Someone asked me in a lecture I was giving the other day how she should tell her 10-year-old son that his dream of playing in the NBA is unrealistic. I asked her why she felt she needed to tell him that. She replied that she wanted to protect him from getting disappointed when he realized that that dream could never come true. I asked her how she knew it could never come true. “Well, he’s white, for one thing, and he’s short for his age for another, and your average toddler is more coordinated.”
“But would it hurt him to keep believing he might play in the NBA someday?” I asked. “After all, we allow kids to believe in Santa Claus for a long time. We even encourage it.”
“But this is starting to seem cruel,” she said. “I mean when his grandfather asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, and he says a professional basketball player, and his grandfather laughs so hard his glasses fall off before he then asks him to give a serious answer, isn’t it time for me to tell him this dream is just not going to come true?”
“Well, it sounds like Grandpa already did that, didn’t he? But if he chooses to ignore Grandpa, so what? Life will teach him soon enough, when he tries out for whatever team he tries out for. And who knows, maybe he’ll have a growth spurt, maybe he will become more coordinated, and being white doesn’t automatically disqualify him.”
“But you know what I mean,” the mom replied. “Aren’t we supposed to guide our children toward realistic dreams and protect them from crazy ones? Isn’t that part of making sure they don’t get hurt? What if he wanted to date a movie star? Should I say, Ok son, go for it?”
“Why not?” I said. “What’s he gonna do? Send her a fan letter? If he got a reply, which he might or might not, it would probably be a signed photo that he could put on his wall and admire all year. What’s so good about being realistic?”
“I just don’t want him to get hurt,” the mom replied. By now the whole lecture hall was listening to our conversation, obviously interested in it, not making noises for me to move on.
This is a question that comes up all the time, not only in children who have ADHD, but in all children, and, if truth be told, in us adults as well. How long it is healthy to hold onto dreams that aren’t coming true? By what age should we start to get realistic?
My answer is you should never give up on your dream. It’s better to go to your grave with an unfulfilled dream than no dream at all. You can feed off of that dream your whole life long.
But you also need a Plan B. My first dream career was to be a writer. When I was in high school, I wanted to rank right up there with Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and all the greats. When I got to college, I realized that making a living as a writer of fiction was sort of like trying to make the NBA as a 5’6” white guy, so I needed a Plan B. I decided being a doctor would be a good way to make a living, that would also allow me to write as well. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.
I encourage people of all ages to hold onto dreams no matter how unrealistic. I will die hoping to write a great novel. Maybe I will actually do it, but on the way I’ve written some wonderful books that have helped lots of people, so my dream has served me and the world quite well. Which is exactly what dreams are supposed to do, don’t you think?