In this post, J. Sumerau reflects on the possibility of focusing on and talking about dreams in contexts where we are more often encouraged to focus on what we should do rather than what we wish for.
A couple months ago, I posted a piece here about the emphasis on obligations, or the dreaded should, I have noticed so many fellow academics wrestling with over the years. In the piece, I noted the possibility of shifting our focus from what we should be doing to what we have actually done that might deserve some credit from us or others.
Based on messages and discussions with people, as well as my own reflections, I could likely add more to the piece I published at this point, but that is not what I want to do today. Instead, I want to talk a little bit about dreams and the importance of them – the wants instead of the shoulds – for self care and fulfillment.
Did you have a dream when you were younger or last night?
Does your current life, career, or circumstance match this dream or have you on a path to reaching it?
I think these are important questions that I never hear people talk about within or even beyond the academy. Social psychologists have even noted that having dreams is a very important aspect of selfhood, whether or not such dreams ever come true in one’s life. They provide motivation, joy, pain, and other emotional experiences that facilitate growth and development in a wide variety of ways. Of course, this makes me wonder why I don’t often hear people talking about their dreams. More often, I hear people talking about what they are doing, should be doing, have to do, or haven’t gotten done yet. I fully admit, as I noted in the previous piece, that academic culture especially seems to encourage – if not require – these questions much more so than any talk about desire, hopes, or dreams for the world or one’s self. At the same time, I think we – myself included at times – miss something when we forget to also think about whatever we might wish for, deeply desire, and hope for in our best imagined versions of our world and life.
I can’t pretend to evaluate the dreams of another, but I do think dreams are very important whatever shape they take. I’m reminded of friends and colleagues I admire who dreamed of being academics, teachers, scholars, researchers, and university administrators their whole lives. At the same time, I think about the fact that this was not the case for me, and that I kind of stumbled into an academic life as a way to facilitate and fund my actual dreams of being a writer and activist. In both cases, my colleagues and I had dreams that we ultimately got to touch in our own lives for various reasons and thanks to a lot of things beyond our control going well. Thinking about these things leads me to wonder what other people dream about, what do other people want most in the imagined case where it somehow works out, and what discussions about these questions might reveal about ourselves, about others, and about our lives.
I’m also reminded of just as many friends and colleagues I admire who dreamed of things that never came true, or continue to dream of things they are still chasing. In both of these cases and similar to the above, the dreams themselves speak to the people, what they value, what they desire, and what matters to them most once upon a time, in the present, or in some imagined future. Thinking about this leads me to wonder what other dreams people have given up, what dreams changed over time as people learned more about themselves and the world, and how past and current dreams or other desires speak to one’s current life or efforts.
As I said, I can’t offer any real answers to these questions, but I thought it might be nice to at least broach the conversation. I thus invite people to think about, write about even on this site if you wish, and consider what your dreams might be, and what such reflection might tell you about yourself and others. I’ll close this post with a simple question.
What do you get to do that feeds you enough to make the things you have to do worthwhile and what do you have to do to facilitate your ability to do the things you really want to do?