This is the worst I’ve been laughed at in recent memory.
Last year, I was having lunch with four friends a couple of days after news had broken that a prominent man in his 40s had decided to step down from his position for “personal reasons”.
At lunch, my four friends discussed possible reasons for his departure.
“There must have been some kind of corruption going on!” said one of them.
“He must have been having an affair,” said another.
“Maybe he stole money,” suggested yet another.
I’m an optimistic guy, so I was troubled by all of this cynical talk. Surely there must be another explanation, I thought.
Do all dreams die by the time you’re 40 years old?
Innocently, I asked: “What if he quit so he could pursue his dreams?”
After all, as a successful man in his 40s, he was probably doing well financially. Maybe he’d decided that it was finally time to do what he was most passionate about.
That’s when the ridicule began.
My friends’ response was both simultaneous and unanimous: “Come on, Daniel. You’ve got to be kidding. What dreams are you talking about? Who has any dreams left by the time they’re 40 years old?”
It’s foolish not to dream
I felt embarrassed and confused.
Is that really true? Do all dreams die by the time you’re 40?
I hope I still have dreams when I’m 40, and I hope you do too.
There’s no denying that we live in a stressful and competitive society. We’ve internalized the belief that Singapore is a small country with no natural resources, so we need to fight to survive.
When we’re so concerned about our survival, how can we even dare to dream? The privilege of dreaming big is only reserved for those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, right?
I don’t believe this to be true. In fact, I’ll try to show in the rest of this article that we’d be foolish not to dream.
You can be whatever you want to be, but not really
At some level, we still believe in dreams. Isn’t that why we ask young children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I trust we don’t ask that question to mock their naïveté, regardless of whether their answer is “doctor”, “lawyer”, or “engineer”—or even “artist”, “dancer” or “musician”.
As a society, we still believe in the potential of our young people.
So it’s ironic that when these same children grow up and decide that they actually want to be an artist, dancer or musician, they’re told what a terrible idea that is.
Older and wiser people remind them that they won’t be able to earn a living that way, and that there’s no stability in those careers.
If they decide to become an entrepreneur, writer or freelancer, they’ll probably receive similar comments.
A fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled
Just to be clear, I don’t believe that if you “follow your heart” and “pursue your dreams”, everything is guaranteed to work out just fine. Life isn’t that simple.
We live in a harsh world dominated by harsh realities, but that doesn’t mean you should allow your dreams to be crushed at a tender age.
I recently watched this wonderful TEDx talk by Peter Benson.
Benson discusses the many tangible benefits—both individual and societal—of helping youths to find their “spark”, that one thing they love to do.
He mentions a beautiful quote by the philosopher Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
As someone who does a lot of work with youths and young adults, I couldn’t agree more.
Are we snuffing out young Singaporeans’ fire?
It troubles me that—based on my interactions and observations—as most youths get older, they become less and less curious.
Slowly but surely, they lose the joy of learning. Their enthusiasm for school and for life fades.
As the education system fills their minds with facts and formulas, and as their parents guide them toward the tried and tested path, their fire—their “spark”, or whatever you prefer to call it—gets snuffed out.
Why the Digital Revolution changes everything
Once again, I’ll emphasize that we live in a competitive world where challenge and struggle are unavoidable facts of life. If we don’t work hard and toughen up, we won’t survive.
But with the Digital Revolution that we’re all a part of, we’ve entered a new era.
More than ever before, we can easily connect with people all over the world, create valuable content, and find the resources we need.
It still amazes me that I’m going to reach many thousands of readers just by writing this article and clicking “publish”—all done in the comfort of my own home, by tapping into the incredible power of the Internet.
Opportunities abound, if only we’re willing to keep our eyes wide open.
Moreover, the cost of failure has become relatively low. The same is true with regard to the cost of starting a business. (Read this book for some concrete examples.)
Whatever your dream is—whether it’s related to your career, contribution to society, or your family—it’s helpful to ask yourself this question: What’s the worst that could happen if I try and fail?
The consequences of failure probably aren’t as dire as you might initially imagine.
Dream big and dare to fail
There’s no better time in all of history than now to dream big and dare to fail.
If you’re a young person reading this, I encourage you to discover your “spark” and to live it out.
If you’re an older person reading this, I encourage you to do the same. It’s never too late to dream a new dream. One more request I have of you: Please don’t crush the dreams of our youths. Instead, kindle their fire and watch them become the world-changers and history-makers of the future.
I like to think of myself as a realistic idealist, not a blind optimist.
I firmly believe in the value of developing a viable plan and of putting in the time and effort to improve yourself. But I also acknowledge that if you want to pursue your dream, you’ll eventually have to take a leap of faith.
So dream big, start small, and act now. Right now.
The world of tomorrow is anxiously waiting for you to make your next bold move.
Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students become both happy and successful and to help parents to connect more effectively with their children. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-book, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here.