When I was in middle school I wanted to be a physical therapist. Ten years went by before I would go to a physical therapist when I hurt myself chasing a bull terrier down an icy street while pregnant (but that is another story).
My 12-year-old vision of “adult-me” would be helping people. I would be a stellar student and get into a physical therapist school. I would help people feel better using my smarts and compassion. I would have an active job, problem-solving, and being creative.
On the way to achieving my dream, a terrible thing happened: algebra. After algebra, there was a steady stream of “smart kid” classes: chemistry, a different algebra, physics, and then more algebra (again ?!?!?). I spent hours with my science and math teachers after school in tutoring. For all of my ‘try’, and though I was precocious, I was a mediocre student in math and science.
A curious and common change happened in my adolescent brain, as I fell behind at each of my goals to achieve my dream: discouragement. If I can’t get a ‘C+’ in a science or math class, how can I go to university? Even if I get into university, how will I pass anatomy, physiology, and physics? I’m not smart enough to be a physical therapist.
Without any self-reflection, I abandoned my goals and my dream. I dropped out of math and science and took classes where I was always winning. Those classes did not challenge me. I went to university and only took classes I could ace. I only got ‘A’s’. My new goals were boring but I was too insecure to fail more.
Even though I was a teenager, we(I) do this as adults. We abandon our dreams because we are discouraged when we don’t meet our goals. The information we get from our failures is doubt. It shouldn’t be this way, but it often is.
The upside of dreams
In my 40’s, I am living my dream even though I dumped my goals long ago. My dream was more about who I am than about my goals. My failure to achieve at science and math was useful information (even though it stung). The center of my dream is now what I do every day. I am a coach/mom/teacher/chaplain and I help people. I use compassion and smarts to help people feel better. I use my dream in my family life and in the life of my community. It is a cliche, but the thing I was looking for the whole time was in me. I had to get to know myself better, to find it.
My goals were unattainable in my situation but my dream had fewer boundaries than in my imagination.
The root of my dream was that I enjoy helping people, and I do that even though I can’t do calculus.