Believing We Can Be Anything (Again)…

Children see magic because they look for it (drawing by Diane Mottl)When I was drawing this photo of my nephew as a wee-one, it reminded me of that childhood time when we thought we could be or do anything. We did not get caught up with the logistics: we let ourselves think big and believed that we could be whatever we dreamed up.

I like to color, so I am going to be an artist when I grow up. I know how to skate, so I’m going to be a NHL hockey player.

Yet somewhere along the way, it starts to shift. We begin to hear messages about whether or not our dream is “realistic” for someone of our gender/ skill set/ intelligence/ (fill in the blank). Our dreams get infected by the “you can’t” virus.

For many of us, the childlike belief that anything is possible becomes tarnished with the niggling question of, “…but can I?” Some are able to hold tight to their dream and find out they can. Others let go and settle for something safer. Something they are told is an acceptable, realistic goal.

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” — Peggy O’Mara

When I was little, here is what I said I wanted to be when I grew up:

  • Kindergarten and Grade 1:  Teacher, Artist
  • Grade 2 and 3:  Cowboy, Artist
  • Grade 4:  Teacher, Astronaut, Olympic Com (I’m guessing I couldn’t spell competitor)
  • Grade 5:  Teacher, Olympic person
  • Grade 6:  Olympic track star, “perfessional” basketball player
  • Grade 7:  Olympic Track, Professional basketball or volleyball player, Gym Teacher
  • Grade 8:  “???”
  • Grade 9 -12:  (blank)

What is interesting about this list is that as early as kindergarten, I was getting messages about what was “acceptable” and what was not. The above list came from a School Day Treasures album that I kept as a child. Each year had a section to write down what you wanted to be when you grew up. Up until grade seven, there were two columns:
003How many other messages do children receive that gradually whittle away their ability to dream big? What else flips the switch that causes them to start limiting themselves and thinking in terms of, “Am I good enough/talented enough/skilled enough to do that?”

“It is easier to build up a child than it is to repair an adult. Choose your words wisely.” — Unknown

I remember taking an aptitude test in grade ten (1982) and being told by the Guidance Counsellor (also the science teacher) what careers were suitable for me, based on my test results. Nail by nail, the childlike dream that anything was possible was boarded up and buried. It took me years before I pulled out each nail, one by one, so I could start to explore the many facets of myself that had been locked away all those years.

If you allowed yourself to dream right now, what would you be doing? Would it be the current career/job you are in? Or would it be something else? And if it is the latter, do you know what is stopping you?

Yes, there are very real external variables in everyone’s life that makes pursuing a dream challenging. Some of them can be changed, others cannot. But how many are self-imposed? How are remnants of the past? Echoes of “you can’t”?

Maybe it’s time to nail the “you can’ts” away and give the “you cans” some space to breathe. Maybe it’s time to be a kid again and let ourselves dream big. Leave our logical minds behind and let our imaginations run wild. And when we feel that catch in our breath and our soul starts to sing, maybe this time we can hold tight to the dream and believe that we can.

“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” — Anne Sexton

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” — Gloria Steinem

“I see possibilities in everything. For everything that’s taken away, something of greater value has been given.” — Michael J. Fox

“Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.” — Dale E. Turner

“If we doubted our fears instead of doubting our dreams, imagine how much in life we would accomplish.” — Joel Brown

“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” — G. M. Trevelyan

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T. S. Eliot

“When you move past your fear and you go after your dreams wholeheartedly, you become free.” — James Todd Smith

10 Responses to “Believing We Can Be Anything (Again)…”

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  1. Loreen Graw says:

    I remember my aptitude test…in junior high so maybe grade 8 or 9. I was told that I could be a receptionist. I remember my first feeling of being sooo disappointed…and my next thought, and I remember quite clearly, was ‘what bullshit!’ but it had a serious affect on my self esteem for many many years. Even so the rebel in me was awakening. I always felt different than the rest of my family….and the rest of my life so far has proven it! xoxo

    • The aptitude tests back then (for both of us) were very sexist and limiting, weren’t they? Good thing we both had a rebel in us that fought back against the stereotypes and messages. Hopefully “we” (adults, parents, school system, etc.) have opened our eyes to how fragile self-esteems are in the young and take care to build-up rather than carelessly tear down.

  2. says:

    You used one of my favorite words “niggling”! I love this post as I also believe those aptitude tests should never, ever have been given. Hopefully they’ve been discontinued. One of my first ambitions was to be an explorer. (actually I think my first ambition was to be a Fairy Princess!) Thx for a great read. Jan

    • If aptitude tests have not been discontinued, all I can say is that I hope they have improved dramatically since when I had to take them. Thanks for your comment, Jan (and for making me smile, imagining you as a little girl wishing to be a fairy princess)

  3. says:

    How about dreaming of altering the course? ; )

    Inspiring post, Diane. And as always, i love the sketch!

  4. says:

    Time to let the “you cans” run free. I Think you would be an awesome cowboy astronaut.

  5. Nora says:

    I believe!