I’ve been reading Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture, if you’re unfamiliar its about a professor who learns he is dying of pancreatic cancer and has mere months to live, given the haste he prepares a lecture to give at his university, Carnegie Mellon, about achieving your childhood dreams. In the book he highlights things from the lecture and discusses them and their relativity to his life.
Naturally, I got to thinking about what my own childhood dreams were. I couldn’t really member much of any substance, but one thing that stuck out was wanting to be a Princess. I
was am absolutely obsessed with Disney Princesses and Cinderella was always my favorite. I would watch it for hours and hours on end, knew all the songs and would even call my best friend up (who lived around the corner) and we would start the movie at exactly the same time and sit on the phone watching it together. I remember one year my mother made me a blue dress (see picture) and I wore the crown from my dance recital, and I was Cinderella for Halloween. I also remember being Ariel one year too, my mom made that costume as well, I remember I had a long green tail that she stuffed with news paper that was so difficult to get around in, but I didn’t care because finally I was a princess and everyone knew. From the time I was a kid Disney has been apart of my life. I remember going there when I was very young, ever year for my birthday. My dad told me that the parade (that I later found out happens every day without fail) was just for me, and I felt so special. Like how did they even know I was in town?! How did they know it was my birthday! My favorite thing was the Tiki room…yes with the singing birds. I dunno why, but it was and even on my last trip to Disney (which I was 17 for) I went to the Tiki room along with two friends at the time who must have thought I was bananas, and I was quite literally the happiest girl in the world in that tree listening to the birds do their polynesian chants.
What does this all mean though? Pausch has me thinking that we had it right, then. When we were kids. Before the world told us what was “proper” or “realistic” we had a dream and it was what we felt with our whole hearts and that was just it. My dream, just so happens to be highly impassable. Nothing is impossible. So I look, with my adult eyes, at the anatomy of a princess and I see what I can take from it.
One of Pausch’s dreams was to be Captain James T. Kirk. Now obviously he could not, in fact, be Captain Kirk because not only is he a fictional character, but James T. Kirk is already James T. Kirk and there are no more openings for the position. Pausch says of Kirk:
So what was Kirk’s skill set? Why did he get to climb on board The Enterprise and run it? The answer: There is this skill set called “leadership.” I learned so much by watching this guy in action. He was the distilled essence of the dynamic manager, a guy who knew how to delegate, had the passion to inspire, and looked good in what he wore to work.( The Last Lecture pg. 44)“
I got so excited when I read those words because that is exactly what I want to be when I grow up. A leader! sidebar: so even with my outward disbelief in accidents and coincidences, do you think its funny that currently I’m enrolled to become a doctor of philosophy of leadership? The irony in that is just too rich. I want to inspire people, with grace and poise and modeled behavior. sidebar #2: on my national counseling board exam there was a question about which types of reinforcement were the most effective for children, positive, negative, etc. The answer was modeled behavior, because modeled behavior is reinforced constantly. I felt like Pausch understood me and my childhood desire to put on a gown and spin while humming a song about the beauty of dreaming was reignited within me. THEN!
I wanted to help students learn how to judge themselves. Did they recognize their true abilities? Did they have a sense of their own flaws? Were they realistic about how others viewed them? …The only way any of us can improve–as Coach Graham taught me–is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves (112).”
I thought about a conversation I had on my last day in Atlanta with my dad, mom, grandmother aunt and uncle. They were talking about me, and the conversation when (in my then opinion) very south. “You have always been lazy!” That was my grandmother, but it was met with a sea of “mm-hmms” and head nods. I was offended. Then, moments later after hearing them recount evidence of my sloth I laughed because it is true to some extent, I am not the worker bee. I am, however, an excellent delegator. I get work done, but if its not in my strength area then I have no problem passing it off to someone else after gently stroking their ego a bit. Is that manipulative? I guess one could argue that. But being honest, if you build a better bridge than I do, why would I attempt the feat, when I can ask you and give you all the praise and reassurance that you can do it? It is not as though I don’t believe you can, I have total faith in you. And at the end of the day we can walk from here to there. Isn’t that what everybody cares about, anyway? Results. I get those.
I am not, however, political by any means. Which perhaps explains why I never wanted to be queen. I am not a figurehead, or a woman for or of the masses. I am simply a girl humming a song inviting you to chime in at the chorus. Pausch continues on to say:
I understand the argumetns about how billions of dollars spent to put men on the moon could haev been used to fight poverty and hunger on Earth. But, look, I’m a scientist who sees inspiration as the ultimate tool for doing good. When you use money to fight poverty, it can be of great value, but too often, you’re working at the margins. When you’re putting people on the moon, you’re inspiring all of us to achieve the maximum of human potential, which is how are greatest problems will eventually be solved. Give yourself permission to dream. (132-133).
I felt like the other shoe had dropped! YES YES YES YES YES!!!!! This here is everything. So my generation didn’t get a “moon landing” we got a black president, and everybody watched him take office and so many of us were inspired to do whatever we could dream and even the things would didn’t dare to. It’s the reason we read fairy tales to our kids and tell them folk tells and bedtime stories. To inspire them to indulge their imagination! That’s where innovation comes from, not from being pragmatic and realistic aka limited and mediocre.
There is so much cynicism in the world today. Everyone is so focused on the idiosyncrasies of their passionless lives that they are just missing it; everything. They are missing the birds singing, and the sun shining or even the rain dripping in perfect syncopation. Life is a dance and far too many of us aren’t dancing, we don’t even hear the music.
So all of that to say, nothing has changed. I still want to be a princess. A Disney Princess. I want to sing songs about the beauty of dreaming, and be friends with the birds, wear beautiful dresses and have my hair be just so, be gracious, and humble, and cherish every little girl in the world letting her know that she and I are no different. I just want to wake people up to something beautiful. That is not a dream easily abandoned.