Has anyone ever told you to "follow your heart", "dream big", or, my favorite, "reach for the stars"? Well, I'm not. I am merely here to tell you that there is a fine line between a dream and a whim.
A dream is a five-year-old sitting on her swing set telling the cool second grader who lives next door that she wants to be an opera singer when she grows up. Not just a singer- an opera singer. She may have only heard opera music a few times short of the number of years she has been alive, and the sound produced from her vocal chords could be mistaken for a small whale, but she believes she could manage a duet with Pavarotti next Tuesday.
Then, when that five-year-old gets to first grade, she also decides to get on a stage in front of her entire elementary school to sing a song she learned at Sunday School. Clueless to what feeling "nervous" means, she can barely contain her excitement, and all she feels is joy stronger than any sort of fear. But when the moment to show her world what she is made of arrives, something awful, and what she thinks to be impossible, happens: she forgets the first word. But she knows, when in doubt, Jesus is usually the answer. So after a few off-key notes containing the word "Jesus", a couple face palms, and several huffs of frustration, that first grade dreamer remembers that the first word is, in fact, not "Jesus", and she sings the song all the way through in front of a few hundred people.
Even in the awkward stage of middle school, dreams can shine brighter than the braces on our teeth in stage light. That same girl tried out for her school musical, intimidated by everyone older than her, and who she thought to be prettier, more talented, and more social than her...so almost everyone who tried out. But on the day when she heard her name get called for the coveted lead role, she got up in front her choir class, accepted the script handed to her, and knew what it must feel like to win a Grammy. She pretended not to like the attention and congratulations she received for the rest of the school day...but her acting wasn't exactly developed yet.
Then high school takes over, along with the need to be rebellious, special, and different from everyone else- but so does the will to be popular, look attractive, and fit in. There is an unnoticeable shift in energy to find something that makes us...us. But we often don't realize that what we enjoy doing- what we have been doing all along- is what makes us special. Maybe we think we're not worthy or good enough to stand out because we see other talented people standing out- doing what we want to be doing- and how could we ever be as tall or talented as them? At least, that is how that go-getter, big-dreamer felt when adolescence took over.
She felt inadequate, short, and untalented, but still snuck into the band room during lunch to play piano. She still hid in her room with a guitar and a printed off sheet of Taylor Swift chords, hours after her fingers began to blister and burn. She even managed to find a best friend to be an inadequate outcast with, to perform with, to attempt composing with, and, most importantly, to survive high school with.
But now that dreamer is in college. Her guitar sits in a corner of her apartment, and the only workout her piano-craving fingers get is the never-ending typing of papers, pounding out Biology lab reports, and playing 'Words with Friends'. Working with all she has for that sunny day in May, when she can lock herself in a practice room for three hours to let her words turn to notes, shift the fire in her fingers, and allow every worry and piece of her soul to come pouring out of her throat.
It's amazing that after fifteen years, some dreams don't waver or wander far. But how tragic it is that it takes so long to realize we didn't let them live as much as we could have, because either we thought we couldn't do it, dismissed it as a whimsical fantasy to outgrow, or more likely, succumbed to a poisonous combination of the two.
But do not misunderstand this dreamer. We are wiser now. We have grown, gained new experiences, and acquired new and bigger dreams- even if they now live in a Petri dish and not on a stage in Italy.
Some days I would like to run away to California to play music on the street or, maybe, head to Boston for a theater career. But most days, I just can't wait to get my degree and make a real difference in the world. Some people might call me a sell out, but I think it is safe to say that when we age and change, so do our dreams.
We form new aspirations that surpass anything we could have imagined to be possible. What used to be childhood dreams are now merely pastimes laced with fond memories that give us a break from the work of our real dreams. So don't make the mistake of dismissing something as a whim too early. Because, sometimes, whims can last. And if one does, don't sleep, and don't dream. Work your ass off. We aren't five anymore, so get off the swing set, and do it.