WHEN Martin Luther King Jr stood before 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he spoke about his dream of ending racism in America.
The echo of his magnanimous “I’ve a dream” speech shook the nation and is widely known as the top American speech of the 20th century.
In the same spirit, Maya Angelou, one of the greatest authors and poets that ever lived, wrote “And still I rise,” the opening of which represents the sentiments perfectly:
“You may write me down in history,
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt,
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
These inspirational figures focused on hopeful determination to rise above discouragement in times of difficulty, to fulfil the dreams that they harboured, dreams that would impact millions within their spheres and the world at large.
These are people with an aspiration, an enduring passion for their causes, and a fighting spirit in spite of the difficulties they encounter.
And since fulfilling one’s dreams often comes with overcoming its own set of obstacles, surely we should be single-minded in doing so?
By epiphany, I recently discovered the works of a late creative.
While strolling around Hampstead one fine afternoon, I chanced upon Keats House, a museum in a house once occupied by the English Romantic poet John Keats.
Keats decided to forsake his medical career to fulfil his dreams of becoming a poet.
A life as a poet was tough, as he wrote book after book that were unjustly critiqued, giving him a sense of never being quite good enough.
Regretfully, he caught tuberculosis while travelling on the back of a carriage on a stormy night, and subsequently died at the age of 25.
He asked for the following words to be engraved on his tombstone, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water,” which were subsequently interpreted as “to show his Classical Genius cut off by death before its maturity.”
Reading this evoked a feeling of sadness for someone whose work of such tremendous genius had ended before he was able to reap the rewards for the sacrifices he had to make to pursue his dreams. And perhaps leaving it all behind, thinking that his work never left any impact on humanity.
Taking a lesson from this anecdote, do we still single-mindedly pursue a dream regardless of our ability to sustain ourselves?
And what’s in a dream?
We often hear that we have to pursue our dream career in order to be happy in life, but no one tells us how to get there and in the meantime, how do we survive?
Growing up in Malaysia in the 1980s, I remember very well the subservience of my childhood, being one of five children in a Chinese culture that believed that children should be seen and not heard.
I am a product of the hopes of my parents and the comparisons they made between my otherworldly intelligent cousins and me.
I am a product of the umpteenth self-help books that traversed my path every time I attempted to buy a book from MPH, and of the financial circumstances that I grew up in that encouraged me to seek a more effervescent life, a life in a world beyond my comprehension.
Obtaining the scholarship to pursue a postgraduate degree in cancer research was just the beginning.
Moving to London made this dream real. I was on a journey to making a difference to the world, and perhaps earning some respect along the way.
But this is where I notice the difference between the type of dreams in my home country and those in the Western world.
Back home, my ambition was to obtain a doctorate degree, make a difference, serve the society and look after my ageing parents.
It’s very much about serving others and getting a nod in our direction that acknowledges our significance.
More than a decade on, London has taught me that for many, the attainment of personal dreams very much boils down to the fulfilment of one’s ego or desire to sample all of life’s pleasures, to understand, to question humanity, and to grow.
In other words, in the West, we are becoming more about self-indulgence and improvement.
Whatever the reasons are that fuel our journey to chase our dreams and gain significance in the world, perhaps we can all learn something from Keats.
And it is that it’s simply not enough to pursue your dream career at all costs.
Especially if you are abandoning a job that pays your bills to concentrate on your dream career full-time.
What is more important is that we find a way to sustain ourselves while we pursue our dreams.
Working hard to support yourself can be more rewarding than waiting for the perfect career while receiving pocket money from your parents.
The key to finding a balance is time management – unlocking the techniques to fit in a full-time job and our dreams around the clock.
Sure, we may never sleep again, but then again, no one understands sleep deprivation as much as new parents.
So if you are without a young baby, you really have no excuses. And even if you do, there’s always a time and place to sow your seeds and harvest.
For what is life, if without a dream?