Why We Believe the Dream

“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re going and hook up with them later.” -Mitch Hedberg

Throughout most of our childhood we are told we can be and do anything. Do you want to be astronaut? Work hard enough and you’ll walk on the moon. How about the next Michael Jordan? Work day and night and you’ll be going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in no time. If you dream it, you can achieve it. What happens then, when one grows up and finds out we just don’t have the ability needed to become the next Barack Obama? Do we fall into a bottomless pit of despair never to return to any semblance of happiness? Probably not. Instead maybe we should examine the reason this idea is driven into our heads in the first place.

At some level we are an optimistic people.  According to a recent Time cover story, many of our brains are hardwired for this positive outlook on life. In many cases, we tend to view things as much better than they are. What this means, is even if we fall short of our dreams we tend to hold out hope it is still possible to realize them. A sentiment we pass on to our children who pass it on to their children and so on. It’s not that our parents were trying to mislead us, but rather they still believe that anything is possible if one tries hard enough. Which is important if we ever going to exceed the sometimes meager expectations others have for us. Speaking of which…

Success is only possible if we believe in it. Sure, maybe we can not all be the race car drivers and fighter pilots we dreamed about when we were young, but if are not able to believe such things are possible we definitely won’t be. We can only achieve the highest height we aim for. If we are told our entire lives we are going to end up working behind a customer service desk, we are unlikely to have the faith in ourselves to accomplish anything more. Only by instilling the idea anything is possible will those with the necessary drive, skills, and ambition reach their full potential.

Finally, we all want whats best for those we care about. At the end of the day, we want our loved ones to have a life equal to or better than the one we have. While no one can guarantee such a fate, it is possible to offer the support needed to build an adequate level of self-confidence. Enabling younger generations to take risks so they at least have a chance at accomplishing their goals. While this may also instill certain delusions about what is possible for the individual, the costs far our weigh the risks.

Does knowing the motivations behind this misleading practice justify eliminating such idealism from the dialogue? Should we simply level with the next generation and explain that while possible, its highly unlikely they will achieve the high and mighty goals of their youth? While a part of me wonders how this would affect society, the idea is a noble one that probably causes more good than harm. Then again, maybe its just that optimism getting the best of me.

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