GIFTS, DREAMS, AND MAKING IT HAPPEN – Marilyn Armstrong

The lie has become so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question. Today, I question it, its validity and its basis. Just because it has become our national motto doesn’t make it right.

This is the lie we tell ourselves and our children:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything. If you don’t achieve it, it’s because you gave up, didn’t try hard enough. Not achieving your dreams makes you a failure.”

That is not true.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Trying terribly hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires actual ability in that field of endeavor, talent to make a dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three-dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. That’s not defeatism. It’s reality.

I don’t know when being a pragmatist became synonymous with defeatism. It infuriates me when someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will succeed.

No, I won’t. It isn’t going to happen. It was never possible. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. Being told that I should never give up my dreams makes me want to whack the speaker of this un-wisdom upside the head.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you know the difference between a dream and an expectation. I’m in favor of knowing who you are, evaluating your talents, recognizing your abilities. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has gifts. Sometimes the two coincide so that you can ride your dreams into a golden future. This outcome is not in everyone’s cards.

I wanted to be a musician. It wasn’t an outlandish dream. I had started piano when I was only four. I continued with it all through my school years and was in college, just one credit shy of completing my B.A. in Music when a professor took me aside for a chat.

He said: “You do well in your courses. You get As in everything, so there’s no problem with grades. Except I see you. Your heart isn’t in it, not the way it needs to be. Music requires total commitment. Maybe you would be happier doing something else. Keep music as a hobby. Do something you’re really good at, really passionate about. Being a second-rate musician won’t make you happy.”

Piano lessons

I was mortified. Crushed. I played pretty well. I suffered from terminal stage fright, but I had a good ear and I loved music. I still do. Yet when I gave it serious thought, I knew the truth. I would never fully commit to music. It was not the right path for me.

My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing and I never even thought of it as a gift because it was so easy. I just figured anyone could do it. I had to do some major rethinking and revise my self-image. It was painful and difficult. I never gave up playing the piano, but it stopped being my professional goal. As a bonus, when I stopped trying to become a professional musician, I began to enjoy music more.

I refocused my energy on writing and immediately, life turned around. I stopped plodding and began to fly. I never took a writing class. I just started working as a professional writer from my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

If Dr. Deutsch (thank you, Herb, you really gave me a push in the right direction) had not sat me down and told me the truth as he saw it, I’d probably have continued down a road that would have led me nowhere I really wanted to go. He didn’t buy the lie and refused to let me buy it.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Yet we keep hearing that lie — try hard and you can make it happen. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We neglect real gifts in favor of magical thinking. What a waste!

Dreams are not the goal. Creating a good and satisfying career and life should be the goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look hard at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and plan a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do the impossible and put your whole heart into using your abilities is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You get to love your work. You can dump the dead weight of dreams as well as the guilt and frustration of not fulfilling them. Just because you can’t be a ballerina doesn’t make you a failure. Being a lousy dancer when you could have been a great something else IS a failure  … a lose-lose for you and society.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy. Like it or not, we live in the real world. Dreams are not real.

Don’t buy the lie.

A RUN-OF-THE-MILL NIGHTMARE

Timely prompt since I woke up to a nightmare this very morning.

I had just graduated college or something like it. I had a sister (not my real sister) and another sister/brother — he/she kept switching back and forth which, in the dream seemed perfectly normal. Whatever he/she was, definitely no relation to real me.

My parents (not my real parents, definitely, absolutely nothing like my real parents) were getting them ready for the world. Buying them clothing, renting apartments for them. Getting them cars.

I keep begging for attention, to help me get a car. I needed a car because whatever I was going to do (no idea what it was), I needed to travel. I was just out of college. No money or credit and as I recall, nowhere to live.

Both siblings had professional positions. Vague but  seemingly important. I (apparently) did not. As the dream wound down, I knew no one would help me. Or notice me.

I woke up, realizing I would manage. Because I always manage. I couldn’t go back to sleep, though. I’m worried about money. Again? Or is that still?

Given the way life is, I always will be.


Nightmares

IF YOU WANT IT BAD ENOUGH

The biggest and most damaging lie we tell our kids is this:

“If you want it bad enough and work really hard, you can achieve anything.”

We all bought into it as kids. Even though life has taught us it’s not true, we still try to sell it to younger generations. It’s the worst kind of lie. True enough to sound inspiring, yet deeply misleading.

You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and actual talent. Luck helps too.

75-SunriseClematisHPCR-1

We cannot always achieve what we want because we want it a lot. You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write without a gift for words. Some things can’t be taught. Yet these days, anyone who objects to the lie that hard work alone is always enough is called defeatist — or elitist. I am neither, but I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism became politically incorrect. It’s cruel. It takes people with potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong thing.

When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up whatever because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, it annoys me. I’m a very hard worker, but I’m old enough to know that hard work only takes you so far. I would rather work on something at which I have a chance of succeeding.

Yet we keep hearing the same enticing lie. “Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!” We always read about the successes. What we don’t hear about are the myriad failures, those who tried their hearts out and were defeated. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We ignore real gifts in favor of magical thinking.

Creating a good and satisfying career should be part of everyone’s life plans. First though, we need to figure out what we do well, then focus on it. Hone talent and build a future that works. We need to help our kids do the same. Then network like mad and hope to get the Big Break because the wild card in the mix is always Lady Luck.

Don’t buy a lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be the best they can be. Help them succeed.

Daily Prompt: Dream Home – My Painted Lady

You don’t need to dream the house if your dream house is just around the corner. Not built to order, but restored to perfection. The classic Victorian across from St. Mary’s church, near the old high school is perfect.

75-VictorianUx-NK_24B

Known as “Painted Ladies” for the fancy painting done on the gingerbread trim and the many colors used to accentuate their architecture, these are wonderful homes to live in. High ceilings, bay windows, air, light, enough room for all the people you love. Mahogany wainscoting, carved moldings, a huge veranda — now screened for comfort — with room enough for rocking chairs and a porch swing. And when the holidays come round, the living room (drawing-room, if you like) is big enough to display a 20-foot Christmas tree with grace.

 

Free Write Friday #22: Time and Place Prompt

What’s your color of happiness? I want the green button. Maybe it would make the snow melt and spring come to replace this endless winter.

catnipoflife

Welcome back to Free Write Friday! If you are new here, feel free to read the intro. FreeWriteFridayBadgeOtherwise, let’s get started.

Here is your FWF prompt…

Elevator

Time & Place:

You find yourself in an elevator. The door closes and you see only five buttons. A sign hangs above them that reads: “Find Happiness.” Each button is a different color. Red, blue, green, orange and yellow. There are no other instructions and you must push one to get the elevator to move. Which color do you choose and why? Where does it take you?

Here is my story…

Up at 5a.m., getting ready for work and kids ready for school, packing lunches, chasing a piece of dry toast with a glass of OJ and I am out the door. The ‘hustle and bustle’ of the city streets is already in full force and my mind is spinning as I fight…

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Dream Elephants and Hugging Bears

I have strange dreams. Now and then, I remember one of them quite clearly for a long time, though more typically, they fade as soon as I wake up.

Last night’s dreams were particularly vivid. A full day has passed and I still remember them clearly. It wasn’t one dream but two in a row, both about animals. Not my furry children. Wild animals with whom, to the best of my knowledge, I am unacquainted.

I dreamed about an elephant, an old elephant who communicated with me telepathically. He told me he was tired. He wanted to die. It was his time to rest. Next came a big bear from the woods. Just to visit me. He laid down next to me on the sofa and hugged me.

The bear was wearing a navy blue sweatshirt. Where do dreams come from? I know the theories, psychological, paranormal and upside down and none of them quite fits.

Please visit Bear With Us at http://bearwithus.org/ to see how you can help save the bears … not dream bears, but the real ones.

Dreams seem to combine bits of reality, mythology, memories, and books I’ve recently read. Images combine in odd ways, yet I always wake with a strong feeling that there’s something important that I want to know, but it eludes me.

Maybe some day, the key will come with the dreams. The lock will turn and many secrets will transform into knowledge.

Or maybe not.

Buying the Big Lie

I posted about this subject a while back, but yesterday, when we were out visiting friends, the conversation over dinner turned to chasing dreams versus using your abilities. Both Garry and Jim have spent their lives working in media, though from different sides of the camera.

We all agreed was that advisers, parents, and others who influence young people to choose a career path usually have an agenda. Mom and dad want to see their kid be a “professional.” Pastor thinks Joey would be a great minister while the lad’s guidance counselor is telling Joey that he should try for that sports scholarship. The voice of the youngster is lost in a cacophony of bad advice.

I watched my brother, who wanted to be an engineer, who had always wanted to be an engineer, be bullied into pre-med by my parents who didn’t think engineering was a real career (no, I do not know why). Matt didn’t want to be a doctor and lacking whatever that something is that lets some kids swim against the tide, he went along until flunked out of school.Self-destructive rebellion: if he could not do what he wanted to do, he wouldn’t do what they wanted. He would have been a great engineer.

I was a more strong-willed than the average kid. My mother felt very strongly that I should become a teacher, because teachers, in her experience, always had work … even during the depression. Once I got past my side drift into music, I said “I’m going to be a writer.”

Dire predictions of a lifetime of poverty living in unheated garrets notwithstanding, I never strayed from that path and guess what? When many of the kids with whom I’d grown up  and who had taken “safe courses” were out of work, I always had work. My future was limited only by my unwillingness to trade a bigger career for a personal life.

The lie has is so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything.”

That is not true. You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and usually, some actual talent. A bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Working hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires ability in your chosen field: the talent to make the dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. There are things you cannot be taught.

For several years, I taught technical writing to adults who were trying to change career paths, often from computer programming, developing, research, or accounting to technical writing. They figured that what they had done before was so much harder than merely writing, it would be a snap. Many of my students were far better educated than I was. Some had advanced degrees in mathematics or a hard science.

My first assignment was a test to give me an idea if any of my students had a hope in hell of succeeding in the field. I asked them to give me a no-more-than 4-page set of directions, including illustrations, explaining how to use a ballpoint pen, written for someone who’d never seen one. They were to assume the person could use a pen and could write, but had never used this implement. Sounds simple, right?

I got 20 page essays on the history of writing and writing implements, ink and quills. Before the first real assignment, I already knew who had any chance at all and who was wasting his/her money. That first class had 31 students; probably 2 of whom went into the business and stayed.

The question that always made my heart sink was “How do you know what to write?”

If you have to ask, you are already in trouble. Writing “how-to” material only looks easy. It isn’t. You have to be able to look at a piece of hardware or software and see it as a process, be able to visualize all the steps that someone with no prior knowledge of this “thing” will need to know to make it work. It’s a way of seeing things, a fundamental of the job along with the ability to use words. It is as basic to a technical writer as seeing a picture in your mind is to a photographer.

These days, anyone who objects to the myth that effort can substitute for talent is labeled a defeatist or an elitist. I am neither. I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism morphed into defeatism and/or elitism. It infuriates me. It’s cruel. It takes people with all kinds of potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong stuff. When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, I get angry.

It is neither courageous nor wise to spend a lifetime tilting at personal windmills. It’s a foolish waste of time.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you recognize the difference between a dream and a realistic expectation.

I’m very much in favor of having a thorough understanding of who you are, what gifts and talents you have, knowing what you want to do, then doing it with your whole heart. Other people’s expectations and childhood day dreams are baggage that will weigh you down.

If you combine your own abilities, passion, and determination: that’s a winning ticket. But you need the whole package. One or two out of three won’t get it done.

We all have dreams and gifts. Sometimes the two come together and you can ride your dreams into a fantastic future, but this is not in everyone’s cards.

Sometimes,you are better not taking that other path. Going the wrong way won’t get you where you need to be.

I used more than half my college years trying to be a musician. I was pretty good. The problem is that “pretty good” is not good enough. My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing. I never even thought much about it because it was so easy. I figured anyone could do it.

I had to revise my thinking and self-image. I also had to rethink the definition of writer and separate it from “author” in my mind.

It was difficult. I kept music as a hobby, refocused my energy on writing and life turned around. I stopped plodding and leapt forward. I started working as a professional writer with my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

I never took a writing course. Not creative writing, anyway. I don’t think creative writing courses help anyone become creative or a writer … at least not the ones they teach in college. I did start one, lasted two sessions, dropped it. It was clear the professor was not a writer.

I learned my profession on the job. It turns out that The Great American novel was not in my personal future, but there are many other career paths requiring writing skills, from academia, to news and journalism, to Madison Avenue.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Gifts come from God, not hard work.

Yet we keep hearing that same enchanting deadly lie. Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!

Thus we waste years to achieve the impossible often dismissing the achievable. We neglect our real gifts in favor of magical thinking. If I were God, I would find that really annoying.

Dreams are not the goal.

Creating a good and satisfying life should be everyone’s goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and build a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do what you can’t and put your heart into using your natural gifts is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You find that you love your work. You dump the dead weight of childhood dreams and other people’s expectations.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy.

Like it or not, dreams are not real. Don’t buy the lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be themselves, the best selves they can be. They weren’t put here to fulfill your dreams.

Gifts and Lies

The lie has become so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question. Today, I question it, its validity and its basis. Just because it has become our national motto doesn’t make it right.

This is the lie we tell to ourselves and our children:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything. If you don’t achieve it, it’s because you gave up, didn’t try hard enough. Not achieving your dreams makes you a failure.”

That is not true.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it and trying terribly hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires actual ability in that field of endeavor, talent to make a dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. That’s not defeatist. That is real.

I don’t know when being a realist became synonymous with defeatist. It infuriates me when someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will succeed.

No, I won’t. It isn’t going to happen. It was never possible. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. I even know what I want to do. Being told that I should never give up my dreams makes me want to whack the speaker of this un-wisdom upside the head with a two-by-four.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you recognize the difference between a dream and a realistic expectation. I’m in favor of knowing who you are, evaluating your talents, recognizing your abilities. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has gifts. Sometimes the two coincide so that you can ride your dreams into a golden future. This outcome is not in everyone’s cards.

I wanted to be a musician. It wasn’t an outlandish dream. I had started piano when I was only four. I continued with it all through my school years and was in college, just one credit shy of completing my B.A. in Music when a professor took me aside for a chat.

He said: “You do well in your courses. You get As in everything, so there’s no problem with grades. Except I see you. Your heart isn’t in it, not the way it needs to be. Music requires total commitment. Maybe you would be happier doing something else. Keep music as a hobby. Do something you’re really good at, really passionate about. Being a second-rate musician won’t make you happy.”

I was mortified. Crushed. I played pretty well. I suffered from terminal stage fright, but I had a good ear and I loved music. I still do. Yet when I gave it serious thought, I knew the truth. I would never fully commit to music. It was not the right path for me.

Sometimes,you are better for not taking that other path. Going the wrong way won’t get you where you need to be.

My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing and I never even thought of it as a gift because it was so easy. I just figured anyone could do it. I had to do some major rethinking and revise my self-image. It was painful and difficult. I never gave up playing the piano, but it stopped being my professional goal. As a bonus, when I stopped trying to become a professional musician, I began to enjoy music more.

I refocused my energy on writing and immediately, life turned around. I stopped plodding and began to fly. I never took a writing class. I just started working as a professional writer from my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

If Dr. Deutsch (thank you Herb, you really gave me a push in the right direction) had not sat me down and told me the truth as he saw it, I’d probably have continued down a road that would have led me nowhere I really wanted to go. He didn’t buy the lie, and refused to let me buy it.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Gifts come from God, not hard work.

Yet we keep hearing that lie — try hard and you can make it happen. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We neglect real gifts in favor of magical thinking. If I were God, I would find that really annoying.

Dreams are not the goal. Creating a good and satisfying career and life should be the goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look hard at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and plan a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do the impossible and put your whole heart into using your abilities is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You get to love your work. You can dump the dead weight of childhood dreams as well as the guilt and frustration of not fulfilling them. Just because you can’t be a ballerina doesn’t make you a failure. Being a lousy dancer when you could have been a great something else IS a failure  … a lose-lose for you and society.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy. Like it or not, we live in the real world. Dreams are not real. Don’t buy the lie.