I would like to remind you about something that is undoubtedly important to you and the quality of your life: your dreams. I’m a big proponent of dreams, especially how they guide and give shape to our experiences. Much like that statue we are consistently chipping away at to sculpt our lives, the dream itself lay within the stone. We must free it from the rock, but it takes patience and persistence to do so. And if we align our passion and purpose each day with our dreams, it won’t be long before you see your dreams start to become your reality. One of my favorite quotes by Thoreau sums this up nicely:
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Although Thoreau’s words are poignant and powerful, they should not be misconstrued. One of the easiest mistakes to make, especially in our youth, is to chase what we think are worthy dreams, but in essence are nothing more than vestigial fantasies. But how do we know the difference between dreams and fantasies? Bill Strickland has an interesting answer that I would like to share with you.
Though I didn’t have time to mention it in my last letter, I recently read Bill Strickland’s exquisite book—and personal mission—Make the Impossible Possible. If you are looking for some inspiration and a guide for how to make your dreams your reality, order this book now. It’s a short read that I couldn’t put down and finished in two sittings. The book is essentially Strickland’s life story, a man born and raised in the severely depressed socioeconomic neighborhood of Manchester, which was once an all-but-forgotten area within Pittsburgh. As a young man, Strickland never saw his life going beyond the ghetto. He felt trapped within his impoverished (literally) paradigm, but his mother gave him the skills he needed to keep his head up and apply himself assiduously. In his senior year of high school, his entire life changed when he discovered an art classroom and a teacher who took an interest in him as a person rather than seeing him as another future statistic. Frank Ross, the teacher in question, introduced Strickland to the potential that we all have inside each of us. For Strickland, it was art. When he began to make pottery in Mr. Ross’ classroom, it was the opening of the floodgates. Strickland knew that the feeling that art gave him could empower others, and he set out on an amazing lifelong quest to fulfill that potential and hopefully show others the way as well.
Strickland begins with the premise that poverty is what stands in the way of a fully actualized, genuine life. Because we have a tendency to get bogged down in the daily grind, we let our circumstances define us. For people of extremely low socioeconomic status like Bill or anyone else growing up in Manchester as it devolved from a middle class neighborhood into a first rate slum, their circumstances dictated a poverty of hope. That’s what so insidious about poverty, according to Strickland; it's not the lack of financial means to extract oneself from a debilitating situation, but the lack of belief that the capability to do so exists. In his words, “[poverty] diminishes you, it starves you of hope and vision, it forces you to define yourself in terms of what you cannot do or cannot have or cannot be.” So poverty is not simply a matter of lacking wealth, but the lack of a defining characteristic. Strickland illustrates how this poverty could manifest itself in other ways in various lives. For me, someone who had been filled with such self-doubt for so long, it was poverty of courage. I desperately wanted to change myself, but lacked the courage to do so. Once I began to realize that my self-doubt was generated by my own mind and undertook steps to correct it, my life started to blossom in extraordinary (and yet simple) ways. Whether it is poverty of courage, imagination, hope, or vision, there is something that we are lacking but that can be corrected. To move forward with our personal growth in spite of our fears and doubts is the first step to rectifying whatever lack we may have. In doing so, we are then free to build our dreams.
Toward the end of the book, Strickland painstakingly takes time to differentiate between “dreams” and “fantasies.” This is perhaps worth noting because most people use the words interchangeably at times. To Strickland the difference is one of orientation: dreams are about building something, whereas fantasies are about having something. Dreams are intangible; fantasies are material. Building your dreams into your reality takes courage and conviction, something that is often stripped from us by society as we grow older. We are constantly counseled to take the path of least resistance, to do what “common sense” would dictate. In doing so, we cast aside our dreams for something more “realistic.” What Strickland’s story/book illuminates, though, is that we need to discover what it is that makes us feel most alive or most whole. Our passions are what supply the foundation to the dreams we want to build, but more often than not we don’t pursue our passions for fear of failure. What Strickland did throughout his life—whether it was in the beginning at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild or later on at Manchester Bidwell—is show people how we are all capable of great things when we follow through with our passions and build our dreams. Anyone can do this. With a broad vision and positive attitude, all it takes is the will to relentlessly pursue that dream and in time it will become your reality.
It has taken me a long time to truly figure out what my passion is. I know now that it is learning. When I went to college, I didn’t have an endgame in mind, such as completing a certain degree to attain a particular career. Instead, I went in with the attitude that I wanted to improve myself. To become a better person through learning. This aspiration led me through all walks of disciplines, especially in the liberal arts, and I feel this certainly contributed to the person I am trying to become. Once you discover your passion, you must then define your purpose. Over the last few days I’ve been reading The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and one of the quotes that stuck with me has been, “the purpose of life is a life of purpose.” My purpose then is to teach. If I have become a vessel of learning, it is my ardent hope that I can use this learning to teach others. Whether it is in front of my class discussing AP Human Geography or leading a group in a yoga class, I want to help improve the lives of others. This is my mission, my dharma. “Live to give,” as another line Sharma’s book simply states. Learning and teaching are my passion and purpose, the hammer and chisel with which I carve the meaning from my statue, my life. And all it took was a few simple choices to reorient myself and my life in the right direction. The last two years have been an amazing ride because I have learned to disregard my self-doubt and move forward confidently in the direction of my dreams. By building a life of purpose from those dreams I am making a difference in the lives of others.
Though you may have different passions, NIP, don’t be afraid to chase them down and use them to your advantage. All it takes is the commitment to becoming that better person you want to be. Don’t waste any more time talking about how you’ll change one day. Discover your passions and let them guide your purpose now. I’m sure it won’t be long before you start to see those dreams take shape, and you’ll probably be adding something positive to the world at the same time. That’s the funny thing about dreams, the more you see them come to fruition, the more you can’t help smiling at the difference you know you’re making not only in yourself, but the world too.
Keep building your dreams, NIP…