When I was a little kid I had this reoccurring dream. I dreamt of being in a strange world where I had to climb to the top of a very tall mountain filled with barriers floating in a purple sky. There was a meter posted where I could always see it, keeping track of the amount of progress I made. I’d make it a good distance to the top before something would go catastrophically wrong, I’d go crashing to the bottom, and the meter would drop back to zero. I’d be so unspeakably sad about all the lost progress. I’d look at the meter and the mountain and think, “How can I ever make it now?”
I’d wake up sweating and breathing hard, unable to fall back asleep, and feeling terrible about myself.
I had that dream many times. Asleep, I never did reach the top of that mountain. But then I realized it was meant for me to reach while awake, and after that, I never had that dream again.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day*. Dr. King was someone who had a dream, and he brought that dream to everyone. He knew that chasing the dream was neither easy nor safe, but it needed to be done. He knew that not everyone thought his dream was possible, and not everyone thought it worth pursuing. He knew there would be fierce opposition. He stood up, when others backed down, and he died making that dream come true.
Back when he was still chasing his dream, there were many people who did not believe in what he was doing. “It’s impossible,” they said.
Now a lot of people say, “It was inevitable. How could it have ever been any other way? People like him are just meant to do things like that.” Sometimes I think people forget, or just don’t realize, what it takes to make a dream happen.
When I was little, I dreamt of a lot of things. I dreamt of being rich and famous, so I could buy everything I wanted, and then I’d give my money to the poor people of the world so they could buy everything they wanted too. When you’re a little kid, you don’t know any better but to follow your dreams. I guess I never grew up, because that’s still what I do. I dream when I’m asleep, and I dream when I’m awake. The only difference between the two is that while awake I can turn those dreams into reality.
Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my favorite people in history. Most people assume that, since I do writing and music, my favorite people would be writers and musicians, not a civil rights activist. But if you think like that, you are completely missing the point.
Yes, Dr. King was a civil rights leader. But he was more than that. He was a dreamer.
Things like writing and music, in and of themselves, are not really important. It’s all about how you use it that gives it any importance. In everything I do, there is a bigger picture. I’m not really a writer. I’m not really a musician either. I’m a dreamer, and I seek to make dreams come true.
My mom always wanted me to be a doctor. She, along with a lot of people, thinks the things I’m doing now are not practical or useful, and that I’m wasting my time, and wasting my life. These people continue to try and persuade me to change course. But they don’t see the whole picture.
The idea of being a doctor, of having someone’s life in my hands, does not daunt me at all. I think I could handle it rather well. It’s pretty cut and dry. You go through years of training, and you know exactly what needs to be done. I’m sure it isn’t easy at all. But I’ve never been satisfied with things that were.
What does scare me, though, is the idea of not doing something I was meant to.
I don’t think it’s my place to be a doctor, because I wouldn’t be helping as many people as I think I should, in the ways I think I should. This isn’t a knock against doctors. If I end up helping people as much as any given doctor does, I’ll consider it an accomplishment. But I think there are plenty of good doctors out there, which is exactly why I don’t think it’s my path to be one. I need to do the things that no one else is doing, the things that no one else realizes needs to be done, or perhaps, the things that some people realize needs to be done but don’t know how to achieve them.
Dreams, when meant to please yourself, may or may not be worth pursuing. But when dreams can influence the world around you, when they can inspire people to achieve more than they thought they could, when they can give a better life to those less fortunate, how can you deny it? I’ll go so far as to say that veering from your dream would be doing a disservice to those around you, the same people who think you’re doing a disservice to yourself by ‘wasting your time’ chasing dreams. It is your job to bring the dream to those who don’t understand it.
I talk a lot about success. People seem to think that by success, I mean money. So they say, “You should win the lottery! Then you’d be happy, right?”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Money means nothing to me. It’s a means to an end. It’s a useful, and sometimes necessary tool. If I had a lot of money, I’m sure I could find a way to put it to good use. But if I ever get rich, I will give most of it away. I don’t need it, and I don’t want it.
I do not measure success in terms of money, but in terms of the influence I’ve had upon others. Money can help you be influential. But in itself, money means nothing. It’s all about how you use it.
Material things are not what I want, for those present just passing satisfaction. What I want is a legacy.
I dream of making an impact. I dream of changing the world. I have many dreams, but ultimately, the biggest dream is of a world free of poverty, disease, and hate. I may never see these dreams come true. But that’s not going to stop me from trying. I’m not afraid of failing, only afraid of never having tried.
“Those are great things to say and all, but how can they really be accomplished?” I bet that’s what you’re thinking. And if you’re not, you probably should be. A dream is worth nothing unless you realize how to bring it to life.
It isn’t enough just to chase dreams. You have to be pragmatic about it. Like a tree, you have to have your roots grounded deep into the earth, for that is the base of which you will grow off of. But there is no limit to how high you can grow. Dreamers are not usually thought of as also being realistic. But it’s absolutely necessary to be grounded in reality in order to make dreams come true, or you’ll find your dreams are nothing more than nice thoughts.
Regarding the things I’m doing, no one really sees the big picture. They don’t understand why I go about things the way I do, and they don’t understand how I think I can make an impact. But that’s fine. I can’t really explain it to you, because my words fall short. But I can show you a little bit at a time.
Whenever I should die, be it today, or a hundred years from now, I don’t want anyone to be sad. My life is not important. The influence I’ve had upon others is.
I’m not afraid to die, only afraid to die leaving behind a meaningless life, to die not having fulfilled something I was able to, something I should have, something I was meant to. That would be a tragedy.
I will never stop chasing dreams. After one dream has been accomplished, there will be the next. There will always be another. This world is too imperfect, this universe too big, and this life too intriguing, to ever stop.
If I should live a short life, I want to leave it having achieved as much as I could have with the time I was given. And if I should be fortunate enough to be alive a hundred years from now, you will find me still chasing dreams.
But no matter what I may achieve, I know I’ll never be amazing. I’m not talented in any way, shape, or form. I never have been, and I never will be.
The only thing I’ve ever been truly good at is not knowing my own limitations. Because of that, I’m not afraid to try something people think is impossible. There is nothing special about me. I’m an ordinary guy who has extraordinary dreams, and I look for ways to make those dreams reality. I might be too stupid to realize how difficult things really are. But I’m also too stubborn to give up.
I may not be able to achieve something on the magnitude of what Martin Luther King Jr. did. But I’m sure going to try my best to make the biggest difference I can.
Those who dream in black and white find their dreams too mundane to be worth pursuing. But those who believe in the vibrancy of their dreams, who believe the unbelievable, who chase what others think is impossible, who practice what others say is impractical, who realize what others thought was unreal; those are the people who become unforgettable, as their legacy continues long after their mortal bodies fade away.
Dream as big as you want, or dream of accomplishing things on a smaller scale. It doesn’t really matter how big your dream is, as long as it’s contributing in some positive way. This is how you can make a difference in the world. And in doing so, you will build a legacy for yourself.
But you’ll find me, always, chasing the biggest dreams. There is no limit to how much you can achieve, only to how much you think you can.
Do not be discouraged by what others say. They will try to lead you away from your dreams, not usually to be antagonizing, but because they think they are helping you. Those you think may be against you, really are not. Most of them are with you, they just don’t realize it yet.
Once the dream is made real, they will applaud it. Don’t hold grudges, for they will only weigh you down. You can’t expect people to see the same vision as you, or dream the same dreams. If everyone did, it wouldn’t be a dream.
Dreams are there for anyone who seeks them. A legacy is there for anyone who wants it. Do not be afraid to dream awake, and do not be afraid to make those dreams come true. People may call you a dreamer, they may call you unrealistic, they may call you naïve, but once you show them that the dream is both necessary and within reach, they will call you a fighter.
Anyone can dream. It’s very simple. Don’t be intimidated. If you don’t already have a dream, think about what you want. Don’t know what you want? Think about what you can do for others.
If you already have a dream, why not pursue it? It doesn’t have to be something as ambitious as saving the world. Even the smallest dreams are worth pursuing when it helps someone in some small way, because in that way, you are making a difference.
And if you are already chasing dreams, don’t give up. Your efforts will be appreciated someday.
So if in your dreams you should happen to see a little kid climbing his purple mountain, do not help him when he falls. He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. He wants to show you how much he can achieve. He will get back up, start from scratch, and reach the top. And from there he will see his next dream.
I’m Rob Kajiwara, dreamer of things that never were. Thanks for reading.