Keep your superheroes close and your “dream poopers” closer.
In 1963, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his now famous speech, I have a Dream. In his speech, King emphasizes the need for peace and equality so that all people “would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (King, 1963). King’s now famous quote, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” inspired both a nation and world, urging people to fight for each other and against injustices of all kinds (King, 1963).
While we have a long way to go towards equality among races, creeds, and religions, King’s words have evolved beyond his already grandiose ideals and have infiltrated every part of modern life. I have a dream has come to represent so many different ideas to a world of different people. To me, it not only represents equality, but my dreams of helping people realize their own dreams.
Martin Luther King “dreamed big” and I, too, have big dreams. I am lucky enough to be able to pursue my dreams surrounded by people who support and encourage me. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the same kind of support and have lost the belief that they are good enough to dream big dreams. Other people have big dreams, but simply do not follow through with chasing them. In both cases, the fear of failure is so great that they would rather stay stagnant in mediocre lives than actually go after their true ambitions.
Now, mediocrity has a negative connotation, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mediocrity is made up of our “small dreams,” the threads that make up our day-to-day lives. Mediocrity is enjoyable, predictable, keeps us at a level playing field with our peers. It is the routine that we love, the uncomplicated tasks of modern life, the family dinners and homework and mowing the lawn on weekends. However, mediocrity does become negative when you give up on yourself, your true wants, and your grand ambitions to live a life of safety and ease because you are afraid of failing to live “big dreams”.
The greatest dreamers were not afraid of failure. In fact, the greatest dreamers and doers were failures. Writer and director George Lucas noted, “Failure is just another word for experience.” Inventor Thomas A. Edison famously said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela inspired millions with his quote, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell and got back up.” Who else were famous failures? Feel free to investigate how NBA player Michael Jordan, physicist Albert Einstein, Apple founder Steve Jobs, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, actor and martial arts guru Bruce Lee, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, director Steven Spielberg, and author Stephen King all felt like gigantic failures before their big dreams were realized. What do these people have in common? They all had grand dreams, ignored opposition and cynics, persevered when they failed, and tapped into their inner grit.
Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth gave an incredibly inspiring TED talk called, Grit: The power of passion and perseverance (6:12 minutes) In this speech, Duckworth recalls speaking to different competitions, companies, schools, and groups all over North America trying to figure out which of their students or employees would be successful in not only overcoming challenging circumstances, but continuing their work after they faced setbacks. She discovered a common thread in all people who succeeded: grit. Duckworth defines grit as, passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint (Duckworth, 2013).
People with grit understand that life is full of symbiotic negative and positive relationships, a Yin-Yang connection with every event, every obstacle and leap, and every dream. Living with grit means you can see yourself overcoming challenges, means that you face difficult tasks and hurdles with both creativity and positivity. It doesn’t mean you don’t get discouraged. It doesn’t mean you don’t have setbacks. It doesn’t mean you love failing or see the positive in every stumbling block and barrier. Grit means you allow yourself to fall, to feel, and to crash, but you don’t let those stumbles, emotions, and breaks ruin your big dreams. You pick those lemons up and you learn to make a fresh tasting lemonade. Then you share with everyone how you made it.
Having grit and continuing after failure also means enveloping yourself in your big dreams no matter what the issue. Failure, though, is not the only obstacle you will face. People will eventually see your pursuit of happiness and, once they get wind of your successes and failures, two groups will emerge: critics, the “dream poopers,” and superheroes, your cheer squad. Your superheroes are easy to spot. These people build you up when you crumble, heal your wounds when you fall, and boost your ego when you call yourself a failure. These people intrinsically want you to succeed.
Your critics can be a bit harder to spot. While some blatantly urge you to give up or even celebrate in your failings, others are very subtle. Many critics seem like they want you to succeed, but behind their encouragement have a forked tongue persuading you to give up. These I like to call “dream poopers,” because they recognize your big aspirations, but revel in your failings and whisper oh-so-gently for you to give up. Basically, they poop on your dreams. Having grit means you ignore these whispers and focus on your goals. Having grit means the desire to overcome the critics and all other obstacles to achieve your dreams is mightier than everything else standing in your way.
Dreaming big is the easy part. Allowing yourself to have an emotional attachment to your dreams, to allow yourself to fail, and allowing yourself to keep pursuing your ambitions despite unending mountains and canyons of obstacles are the hard parts. When you have grit, you’ll realize that the hard parts — the struggles and the failures — are well worth everything you have gone through when you are eventually realizing your “big dreams.”
In the next few blog posts, I will talk more about “dreaming big”, overcoming obstacles, driving your big dreams towards positive interpersonal relationships, and bringing hope to others.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. I have a Dream. Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. August 28, 1963. Speech. Retrieved from http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm.
Duckworth, Angela Lee. (2013, April). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance/transcript?language=en.