Experience, and experiences, have left me with a distinctly cynical perspective about many things, and disappointingly, too much of that is in the institutional encouragement to our young people to pursue their dreams.
I wish they could. I genuinely wish that the pursuit of dreams was a genuine option for every one of the hopeful young faces that walk into classrooms on their first day of school. But instead, I am a firm believer that what we should be preaching instead is patience.
What tends to happen is that our dreams, wherever they come from and whatever inspires them, will always be just that, the golden ring we can’t quite reach, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the needle in the haystack, the four leaf clover, the unreachable star. As a consequence, they tend to be a distraction that can obscure genuine, achievable, realistic life objectives. I know... I know... I sound a bit like the Grinch, a harbinger of doom, and in some respects I am, but what I want to be is the saviour of youth, the saviour of their enthusiasm, and the gatekeeper to their imagination.
We see on posters in shopping malls, in cafes, restaurants and bars, in magazine ads, and television commercials expressions like: ‘Risk it all for your dreams,’ ‘Dreams are free,’ ‘Dreams are pictures of you!,’ and ‘Live the dream... today!’ Yet ironically, they have nothing to do with what you are conditioned, and even educated, to embrace as your dreams for the future. What they do however, is condition you towards thinking that dreams can be bought, or negotiated, or achieved by taking short-cuts. The dream, far from being what they have aspired to, become very much, corruptions of those emotionally charged visions they have for the future.
I want, with all my heart, for every young person to have hope... but they need reality, possibility, and as much as anything, patience, to be their inspirations.
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian woman to go into space, and she spoke of the need to open yourself to the possibilities that lie ahead and to visualise yourself in that space. She spoke too of the courage needed to actually ‘get on board’ with it, to recognise that you must be able to do all the things that are part of the role, and further, to persevere, when the going gets tough. Chawla perished in 2003, living her dream, when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere after a 16 day journey to the stars.
I guess too, that she had few regrets having pushed the boundaries and possibilities since her birth. She must have been a remarkable individual, and in many ways, a ‘poster child,’ for how I see ‘dreams’ in today’s society. Chawla’s first name, Kalpana, was one she had chosen for herself at the age of five, because it embraces ideas and imagination, and all through her life she did things differently, and much of it in the face of opposition, but why? Because she could! Not just because she wanted to, but because she knew herself, and she kept achieving her dreams, and finding new ones, which really, she referred to as new challenges, not dreams, the key difference being the reality factor.
A graduate engineer, when women were a rarity, moving to America, becoming a US citizen, getting a doctorate in 1988, and a job at Nasa the same year. Achieving astronaut selection in 1994, becoming a specialist robotics lead on her first space flight in 1997, before her demise during that fateful second space mission. She never stopped achieving her goals, her objectives, and her dreams.
For me, Chawla embodied how we should see our dreams, by knowing and understanding ourselves, and what we are capable of. By setting achievable objectives, maybe in ethereal environments, as being one way to visualise the element of fantasy that we seem to need, and having achieved one dream, to chase the next one, and so on, always onwards, always upwards, and always within reach.
Leave impossible dreams... to literature and the arts, and be inspired by a child of the stars, Kalpana Chawla.