Scary stories from a lovely place
I’d like to be a celebrity chef. When I grow up I want to play soccer for Bafana Bafana. I want to be an actor. I’m going to be a world famous rapper.
These are all dreams I have heard expressed from the lips of people I know. No one’s dream is to be a high school maths teacher or the produce manager at Pick ‘n’ Pay or a taxi driver.
A few days ago I listened to a conversation between Stephen and some friends of ours who are desperately trying to become famous soccer players, actors or musicians. The difficult thing for these guys is that they’re also desperately poor. They haven’t finished school, they are unskilled and for some of them they are unable to study or work because they can’t even prove to the authorities who they are. They come from broken families, poverty stricken home situations and virtually own only the clothes on their back. But they are set on their dreams and they’re pursuing them with all their gusto, no matter how many times they get rejected or how much cash they have to borrow and then lose to unscrupulous talent agencies.
Following your dreams is a common mantra these days. Indeed, perhaps it’s always been common. And that’s probably because it’s a nice ideal. Of course it’s wonderful to dream something up and doggedly pursue what you imagine will make you happy. It’s the religion touted by Oprah, pentecostal pastors and authors like Joel Osteen and not so clever career guidance teachers. It’s possible to follow your dreams if you have lots of money, a rare talent and a supportive or permissive family, but not so doable if you don’t. Indeed, most of us can’t really do what we want.
After the conversation I asked Stephen what his dream was. He’s always wanted to be an architect, but that’s certainly not his dream. Stephen would like to win the Dakar Rally atop a rugged KTM or cruise past the black and white checkered flag on a Ducati 1198. But neither of those things are going to happen. He’ll probably never even own either of those bikes. And that’s because he has to feed his family and take his wife on cool holidays to Barbados and Lake Victoria (that’s my dream).
Unfortunately Christians are pretty good at getting on the bandwagon of this crap. The dream stuff easily gets confused with ‘finding God’s will for our lives’ – as if we could somehow stop his powerful will from happening and being called to something, no matter how subjective the evidence is. I’ve seen people who, unlike my friends, could easily pursue another option in life, continue to persist in difficult circumstances no matter how unhappy they are because they believe that God has called them to something. And sure, persistence is good and certainly exhorted in the bible, but I don’t think God wants us to be miserable.
I don’t like this follow your dreams nonsense. It’s destructive and actually fosters hopelessness. Generally dreams can’t be attained and so one either wastes a life pursuing them or gives up feeling crap about themselves. And this is probably what’s going to happen to my friends I wrote of earlier. It seems strange to me that guys from such desperate, seemingly hopeless situations, actually think they can get their dream. I would have thought out of everyone they would have the most realistic view of life. But they don’t. And maybe they don’t because they don’t want to give up on hoping for something better. And that’s nice and optimistic, but I wish more people (not just Stephen) encouraged them to use their skills as tilers or security guards or cabinet makers. It’s certainly less glamorous than the dream, but at least it makes them money to buy food and pay rent and marry their girlfriends, and if you think about it, that’s actually a very nice dream.