All around me, people my age are chasing their dreams. Some want to be top-notch lawyers or surgeons, commanding the respect and awe from society which they feel they either deserve or need to make a dent upon this world. Others strive for the pinnacles of thought, to be the academes and intellectuals who will someday forge humanity’s path towards greater enlightenment. Still others eschew the “boring” strictures of the professions: they are the would-be entrepreneurs, the self-declared change agents and doers who are destined for greatness. And then there’s the vast but silent majority whose dream is to simply know what they should be dreaming of.
I too am following a dream, but it is one which few of my peers understand.
My dream does not suit my skin. It does not suit who I “am”, at least according to those who think they know me. How many incredulous gazes have grazed my cheek, how many exclamations of surprise – most polite, some less so – when they realise I’m not joking? For those people, I have aimed too low. They don’t usually say it, but they think it: “he is wasting his life away, with that dream of his.” They’re polite about it but their eyes speak what they know to be true: I am a case of lost potential.
I have myriad advantages available to me. This is not boastfulness, nor pride, just a statement of fact. Fact too is the statement that I have earned few of these advantages. They have been granted to me through no merit of my own, whether it be the circumstances of my birth or the decisions made by others on my behalf. The nature of these gifts is not lost on me. I have done my best to use them wisely, and hope that I can continue doing so. And once, not so long ago, I too strove for greatness, to imprint my name upon the cosmos like all other young people seek to do. But that dream has changed a little since then.
I don’t pretend to know more than any other. I don’t pretend my dream is better than someone else’s goal or ambition or hope. But I see the cost of those dreams every day, in the lives of so many of my peers cursed with good fortune. Sleepless nights and gaunt eyes, worn out from too many hours on that essay or revision. Meals skipped, tempers frayed and families rent apart in pursuit of “career advancement”, “making it big” or any number of other stock phrases which crumble when you peer too hard at them. Fluttering anxieties and that omnipresent cloak of what others call stress but I call the “hunted-feeling” because it’s that sense that if you stop running you’ll be mauled by the snarling spectre of mediocrity snapping at your heels and discarded on the roadside to bleed away and die. I see it in the people whom I love and I am afraid.
In the Iliad, Achilles chooses a short but violent life of eternal fame rather than suffer peaceful but forgotten longevity. But he does so in full knowledge of the consequences, weighing up his life and choosing what he feels is best for him and him alone. There is no “right choice” in the Achillean dilemma. And for that reason, it deserves all the deliberation which one can afford.
My dream is to live a quiet, humble life which makes do with what I’ve got. No more, no less. And I will be happiest if my final thoughts are not “I changed the world” or “I was the best”, but “I think I did okay”.
To all my peers: follow your dreams. May they take you many places, be they near or be they far. But remember that we love you not for what you do, but who you are.