To Continue

Dec. 31st, 2021

For those who keep me going

There’s an age-old adage: “work hard, dream big”. As kids, we hold the perspective that the world is full of boundless possibilities, and that we could pretty much manifest our desires into existence. Every single one of us had dreams. Some wanted to be astronauts exploring the universe, others wanted to save lives in medicine, or maybe become professional athletes. At some point though, I think I stopped having dreams. I can’t speak for everyone, but wishful, esoteric thoughts just disappeared. As the oftentimes harsh reality of life kicked in, dreams were replaced with goals – much more rational desires that were constructed by our surroundings and context. I’m not saying that goals are somehow worse than dreams, I just hold the opinion that we should be encouraging folks to dream more.

I think we’re too dismissive of dreams. We brush things off as unrealistic, infeasible, or flat out laughable. But is wishing for these unlikely ‘dream’ scenarios necessarily bad? It may seem childish almost, but I feel as though the absence of dreams puts limits on one’s potential. A few weeks back, I read about the inspiration of this writing. Raptors player Yuta Watanabe had this to say in the Japanese Edition of the Player’s Tribune:

Growing up, there were a lot of kids who would say ‘I want to be an NBA player’ in elementary school, but once they got into middle school, most stopped saying that. And once they got to an age when they were seriously considering their future, people would ridicule them and say ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ That’s how it was at the time. But I continued to chase after the message I sent to my future self [in the time capsule]. And now as an adult, what I tell kids is not ‘Please have a dream’, but ‘Please continue to have a dream’. ‘To continue’ is the important part.

The last 2 years of the “quarantine life” and online school often feel like a blur. I’ve found myself becoming more despondent, less engaged, and just moodier overall. It became hard to look forward to things – how can one be excited about student life when student life is literally non-existent? I don’t think I had any grand dreams on my mind, I was too busy being miserable. Someone told me that I needed to feel more: to experience something that’s real enough to remind my brain of life and what’s truly important. I couldn’t agree more. I needed a dream to spark that.

Now thankfully, I don’t think there was ever a figure in my life who actively discouraged me from chasing after a dream. However, I sure as hell don’t remember anyone that wasn’t on a TV screen encouraging me to dream and to actively chase after them. At some point, life got too serious for such things.

I sat down to fill out YearCompass, this New Year’s reflection tool that makes you break down the previous year and prepare for the upcoming one. As we were talking through the reflection and writing down our thoughts, an old memory kept nagging me. When I used to lifeguard, we would be assigned to a certain position in the facility for 10-15 minutes at a time. One such position was on this isolated waterslide tower. You were on your own, with no other lifeguards or patrons to distract you. It was just you and the occasional kid on a tube who would zoom past. Bored lifeguards would often use their whistles or keys to carve things into the metal tower to pass time. Most would leave their names, a tic tac toe game, or maybe some clever vulgarities. However, someone left a quote that would stick with me:

“Be who you needed when you were younger”

Over my years of lifeguarding, I probably spent dozens of hours alone in that tower. I never thought much about that text though, I just knew it was there. But as I sat down with the YearCompass and started feeling increasingly disappointed in how half-assed my time in quarantine was, it all hit me at once. The younger version of Tailai had dreams. Even as recently as a 17-year-old senior in high school, he had dreamt of getting into his favourite school, to chase lofty goals, and to live life to the fullest. I want 17-year-old Tailai to be able to look at his older self and be immensely proud of the person he became. I want that kid’s dream to be honored. Any kid who had high hopes and ambitions for themselves and the world deserves that. That kid promised to himself that he could do it. That kid dreamt of being where you are now – he had the audacity to dream.

Will I be who he needed?

Cheers to 2022.