As a senior in high school, Ray quit school to join the army. He fought in two tours of Afghanistan before being injured and returning home to civilian life. He saw a counselor and inquired about what he needed to do to go on a speaking tour and talk about life on the battlefield. He’d heard of other ex-soldiers who made money traveling as inspirational speakers, and it sounded great. In fact, he wondered why no one had asked him to speak to their group since he returned home. He grew bitter about how others were earning an income doing this, and he wasn’t.
His counselor asked him if he’d ever considered his attitude and appearance. Ray had tattoos up and down his arms and body, even his neck. He sported long hair and dressed unprofessionally. His peers even called his clothes “gangsta.” It was clear that until he changed his dress and his negative, complaining attitude, few would want to hire him. Ray thought all of this was rude and even stupid. Unfortunately, he remains unemployed with a bad attitude.
The Difference in Kids Today
Ray’s story is real and far too frequent. He’s a young adult who lives at the intersection of “big dreams” and “harsh realities.” If you work with young adults, you will likely have to help them navigate this crossroad. I suppose most young generations have “big dreams,” but the difference today is that we haven’t been completely truthful about the realities they’ll face in route. Today’s kids have grown up in a time where they watched Disney movies about princesses, televisions shows about super heroes, YouTube videos that entertain in less than a minute, ESPN “Top Ten” Plays of the Day, Reality TV programs where untalented people get rich; and they wonder: Why not me? Why not now? Why not easy?
When my kids were young, I encouraged big dreams, too. In fact, as I’ve worked with college students through the years, I’ve said the same thing. The difference is, I’ve tried to tell them the whole story. I’ve labored to insure I never spoke of big dreams without also bringing up these realities:
- You seldom realize a dream without tons of unglamorous work.
- You seldom realize a dream unless it is tied to your talent or strength.
- You seldom realize a dream without learning to compromise and adapt.
- You seldom realize a dream without asking for lots of help from others.
- You seldom realize a dream while preoccupied with tweeting about it.
- You seldom realize a dream until you’ve put in 10,000 hours pursuing it.
- You seldom realize a dream and not see it’s about something bigger than you.
- You seldom realize a dream by staying asleep.
When we watch young Olympians, we forget how many years they invested in private preparation. The average Olympian prepares for eight years prior to their first games, getting up early in the dark every day, with no cheering crowds, to work at their sport. No glitz, no glamor, just lots of pain and pressure. Most sustain injuries, spend lots of money, and relatively few who attempt to qualify actually make it. But they’ve realized that the dream demands the discipline.
Highlights vs. Hard Labor
When we see a musician or actor, we forget they did not reach stardom overnight. When we see professional athletes, we forget that talent alone did not get them where they are. Dayton Moore, General Manager for the Kansas City Royals, said to me, “One challenge we have with young ballplayers today is they have grown up watching “highlight reels” of great plays on the field. Those highlight reels never show the 80% of the game that wasn’t sensational, or 100% of the practice time that contained no thrills or goose bumps.”
It’s why so many talented young people drop out. They can’t get past the corner of big dreams and harsh realities.
A few years ago, I met with an intern to talk about her dreams in life. She told me her mission was to transform the entertainment industry in Hollywood. She wanted to bring depth and altruism to an often superficial and self-obsessed culture. When she told me this, I was impressed at her goal. Then, I asked if she had a plan. She laid out for me a step-by-step plan to reach this goal. Again, I was impressed. At that point, I inquired how long she felt this whole thing would take.
Without batting an eye, she said, “About eighteen months.”
Wow. If our dreams could only be realized that quickly. At this point, my role was not to laugh at her unrealistic timetable or sarcastically tell her it was impossible. Rather, it was to look her in the eye and say, “This is a great goal. It’s one I think you are suited for as well. But it’s going to require labor, and you may endure painfully slow results at first. It likely won’t happen in eighteen months; it may require a lifetime of investment. But I think it’s worth it.”
I was trying to help her navigate the corner of big dreams and hard work. Are there students or young adults in your life who need this reality check?
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