The Killer of Dreams

Countless times in my life, I’ve been told that I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough. Or, I’ve been told the opposite, that I’m too smart, too pretty, too kind, too nice, too good to not do XYZ. Listen, I’m not behind in life. And, I’m not unworthy of whatever I want to achieve in life either. Stop placing arbitrary standards onto me, and stop comparing me to everyone else. My sum of experiences will never equate to anyone else’s.

If you think I’m too nice, too cringe, whatever, I’m not threatening your life and forcing you to stick around. If you think I’m too ugly, too brown, too dumb, same goes for you. Why are you focusing on a person you’re unwilling to understand, comparing them to everyone else, as if something’s wrong with them? Maybe the issue is you. Maybe you’re the killer of dreams.

Who told you that all singers must fit conventional beauty standards, or that they have to be born with natural talent? Who told you that if someone is born blind, that they’re never going to live a fulfilling life? Why would you wish some people well and others hell, for their life choices or circumstances, especially if they are not harming others? What is going on deep inside your subconscious that you feel the need to push others to bet small, or to not invest in themselves at all?

Too many people quit their dreams early. And even worse, some of them live so long without dreaming that they forget what they’ve ever dreamt in the first place. If you ask them to dream, they’re at a complete loss for words or actions. They don’t know what that even means anymore.

Though, I’m willing to bet that a lot of them do remember a few of those dreams. They’ve just been told no, over and over again, that it’s never gonna happen. They’ve already made up their mind that the dream is impossible. Maybe it is, but who really knows until they try? Have you ever tried crafting metal in a way that it would fly long distances across the sky?

You think, well that couldn’t be me; I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, rich enough. And then, these thoughts chain you. They keep you stuck. And, you never move past it. You feel numb. You notice how unhappy you’re feeling. You try to do what society tells you to, based on how they perceive you and where they think you “should” be in life.

The sad part is when our own beloved friends and family do this to us and the people around us. These are based on real life experiences:

“Oh, I don’t think you’re cut out to be an entrepreneur. Doesn’t sound like you’ll make much money. You should consider getting a job (like everyone else).”

“Can you believe this guy is in grad school, for some useless degree, and he’s a part-time dog walker?”

“I can’t imagine you taking a dance class like that. You’d probably embarrass yourself.”

And, it extends to our professional network too, from school to work:

“You won’t be able to handle pre-calc, despite taking algebra 2 before.”

“That’s just how it is when you start an internship. You do the things you hate, and eventually after 10 years or so, you’ll finally start to do more of what you enjoy.”

“There’s one person in this class who got the answer wrong. (What an idiot.)”

“Why would you take Korean instead of something useful, like Spanish?”

I’m not gonna lie, I am petty AF at times. I take issue to people when they’re arrogant or egotistic to an extreme, or when they’re doing something morally wrong or unfair to others. Otherwise, it’s not fair to tell others that they can’t manifest their dreams. That’s ultimate spiritual abuse, using your words or actions to manipulate others to think small, to steal away their joy.

There is a time and place to be critical. Of course, we want businesses to be conscientious of their environmental impact. We want people to be respectful to each other and not exploit one another. To me, anything that harms another being, that is not a dream. That is abuse, to achieve something at the harmful expense of others. For some people, it is a living nightmare, their reality. So for that, we want to be careful to make sure that the ripples of our dreams extend far greater than just ourselves.

But otherwise, wanting to become a singer? An author? An entrepreneur? A designer? A scientist? An activist? A streamer? A traveler? A parent? A dog walker? The best dog walker there ever was? Why would you want to crush someone else’s dreams? Why does it matter if they’re playing too big or too small, when you have your own life to worry about? Why not encourage them, extend courtesy and allow them to build the life that they desire? Why would you want to tear them down, just because it doesn’t fit your arbitrary standard? Why does it matter if they don’t sing in your favorite style, or you think their career path won’t earn them enough based on your limited knowledge/experience? What if one path is just experimental for them, and they want to create something much grander? Were you there to connect the dots when people pursued space travel, or stumbled across the Americas, or discovered how to utilize solar energy?

(Responses to earlier referenced criticisms in this posts, based on real life experiences.)

“Oh, I don’t think you’re cut out to be an entrepreneur. Doesn’t sound like you’ll make much money. You should consider getting a job (like everyone else).”

Are you speaking from experience? Because as far as I know, you’ve never really attempted being an entrepreneur. Have you ever asked me what I’m working towards or what kind of future I’d like? Do you know what kind of risks I’m willing to take, what kind of lifestyle I’m willing to live, what kind of dreams I’m willing to work for?

Do you understand that there’s a reason why most people settle, while only a few pursue entrepreneurship? It’s the same reason why anyone pursues any path. Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a public figure. Just because it isn’t for you or for a bunch of other people, doesn’t mean that it’s not for anyone else at all. If someone is telling you that they have a path they want to pursue and you are truly concerned, maybe you could start by asking questions, being curious. Ask them what their plans are and how you can support them.

Unless they’re asking you for financial support or for a loan, it doesn’t make much sense for you to be telling them how they “should” be earning a living. Would you like it if a millionaire entrepreneur was telling you that you’re wasting your life in a comfy 5-figure position? So as long as they are getting their needs met, why is it such a concern for you? Are you secretly embarrassed, ashamed to surround yourself with such people? Do you find it “weird” or “strange”? Is this more about you than about them?

“Can you believe this guy is in grad school, for some useless degree, and he’s a part-time dog walker?”

Uh, yeah. Yes, I can believe it. And you know what, that degree is only useless to you because you don’t see the value in what he is learning. He enjoys it. And maybe for you, your priority is money. But if your concern is about his possible amount of debt, you don’t sound like you care or that you’re concerned; you sound condescending and judgmental. You also sound like you are belittling the jobs that he does on the side to cover his basic needs.

If he’s fine with it, why does it bother you so much? What do you know about his mental health status, how he is dealing with stress, or if these are the types of jobs he can handle while he is doing full-time grad studies? Did you ask him if he’s happy with what he’s doing, or did you assume that he must hate it because you do? How would you feel if someone was speaking ill about you and your position, or your education level, or your material wealth? Are these the things you work to possess to fill that void, so that it does not crush your ego? Must you drill ambition in the form of disgust into others?

“I can’t imagine you taking a dance class like that. You’d probably embarrass yourself.”

The reason you can’t imagine it is because you wouldn’t know how to respond if others around you were growing. You are not ready to be supportive in that way. A part of you is resistant to seeing the other person grow, to be supported and encouraged by others, because you had not received much of that yourself. You think that by another person growing, it is taking away from you. All you end up doing doing by speaking in such a manner is robbing not only the other person of their joy, but you of your own.

Do you realize the power and impact of your thoughts turning into words and manifesting into reality? Is that the effect you want to have on people? Would it hurt you for just a minute, to practice compersion, to feel happy for the other person in pursuing their desires and for having the courage to step above their own fears and self-consciousness?

“You won’t be able to handle pre-calc, despite taking algebra 2 before.”

(Context: Me simply asking about testing out of algebra 2 with the head of the math department, who has never taught me before. As someone with low self-confidence at the time and who would frequently self-doubt due to previous trauma, I was swayed by the department head’s words and ended up not taking the placement exam. I ended up retaking algebra 2, and I remember correcting the teacher a few times, not doing homework because it was the same stuff I already learned, and teaching other students in the class because I already knew the material. The following year, a student a year younger than me placed out of pre-calc and straight into Calculus BC.)

How much information did you gather to conclude such a statement? Even if dozens of students before had taken algebra 2 in middle school and were not able to place into pre-calc based on testing, why would you discourage a student you barely know from taking the test? You’re supposed to be an educator. You know that not every student is gonna get into Yale or Princeton, so would you just tell them all not to apply then? That statistically, it’s not worth trying?

So, why would you discourage me from taking a placement test? Just because it’s inconvenient for you, for one day? Imagine instead, skipping out on the exam because you got nervous, and then going a whole academic year reviewing the same material you’ve already mastered, and feeling like absolute crap because you didn’t push for yourself. But not only that, you’re a teenager, whereas the other person in the situation is a grownup adult teacher, who is supposed to be looking out for their students’ best interests. You really don’t know the impact of your words, to discourage students and to pull them down so that they’re playing small, do you?

“That’s just how it is when you start an internship. You do the things you hate, and eventually after 10 years or so, you’ll finally start to do more of what you enjoy.”

Wow. This is not the kind of work mentality I would want to push for. First off, that just sounds dreadful for mental health, and would probably end up messing up the person’s physical health as well, since they’re interconnected. This does not sound like a supportive environment. Of course, there is always work that needs to be done that maybe no one really wants to do. But even as an intern, what is the point of a job if you are not engaging in anything remotely interesting to you? And, why would you want to work in an environment that does not care about you as a person, or what you’d like to contribute? That’s toxic.

This idea that you have to wait years to do what you want, even if you could technically do so right now– that’s old school, traditional corporate mentality that needs to change. That mindset has to go. There are literal children becoming CEOs of their own companies these days. And, you’re gonna tell college students that they have to wait another decade or three, when they’re already so much in debt, before they can do what they enjoy?

“There’s one person in this class who got the answer wrong. (What an idiot.)”

Wow. Thanks for singling out the one student who is probably well aware that they got the answer wrong, and then shaming them for it through your anger. Why are you taking is so personally, one? And two, if you really cared, maybe you would try to figure out what is going on with the student. Or are you one of those teachers who assign students as “idiot” or “lazy”, because you yourself are making a simple or lazy diagnosis? Do you feel good stroking your ego at the expense of a student who literally did nothing to you except get an answer wrong on a test? Really? That’s… sad.

“Why would you take Korean instead of something useful, like Spanish?”

Oh. Okay. Let me ask you, do you speak any foreign language? Do you speak multiple languages? Why bother to learn any language at all besides English when you are living in an English-speaking country? Do you use Spanish in your everyday business interactions? Have you ever traveled to the Spanish-speaking country before?

Are you aware that there are millions of people who speak other languages besides English and Spanish? Does it matter if it’s a huge population? Can one not learn the language for the curiosity or for the enjoyment, for the understanding of culture? Do you know that it is possible to learn not just one foreign language, but multiple foreign languages? And that by having some degree of fluency in one foreign language, you can more easily pick up another language as well?

Why wouldn’t you encourage them to keep going? Instead of being dismissive, what if you were curious? Instead of telling them to choose between one or the other, why not encourage both? “Oh, you got into Korean because of the music? Maybe you’d enjoy learning Spanish for a similar reason.” But also, why would you reduce the importance or value of another language arbitrarily like that? Is your only concern the number of people speaking it and the amount of dollars it can bring in? Do you not care to partake in hobbies or interests, simply because it is enjoyable? Do you only see value in things that are of the majority?

For the rest of you who want to continue dreaming and who see the value in pursuing your dreams, I encourage you to find a supportive group of people. Not just supportive with words alone, but through action. These are the people who are also taking the action to take care of themselves, to pursue their dreams responsibly and consciously, to uplift others in the work that they do. (Of course, my only personal exception is to be petty to those who are unconscious and had little to no disregard for others. But that’s another tangent.)

Be mindful of the ideas you are feeding yourself. It’s easy to mindlessly get lost and scroll through social media, thinking that you are not enough as you are. Instead, curate your feed so that it works to your favor. Set it up so that it encourages you to pursue what you truly want. And, catch yourself when you feel yourself playing small. When you hear that nagging voice of “you are not good enough to do the thing”, counter it:

“First off, me not being able to do the thing doesn’t mean I’m not good enough as a person.”
“Maybe I’m not good enough in this particular skill right now, but I can improve upon it and learn as I go.”
“Maybe I won’t be able to do this like most others do, but I have a unique take on it and am deeply invested into this.”
“So what if I feel insecure about this? Many others before me were and still are, and they still do the thing.”
“I’m gonna still be living life, so I might as well spend the time doing what I truly enjoy.”

So many people will have told me that I’m not whatever enough to pursue my dreams… That is why I choose to live my life intentionally, to unlearn and uncover my own unawareness. Because in the end, I don’t want to find out that the actual killer of dreams all along… was me.

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