Students can succeed without a specific dream to chase

Credit: Anna Li/ Credit: Anna Li/
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Being pushed to follow your childhood dreams seems to be a consistent part of the Carnegie Mellon University culture. Even before orientation, each of us received in the mail a printed copy of Professor Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, the central theme of which was achieving your childhood dreams. The bridge into the Gates Hillman Center serves as a daily reminder of that, as is the constant presence of campus tour guides who bring it up. It has begun, much to my dismay, to feel rather overwhelming.

While I don’t diminish the value of the message in any way, for it truly can be an inspiration to those who interpret it as such, I nevertheless feel isolated the more I hear it floating around. The assumption the message makes is that each of us already has a childhood dream, or some seemingly unreached goal to strive towards. But what if that is not the case?

I am sure that I’m not alone in this, but I’ve never felt a singular dream call to me in as urging a way as described by the late Professor Pausch. I’ve never felt that I must accomplish something before I die, never had a goal I would sacrifice something valuable for, never wanted to do something “big.”

Even when I was younger, I never really had all the ambitions I saw in my peers. My friends wanted to be musicians, artists, poets, doctors, spies, but I was simply... content. Of course, I had passing whims, certain short periods of time during which I entertained the idea of being a certain someone in the future. However, those whims were just that — passing. Nothing stayed. Meanwhile, those around me seemed to have stuck with at least a remnant of theirs. Some went to music conservatories, some have decided to pursue the fine arts, while still others are on the pre-med track.

I cannot say that my childhood dreams had any influence whatsoever in what I am choosing to do currently. I had wanted to be a traditional artist, but soon gave that up as I realized that I was simply mediocre at art. Then, I had wanted to be a writer, but found that inspiration came too slowly. Most recently and perhaps the least childhood-esque dream I had was being a doctor, but I, again, was discouraged, this time because of the prolonged schooling involved. Had I tried, really tried, I would have been able to pursue any one of those paths. For some reason, however, none of them seem quite as appealing to me now, and there simply exists no desire for me to fulfill my childhood dreams.

So, a natural question might be: am I dissatisfied with myself and with how my circumstances turned out in the end? I wouldn’t say so. Despite the fact that I am surrounded at Carnegie Mellon by some of the most ambitious people I have ever known, all striving for something great, I am certain there are as many who are on the other end of the spectrum — those who will let past dreams lie.

While I have been jealous of those who do intend to follow Professor Pausch’s words, I want to also say to those who do not that we are not incomplete people. Less conspicuous, perhaps, but not missing a part of ourselves. Though I am often overshadowed by the outspoken dreamers, I am okay with that, because standing out was never a dream of mine.