Monday, August 25, 2008

Dream big- but dream realistically

Anyone who knows me very well knows that I am not a TV watcher. At the end of a hard day, I would much rather come home and plop down with a book than veg out in front of the TV. If I do watch TV, it's usually a social thing, or else I'm working on a sewing project, when I generally put a favorite movie in the DVD player.

However, the one thing that I do watch on TV religiously (besides General Conference), is the Olympics. I love them. I love watching such a wide variety of sports in such a short period of time, I love the stories of dedication and inspiration that accompany them, and I love seeing the personalities of the athletes come out. The MSNBC website has a top-eight events from the Beijing games page that I recommend, especially if you weren't able to watch the games.

One of the main themes of the Olympics seems to be "you can do anything you set your heart on." While I admire the determination of the athletes that achieve their goals, this motto does concern me a little. It is more true today, especially in America, than it probably has been anywhere else in any other time period in history. But I fear sometimes we get way too caught up in the mantra "follow your dreams."

Probably the best way to illustrate this is with an example; a piece of practical advice I heard from an Olympian a few years ago. You may recall, from the 2000 Summer games in Sydney, the astonishing gold medal won by Rulon Gardner, a wrestling rookie from Wyoming (who also happened to be LDS and a graduate of Rick's College). He defeated the formidable Alexander Karelin, the Russian wrestling king who had gone undefeated for thirteen years, and won the gold medal. It was your quintessential Olympic story; the underdog came up and achieved his dreams against all odds.

The following year, Rulon came to my high school to give a motivational speech. He may have been my favorite motivational speaker ever. He didn't resort to sensationalism or crazy stories or emotions. Very much the Wyoming farmboy still, he just told it like it was. Of course, he told us to follow our dreams, but he added something that many people should give more consideration. Follow your dreams, but make those dreams realistic. He pointed out that he had a gold medal, but it was a gold medal in wrestling. He hadn't set out to be a horse jockey. Looking at his stature, that made sense.

Michael Phelps may be the best swimmer in recorded history, but look at his body type. He was custom-made for the pool. To put it bluntly, there are some things that affirmative action will never be able to level out to give everyone the same starting advantage. Michael Phelps would be a terrible gymnast. He's far too tall and lanky. But Nastia Liukin would probably never have made it in the pool.

Also, what too many people forget when they watch the Olympics, or inspirational movies, or the finished product of anything, really, is that to become really good at something takes time. There are people who strike it rich and retire in their twenties, but they are few and far between. Most of us have to work, and work dratted hard, to achieve anything truly worthwhile. Ask Michael Phelps, Rulon Gardner, or Nastia Liukin if those gold medals just dropped into their laps.

Or, for that matter, you could ask me if my master's thesis is writing itself, or ask my brother if starting a software company is cake, or ask my dad if he would have achieved groundbreaking discoveries in computer graphics without years and years of work. But, at the same time, we're all dreaming realistically. I'm putting my efforts into genetics because that's what I'm good at. I would fail miserably if I were the one putting together a software company, because those are not my skills.

Finally, to give you one more thing to ponder, here is how Jenkin Lloyd Jones, quoted by President Gordon B. Hinckley, chose to put it:

“[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef
is tough. Most children grow up to be just
people. Most successful marriages require
high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs
are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays,
sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts,
interspersed only occasionally by beautiful
vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting
you have the ride”

(“Big Rock Candy Mountains,”
Deseret News, 12 June 1973, A4).


Ross & Amanda Goodman said...

I absolutely concur! What a great post, and such providential timing for me as well. I need a reminder sometimes that it is ok for me to not be FANTASTIC at everything. Sometimes success in just one arena at a time is enough. Good luck on your thesis!

Tricia said...

Roo: one of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from Anton Ego:

"In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

How are we to know if we can become a great artist or not unless we try?

Oh, and this is Matt posting--it looks like Trish is still logged in on my computer.

Maria said...

Matt: I suggest you reread the post, a little more carefully. I am not endorsing mediocrity or apathy or lack of ambition. I am endorsing acceptance that some people are just not going to be good at some things, no matter how hard they want to be, and that just about anything worthwhile is going to take serious effort to achieve greatness. But by all means, reach for the stars. You will seldom get them, but you will stretch more by reaching than you would without.