood actress, world renowned chef or something. Instead, she peaked at me from the top of her reading glasses and said “I love what I do now. I feed people and get to decorate and be myself. My greatest dream was to be a better mother than I had so anything extra is a blessing.”
(Real tears) I was floored. Here I was wanting a dream for my mother that wasn’t even hers. Her MORE had already been realized through the reciprocated love of her daughters. So wanting more for yourself is nothing to shy away from. Everyone has a “MORE.”
Some people have achieved it and others are afraid to pursue it. Don’t allow worrying about how others view your pursuit of more to deter you from it. As long as you travel the path towards your dream with respect for your past and grace for your future, you will be alright.
To me dreaming doesn’t have to be outrageous. Dreaming for people from households that don’t encourage or talk about the future often involves achieving things that no one else in the family has.
A dream doesn’t have to be something utterly trivial like wanting to be a star NBA player or world renowned author. Most times it’s dreaming of being the first in your family to graduate from college, start a successful business, join the military, travel the world, own a home etc…
In having discussions with others about the difference between setting a goal and pursuing a dream I realized that many people consider dreams those things in our lives that live outside reality and thrive within the probability of winning the lottery. However, to me dreaming often is far smaller than that.
Dreams are linked to our passions, sometimes our talents. Dreams are those things that call out to us from a distance ahead; urging us to take action through pursuit. Our dreams make use restless.
I’m not saying encourage your 35 year old cousin to continue in his pursuit of being a rapper but do offer a healthy discussion about the future with your 16 year old niece who believes she wants to be a surgeon. Help her to envision her dream and find ways to actively go after it.
When I was graduating from High School I got asked, “So what are your plans after graduation?;” more times than I can count. No one asked this the other 3 years of my high school life and I honestly don’t think I was really asked that question after the age of 8 when the answers were cute. They included astronaut, policeman, and actress. Once I became older and the reality of adulthood was nye; it became a different ball game in which my answers were expected to be followed up by actions.
The problem was that since no one had really encouraged me to dream about my future, I didn’t. I was blindsided by the “what next” question that suddenly appeared in my senior year of high school so I only offered a response with no real follow through thinking. “So what are your plans after graduation?” I replied, “I’m going to school to become a psychologist.” Ha! I laugh at this now because man oh man was I clueless in what that pursuit really entailed. At the time it seemed like the best way to fulfill my need to help people.
The topic to dream complete means exactly what it says. Dreaming the process of the pursuit all the way through. Whenever you think about your dream you should make a plan on how to achieve it. Dreaming completely allows you to see your dream in it’s entirety and helps you make the decision on whether it’s really for you or not. Once I realized that I wanted to help people but I wasn’t willing to pursue a PH.D to do it; I changed my major to something more realistic. Encourage the youth, friends, and family in your life to dream complete.
This post in based on my views of what dreams and goals mean. What are YOUR thoughts? Comment below and let’s discuss. #LETSBUILD
As someone who teaches students from poor backgrounds, I get what you say about not being able to dream. I am glad you found the strength to nuture your small dream into a realitiy.