You know how when you were a little kid, you always believed what your parents told you? Well, growing up, I was always told that I could be whatever I wanted. A doctor, a lawyer, a ballerina… Well, maybe not a ballerina but you get the idea. The point is, my parents never once talked to us about barriers to our dreams. Whatever is was that we wanted to do, we could do, if we tried hard enough.
And for their part, they worked hard at jobs they disliked, to make sure that my sisters and I got all the things in life that they did not. We went to private schools and then on to college. Where they couldn’t support with cash, they supported with food and other basic necessities. They always supported with encouragement. The message was always the same: “You can do it. Whatever you set your mind to, it can be done.”
While growing up, I think I believed this - at least mostly. I know I believed it when I gave my first solo performance. I know I believed it when I took my driver’s exam. I know I believed it when I sent in my graduate school application. And I believed it when I packed my car and drove off to a new life in North Carolina. But by my teen years, I only believed it to a certain extent. I believed I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as it was within my means.
In high school, I knew I could go to college. I knew that I could go to my state university, but not Yale or Harvard. In college, I knew that I could get good grades, but not maintain a 4.0. I knew I could be stellar, but in my own average way. In laying out my life’s path, I chose attainable goals – goals that I could meet (sometimes without too much work because I am lazy that way). I knew that I couldn’t change the world but that I could make at least some moments of it better for the kids with whom I worked. I’m not putting myself down - I just understood the simple fact that you can only aim so high based on your life circumstances. I understood the sad truth that there are barriers for people who are not born into money. My life’s opportunities have been vastly different from those of George Bush. For working class people, dreams and goals are two different things.
Now if my parents had the same understanding, I do not know. Sometimes I think they just said those things because they wanted them to be true for their children. If they truly believed them, then they would probably call me cynical. I think I have been realistic. Over the years, I stopped believing that this idea could be true for anyone - until I listened to Michelle Obama’s convention speech.
If you haven’t already, go and listen. It doesn’t matter what side of the political railroad tracks you live on, her words will make you believe that we can do whatever we want to do, if we try hard enough. This is the message that I heard while growing up and what I want my children to hear too. And she makes me believe it’s true, once again.