By Ariem V. Cinco
IN pursuit of our dreams, we should not be detached from reality. We should be optimistic but not delusional. Everything is not possible. Accept that. We live in a paradoxical space of infinite possibilities within a finite timeline. Just that. The popular notion of encouraging individuals to "be who you want to be" is not only inherently untrue but also dangerous because it can lead to a false sense of hope, setting people up for failure when confronted with inevitable obstacles.
When I was a kid, I always imagined myself as a lawyer, doctor, journalist, magician, artist, and a billionaire philanthropist. Now, I am not who I imagined myself to be. I have only discovered a passion for justice and advocacy. I haven’t become a lawyer (still hoping) but I have tried speaking up for the voiceless. As an educator – with all roles rolled into one (a mission I didn’t imagine but my circumstances have brought me into), I have joined in efforts to create impactful campaigns, raise awareness, and make a difference in the lives of others.
We live in a world fueled by our pursuit of dreams and success. And we usually find inspiration from a number of success stories of other people; taking them as blueprint of our own success. We likewise find inspiration from a number of feel-good aphorisms as if our own realities are not enough of an inspiration to pursue.
Life is so overwhelming that people find almost every line of encouragement valuable. Some of us scavenge for motivational quotes on social media and brandish them on our walls to keep our positivity and inspire others. However, it is imperative that we are not detached from reality – that we should strike a balance between optimism and realism.
We cannot be optimistic without being realistic. If we are, then most probably we are delusional. The burden of conforming to a romanticized version of success can also have detrimental effects on a person’s mental well-being, fostering feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. This forces some to be dangerously competitive – equating our success with someone’s defeat. Hence, some develop a skewed sense of personal achievement that is driven by the constant desire to prove that they are better than others. Some achieve their so-called success at the expense of others’ dreams and dignity.
Research elucidates that excessive unrealistic optimism and positive thinking can lead to the "illusory truth effect,” which can be toxic. People believe false information to be true simply because they have heard it repeatedly. Hence, it is important to not just visualize success but also consider potential impediments as suggested by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen in her studies on "mental contrasting.” This realistic approach, she argues, leads to more effective goal pursuit.
Realistic goal-setting and a pragmatic approach to challenges empower individuals to navigate the complexities of their aspirations without yielding to disillusionment. Acknowledging both the potential for success and the inevitability of obstacles allows for a healthier and more sustainable path to self-fulfillment.
Consider the case of Nobel laureate J.K. Rowling, whose initial struggles with poverty and rejection shaped her journey. Rowling's success is a testament to the power of perseverance and adapting aspirations to the reality of life's challenges. Now, we may see J.K Rowling as an epitome of success; however, what we probably do not know are her unfulfilled aspirations that no matter how positively she visualizes them, they just couldn’t happen because of the nagging realities that are way beyond her control – say, maybe, a successful marriage – an unflattering proof that we can’t be successful in every department of our life.
In the pursuit of our aspirations, it is crucial to recognize that certain aspects of our lives may inherently limit our ability to become who we envision. Financial constraints can hinder aspirations to become a lawyer, as depicted in John Grisham's novel "The Street Lawyer," where socioeconomic barriers obstruct the path to legal practice. Dreams of becoming a professional world-class boxer may face hurdles due to physical limitations, as explored in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," which emphasizes the combination of innate talent and extensive practice required for success in sports.
Securing a position in a government office may be challenged by political and organizational hurdles, as highlighted in the documentary "Waiting for Superman," shedding light on the bureaucratic challenges in the system. Your ranking may show that you are the most qualified but you do not get the position as there are other factors considered, say, educational attainment. Similarly, aspiring to be a professional singer may be constrained by vocal limitations, as seen in Patti Smith's memoir, "Just Kids," where success in the arts is portrayed as multifaceted and extends beyond the spotlight. And we only end up being bathroom concert kings and queens.
Acknowledging these limitations does not equate to surrender. It only reminds us that we can only succeed in some areas of our lives – but not in everything we wish to be. Reconciling with this reality offers us an avenue for self-discovery and redirection. Success is not confined to predefined roles, and by embracing a holistic approach, individuals can redefine their aspirations, finding fulfillment in alternative paths that align with their unique strengths and circumstances. We win some. Or, simply, some are not meant for us – we are not meant to be – no matter how much we push our chances.
The pursuit of our dreams should be accompanied by a genuine understanding of oneself. We must acknowledge our limitations, and navigate towards a more personalized and sustainable definition of success. By embracing a balance between optimism and realism, we can embark on a fulfilling journey that honors our dreams while navigating the intricate tapestry of our life's realities. (Ariem V. Cinco)
Ariem V. Cinco is the administrative officer-V at the Department of Education (DepEd)-Eastern Visayas Regional Office.