The Size of Dreams
I just about choked on my bottled water. “What?” I sputtered.
“Well, before I tell you, don’t make me quit the public school class I’m taking, okay?”
I laughed. “Alright, honey. What happened?”
“Well,” she sighed loudly, “I really like my class. It’s fun. And I’m learning a lot. In fact, I want to audition for the performance choir next semester. But for now, this class is very interesting.”
She paused. “But…” she hesitated again. “Okay, in class the teacher asked us about why college is so important. All the answers were about making more money. Buying stuff. And the teacher really encouraged it. He just kept pushing that college is about making more money, and I got frustrated.”
She took a deep breath.
“I wanted to ask him about getting a great education, but I stayed quiet. He must have seen how irritated I was from the look on my face, so he called on me and asked me what I was thinking.
“I told him I thought college should be about a great education, not just money. I was amazed by his response. He said, ‘Yes, that’s true for a few people. But most college students are focused on preparing for their careers.’
The Real Goal
“I expected him to explain this, but he just turned back to the discussion about money. So I raised my hand again. ‘But money shouldn’t be the most important focus of college,’ I said. ‘Getting a great education should be the main point. If someone really just wants to make money, he should be an entrepreneur. I read an article showing that while college graduates make more money than high school grads, and on average law or medical students make more than college graduates, the truth is that successful entrepreneurs make a lot more than doctors or lawyers or anyone else. A lot more.’”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“This is where it got really annoying,” she replied. “He said that while what I said is true, it only applies to a few entrepreneurs, the ones who really succeed. I responded by telling him that the same is true of doctors and lawyers—only a few of those who set out to become doctors or lawyers make it into law school or graduate from medical school. And even many of the graduates don’t make it practicing medicine or law. In fact, the percentages of those who succeed as entrepreneurs are about the same as those who end up succeeding in law and medicine.
“He started to get upset, which really surprised me. I like this teacher a lot. And I think he likes me. I’m a good student. But he didn’t like what I was saying. So he asked the class, ‘What do you guys think about this?’
“One student said, ‘That’s right. What about Bill Gates and other people who drop out of college or don’t even go to college and end up really rich?’
“‘That does happen, for a few people,’ he said. ‘But the lesson of this is that it’s not going to happen for everyone else. The rest of us need a good job, and college is our ticket.’
“Dad, how could that possibly be the main lesson?!?!?” she practically shouted. When she’s on a bender, she is really passionate. “It’s ridiculous! He’s always pushing us to think, to really defend our answers, but in this case he just makes a huge leap without giving it any support at all. How can the fact that a few succeed be a lesson to us that we shouldn’t even try?
“I didn’t want to argue with him, so I just dropped it. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Why would he teach this? I just don’t understand, Dad.”
I pondered, then replied, “I think you do.”
Understanding a Viewpoint
“I think you DO understand. Think about it. Why would a teacher say these things? Was he trying to hurt the students? To lie to them? To trick them or lead them astray?”
“No,” she said immediately. “Of course not. He’s not that way at all.”
“Then why?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do. Think. Why would he teach this?”
She pursed her lips and thought. After a few moments of silence she said, “I’ve been considering this since class, and the only thing I can come up with is that he really believes it. He really thinks that college is about making money, not getting a great education, and he really thinks that only a few people can really make it in the world. The rest just get jobs. He really believes it.”
The way she said this made me smile. “You say it like you’re shocked. Are you?”
“Yes, Dad, I am. It’s really upsetting. He’s an excellent teacher. He makes me think. He pushes me, makes me want to learn more and be better. But he doesn’t really believe in greatness. He thinks all of us are destined for mediocre lives. Job training in college, not great learning. And no chance of a great career—just paying the bills, hopefully, in some dead-end job.”
I shook my head slowly. “I’m not sure,” I mused aloud. “I think you may have misread one thing.”
“What is it?”
“I think he knows some of you will be hugely successful, but in his experience this requires college. Do you think this could be what he thinks?”
“Maybe,” she pondered. “Maybe. Now that you mention it, I think you’re right. He got really concerned when he saw that anyone might consider not going to college.”
The Important Thing
“Why would he do that?”
“Because…because he thinks college is really important.”
“Well, the education is. That’s what’s so frustrating. He thinks college is so wonderful, but he doesn’t realize why. He thinks it’s about money or a piece of paper on the wall, but he’s been to college and he frequently complains about how his salary can’t even pay his family’s bills. It’s like a major theme in his class, how he gets paid so little. Now he wants us to follow his example, so we’ll get as much money as him. Which isn’t enough to live on, as he’s said many times. It’s just so confusing. What on earth is he thinking?”
“You tell me,” I said. “What is he thinking. Stop trying to make it consistent in your mind. Just answer the question: What is he thinking?”
She took a deep breath. “Okay. He thinks college will help us make more money in life. Not enough money for all our bills, maybe, but more than if we don’t go to college. He also thinks that entrepreneurship isn’t real, except for a few lucky people—like winning the lottery or a reality TV show. He must not know a bunch of successful entrepreneurs like we do, so he doesn’t see entrepreneurship as the hard work it is, or college as the place to work hard for a fabulous education. That’s what he thinks.”
“Well, maybe he thinks that,” I mused, “and maybe he doesn’t. I bet if you talked more with him he’d clarify a lot of things. But let’s change the subject a little, to the really important question.”
The Real Question
“What do you think?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what do you think about these issues? Is he right?”
“No!” she said, indignantly. “I mean, yes, a college education is a great thing. I think everyone should get a great education, whether in college or out of college. But if the goal is money, be an entrepreneur—even if you’ve done college. Keep working at it, and be one of the successful ones. Make it happen. The same way you would have to keep working and overcome obstacles to become a successful doctor or lawyer.
“But if you want to be a doctor, do it because you love healing people, not just to make money. If you want to be a lawyer, do it to help people, to spread justice, not only for money. If you want to make money, do something that will truly make you a lot of money, like entrepreneurship, and then use it to help improve the world. If you want a great education, get one. It all seems pretty simple to me. But to listen to him, it’s a lot more complicated. And he seems to think none of us kids are up to anything very great.”
“No!” Now it was my turn to be adamant. “You’re not wrong. You are right. It’s not complicated. When you know what you want, when you know your mission in life, go after it. Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t up to it, that you can’t be one of the success stories. You will be, if you make it happen.
“All you have to do is to choose it, and keep choosing it. If college is part of your path, great. If not, great. But get a truly great education, whatever you do, and if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, or a great teacher, engineer, accountant, doctor, lawyer, dad or mom, or whatever—do it. Find your mission, then live it. And do it for the right reasons. Make sure you remember that your family life will be your greatest source of happiness, whatever else you do.”
I took a breath, then continued, “You are up to it! Don’t let anyone put doubts in your head. And, even when you do have doubts, shake them off and live your dreams anyway.”
We kept discussing for quite a while. It was a good talk. A long talk. It ended with her refocused and re-inspired to great goals, to living her dreams.
I wonder sometimes why it is so hard for parents to help their children and youth realize that they have important dreams for a reason, and that they have the potential to live them.
They really do.
That’s what learning is all about. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand what education is.
I’m grateful for a teacher who challenged my daughter to think, really think about something as important as her purpose in life. I’m glad he shared his views, and I’m glad she asked me to share mine. Mostly, I’m glad she thought about it—instead of just accepting what others told her.
Ultimately, it’s up to her—and every other young person who comes through our homes and families in this generation—to decide their lives. The purpose of education is to equip them to make the best decisions—especially those who want to do great things.
A great education helps each person see what great things he or she is capable of, and get started on them. That’s what real education is. Nothing else is really education. Nothing else even comes close.
One of the most important things about the principle of “Inspire” is this: when your kids are told by the world that they can’t measure up, or can’t live their dreams, or shouldn’t even try, or can only succeed by following the conveyor belt, they’ll come to you and ask for your thoughts. If you’ve been a “Require” or an “Ignore” parent, they’re likely to just skip talking to you about such things. But if you’ve been an “Inspire” parent, they’ll want to know what you think, and they’ll trust you enough to ask.
“Inspire” is a principle that just keeps on giving—and it is especially meaningful when something really important comes up.
Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.