“Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again.
Wisely improve the present, it is thine.
Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We often frame our dreams as aspirations just beyond our reach. We figure if the bar is set high enough, then we’ll still feel accomplished when we fall short. For many of us, dreams will stay just that, unattainable goals that get us through each day. There are high school graduates and working adults who share similar dreams of achieving college degrees, but for too many this is merely a wish inconsistent with their reality. What they really need is hope.
Dreams are mental manifestations of strengths that lie within each of us. Our interests and predispositions drive the desire towards achievement of goals and full potential. Kids who love baseball often hope to become a famous baseball player. Kids fascinated with animals hope to become veterinarians. Kids who desire to be rich wish to win the lottery. Just like on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. Hope assumes there is a likelihood or probability that the dream we hold in our hearts is attainable. Wishes on the other hand, tend to be more improbable and unlikely to be carried out. Sometimes the difference between achieving a dream lies in how we define the accessibility of hope and avoid the false pretense of a wish.
We often sacrifice dreams when we begin to think they are no longer achievable. We analyze and focus on the time we let slip through our fingers instead of looking to change the habits we have today. We begin to believe that our big dreams require big actions and without these grand gestures, we settle for our mediocre present. For people looking to achieve their academic dreams, the prospect of earning a degree seems daunting. They see their pathway littered with obstacles and what started out as hope turns into a wish before the dream fades altogether. To get higher education dreams back on track, we need to reinforce the probability of hope by breaking down the dream.
Anatomy of a Dream: Just like any good story, dreams tell a tale, but usually we just jump to the ending. However, before we get to the happily ever after, we need to understand and overcome the challenges that stand in our way. Sometimes our big dreams make us believe we need big actions. In reality, we need to focus on the series of small actions that allow us to achieve our dreams. We cannot hope to go from painting by numbers on Wednesday to sculpting Michelangelo’s David on Thursday. It is easy to get overwhelmed when we listen to the small voice reminding us, we can’t. Instead, we need to break it down. Everyone must learn to crawl before they can walk. For students, dream anatomy involves talking with an admissions counselor, understanding degree requirements, and registering for that first semester.
Fueling the Momentum of a Dream: Now that we have isolated the steps needed to achieve our dream, the next part is even harder. We need to take action. Every day is an opportunity to get a little closer to our end goal. With every task we cross off our list, we receive a boost in our motivation. Some days we may be more productive than others, but our focus should always be on moving ahead. We ignore that small voice and replace it with, watch me. For students, momentum occurs after completing that first course, maintaining their GPA, and knowing when and how to seek help when academic challenges threaten to derail progress.
Celebrating the Wins of a Dream: The failures we endure provide opportunities for us to learn, but they also represent our continued perseverance. Achieving our dreams does not occur overnight. If it did, those achievements would not be special. Dreams represent our ability to overcome what we convinced ourselves was not possible. They demonstrate that against all odds, we continued to prove that small voice wrong and with every checked box kept pursuing our passions and facing our fears. For students, wins happen when they receive positive feedback on an assignment, pass their final exam, and when they place that graduation cap on their head indicating to the rest of the world a dream come true.
Higher education dreams are closer than most students think. We tend to waste opportunities by looking back at what could have been. We make excuses why our dreams are no longer achievable. We need to ignore the small voice within each of us and instead take the first unsteady step forward. Dreams, like fires, take a little work to get going, they need someone to fan the flames and protect them from the wind, but once the embers begin to burn, the fire is hard to put out.
What dreams do you hope to achieve?