You and I both know that 6 and 8-year-old boys can’t dunk. They’re too short, their hands aren’t big enough, they can’t jump high enough, and they’d more than likely get hurt trying.
But if you tell them they can’t?
They’ll find a way to make it happen.
They don’t see the same things we do. They don’t see that dog kennel collapsing beneath them, they don’t see the busted head when they take one too many steps off the edge. They don’t even see the most likely outcome, you know, the one where the brother still standing on the ground kicks the kennel out of the way while they’re hanging on the rim and leaves them there screaming for help for several agonizing minutes. No, they just see a way to prove you wrong, and make their dream a reality.
All kids are like that. I’m sure we were all the same way at that age. There was no reason or logic to tell us we couldn’t, there were only endless possibilities and a million reasons why we could.
So at what point does that all change? When do we allow the “cannot” to replace the “why not”? When is that first seed of doubt planted in such a way that we let it take root and choke out our dreams?
I can pinpoint several times in my life when that happened. The first one came when I overheard my first grade teacher tell my mom I had no creativity. The artist in me began to die a long slow death from that very moment. Another came when my favorite teacher decided I’d never be able to make a science lab work without screwing it up somehow. The future marine biologist in me gave up at that point. When I got to college, the first thing I did was give up a scholarship and change to a major that would allow me to avoid lab science altogether. The next best thing for me would have been a career in graphic design, but when it came time to think about enrolling in that first required drawing class, all I could hear in the back of my head were the words of that first grade teacher. How could I make it through an art-based degree with no creativity?
Two remarks, two individuals, changed the course of my entire life. They planted enough doubt in my head at an early enough age, that it completely changed what I believed about myself. That set up a pattern that would follow me the rest of my life. Any time I dared to dream about doing something, I conjured up a reason why I couldn’t.
And one day, I opened my eyes and realized I had stopped dreaming at all.
I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t ever want them to stop believing they can do anything they can dream up. I don’t ever want them to believe someone else’s opinion of them and allow that to shape their identities. More importantly, I don’t ever want to be the one who plants the seed of doubt that chokes out their dreams. I don’t ever want my words to be the reason any child gives up on something they love.
My experience is not unusual, and, because of that, I believe that my generation is more keenly aware of the value of dreams and the power of words than any generation before us. Many of us are still overcoming the damage someone else’s words or opinions did to us, and learning that it’s never too late to dream. I hope, more than anything, that what we take from our experience is that we have the power to raise up a generation of dreamers who blow us away when their dreams start becoming a reality, a generation who will look back with no regrets, knowing they never stopped working toward everything they wanted to become.