Here’s some shattering news: you can’t always get what you want. Even if you work damn hard. And if you want to “follow” your dreams – you may wind up disillusioned – and unemployed. One of my favourite broadcasters (and authors – I have a well-thumbed copy of her 1996 book Generation F: Sex, Power and the Young Feminist) is ABC News Presenter Virginia Trioli who writes:
Her shiny, smiling face. Her endearingly gap-toothed smile. And the undeniable cheerfulness that shone from the face of our Young Australian of the Year, Jessica Watson. She had achieved what some saw as crazy, what others saw as wonderfully ambitious and bold – sailing solo around the world at the tender age of 16. Her award and her achievement came with one simple but important message: “To all you Aussies out there, particularly us young guys, let’s dream big, but more importantly, let’s make it happen.”
We hear a lot about dreams. About following them, realising them, fighting for them. They define a young person, and no one seems complete without that giant, overwhelming dream. Now, I know I should find a positive, optimistic attitude such as Jessica’s uplifting and reassuring – the next generation with its clear eyes set brightly on the horizon. But I’ve had just about enough of this “dream” business: it’s time to wake up.
What bothers me is that this philosophy, this mantra of “follow your dreams at all cost … let nothing stand in your way” requires a singularity of vision, a self-absorption that runs perilously close to a most extreme kind of selfishness. I worry that the elevation of the “dream”, any “dream”, to this self-actualising status admits no mediation by the reality of ability or opportunity, no acknowledgement of its effect on others. The quest becomes absolute: anything else is failure.
To even query the dream-quest is, I know, to be seen to throw boundaries around life ambitions that should be limitless. Any child can achieve anything; any child can be anything they want – that’s the dream. But what if they can’t, and what if they don’t – what does the carrot of the dream and the whip of the child’s own expectations amount to?
How many times, in this klieg-lit time of reality television, have we seen the failed contestant fall to his/her knees, wailing, “My dream! It’s the end of my dream!” A brutally unsympathetic friend of mine was known to respond to such a cri de coeur on MasterChef with the snarl, “Enrol at William Angliss, study for three years, do an apprenticeship, get a job and there’s your dream, mate.” But three years in a damp inner-city rental versus interviews on the Today show … not quite living the dream, is it?
This is the hard stuff: that not all dreams are going to be achievable, and not all young – or older people – are going to have the capabilities to get there. What makes it even harder is that in these dream-catcher times, these are heretical views.
I understand this thinking is part of a significant generation shift. There was simply no mention of “dreams” in the ’70s and ’80s: just jobs, prospects, careers, passions for those who felt a strong connection to one field of endeavour, maybe even ambitions if you were particularly gifted. But the idea that the deepest and even most unlikely yearning of the soul had the same legitimacy as the reasonable hope of a well-paid job would have been laughable.
I am still haunted by the footage of Vicki McAuley and her little son farewelling solo kayaker Andrew as he pushed off on his doomed life’s dream of crossing the Tasman. She wept, he wept, and then he never returned. So much happiness broken apart on the rocks of someones else’s “dream”.
I think the language itself needs some examination. We all know what dreams are, and shrinks understand this stuff pretty well: dreams are the unfettered projections of the unconscious; they are our strangled desires in free-form; they are profound insights into the anxieties that make us run and run. They are fascinating stuff. But no psychiatrist worth their provider number would encourage you to build a life plan upon one.
There’s a line here that we as the teachers, parents, guardians and supporters of stumble-foot young ones must carefully walk. Our job is to encourage, support, enthuse and cajole. It’s also to advise soberly, to warn of dangers and even to gently discourage when that seems the right thing to do. I know households where that last task would be described as “quitting … and we’re not quitters in this family!” But what you call quitting, I might just call waking up.
This article was originally published in The Weekly Reviw
Have you followed your dreams? Encouraged others to do so? And if so – have you got there? Was it worth it? Is there too much emphasis on ‘dreams’ and not enough on ‘reality’?