Image Credit: Len Nguyen
By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)
Definition of a Dream-Crusher: A person who attempts to discourage or stands in the way of someone else pursuing their dream.
This isn’t a post about The Fantastic Four movie (which was mediocre at best), but I started thinking about dream-crushers because of a scene at the beginning of that movie.
A young Reed Richards gives a presentation to his elementary school class about the scientific break-through (teleportation) he wants to invent when he grows up. When he finishes, his teacher tells him he didn’t do the assignment properly. He was supposed to write a report about a real career.
I felt that reprimand.
I’ve been that kid.
No, I never dreamed of inventing teleportation, but I can still remember sitting in the guidance counselor’s office in high school for my “career counseling session.” I already knew then that I wanted to be a writer, and I didn’t see the point in lying about it.
My guidance counselor pulled up some numbers for average writer income, and strongly advised me to go a different route. With my grades, I could do anything I wanted. He made it clear that writing wasn’t a good career choice.
I know he meant well. He was a kind person. As graduation drew closer and it was time for university applications to be sent, many of my teachers—from my Calculus teacher to my history teacher—kept me after class to recommend I go to university for whatever their subject was. And their disappointment was clear when I told them what I intended to turn into my career.
When I was younger, those types of reactions to my career choice hurt me and made me angry. I felt judged and criticized.
The older I got, the more I understood that this wasn’t a personal attack, even though it felt personal. Anyone who wants to follow an unconventional dream seems to provoke the same reaction from people. I’ve heard people say that they’d never allow their child to go into a creative career.
I started to wonder what causes these reactions. Millions of people enjoy the fruit of those creative professions. They watch TV, read books, listen to music, attend plays, visit art galleries, and watch shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Yet when it comes to the creators of those fruits, they’re so often viewed with disdain.
I’m only one point of view, but I think the cause lies in three different reasons. And when we understand those reasons, hopefully we can start to find productive ways to deal with them.
Cause #1 – Misunderstandings about the profession and the people in it.
There seems to be a misconception about creatives that we’re lazy. That we sit around all day, excusing our lack of output with claims of waiting for the muse to strike or writer’s block. They think we simply don’t want to put in the effort a real job requires. We’d rather play than work.
They see us as slothful addicts, prone to drinking too much of our beverage of choice and unhealthy eating that leads to unhealthy bodies.
Or they think we can’t make good money. (True, some creatives don’t. But some creatives do.)
They think anyone can do it, and they talk about how someday they’d like to learn to paint or play an instrument or write a book. When they retire. When they have more free time. Because those things are really more of a hobby.
As a creative myself, I can’t claim to know or understand all the misconceptions out there.
What I can do, what we all can do, is tackle them when we run into them. We’re partly to blame for these misconceptions. We can take care of our health. When we talk to non-creatives, we can make sure they understand that this is a business as well as an art. We work hard. We put in long hours. We all know of creatives who’ve been successful and can serve as good examples even if we’re not there yet ourselves. We can share the hours of education and training that actually go into what we do. We can treat our dream career with more respect and confidence and fewer apologies.
Cause #2 – The feeling that creatives are judging them or looking down on non-creatives.
Let’s be honest here. It’s easy to (incorrectly) think that people in more standard jobs aren’t living their dreams. And when we have that mindset, it comes across to people.
Non-creatives have dreams that are just as big and just as valuable. Two of my best friends are perfect examples.
One wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool her children. That’s her dream. That brings her fulfillment and joy. It’s her dream, and no one should belittle her dream.
My other friend is a teacher. She started out her university years with the intention to become a doctor, but what she loved, what she really wanted to do, was to teach young children. So she chased after it. It’s a beautiful, valuable dream. She makes a difference. And she’s happy.
For some people, their dream doesn’t involve a job at all. They’re happy with going to work simply to make money because their dream involves being able to spend their off-hours at their cottage or creating pottery in their garage.
We, inadvertently, sometimes convey the idea that we’re “better” somehow because we’ve bucked tradition and chosen to walk our own path as creatives. We expect people to show interest in and support for our career, but we don’t always show the same for their passions.
Here’s what I’m trying to do instead. I’m trying to ask people what they’re passionate about and what they love to do, rather than what they do to earn a living. It levels the playing field, and it allows me to invest in them before I expect them to invest in me. My dream might be different from theirs, but it’s no better.
Cause #3 – Failed dreams of their own.
This is the saddest. The most troubling.
Some people try to crush us and make us conform because they gave up on their own dreams.
At times these people are so easy to spot that I want to cry for them. Talk to them for very long and you’ll be able to learn about that dream they didn’t chase because they use it as an example of why you shouldn’t chase yours. Their reasons for giving up their dream are varied. They don’t even always recognize their motivations for giving it up. Maybe they were scared. Maybe they truly weren’t capable of chasing their dreams—the need to eat, the need to put someone else first, or the lack of talent became an impenetrable barrier.
You can often spot these people because they chose their career for practical reasons, and now, a few years in, are disillusioned and dissatisfied with their work. They live for their vacation days and complain about their jobs regularly. They’re jaded with the work they do. They can’t wait to retire.
And the only way to make themselves feel better about their choice is to make sure no one proves them wrong. Seeing someone succeed at their unconventional dream hurts them deep inside, in a place they’re not brave enough to admit to or face.
We can’t change these people. All we can do is pity them. Pity them and show them more kindness than they show us and hope that, someday, they’ll find something that makes them happy too.
Have you run into dream-crushers before? How have you handled it? What do you think makes people try to crush the dreams of others?
Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)
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