As kids, we were unafraid to dream big. Minus the social awkwardness of the teenage years, we generally weren’t swayed by other people’s expectations of us or their perceptions of our dreams. For some odd reason, the older we get, the more susceptible we are to being influenced by society’s expectations of us. Somewhere along the way, we seem to subdue our dreams, become more reserved in our ambition, and guarded against judgment from others.
Why is this? If anything, our abilities to accomplish challenging tasks grow as we get older, while it seems our ability to believe we are capable can somehow diminish. Being able to align these two things in your adulthood is the driving force behind so many people’s success, including my own. Following my military career, and particularly following my late stage Tick Borne Illness diagnosis, I found myself doubting many of my capabilities; not because I thought I was inept, but because I had allowed myself to become somewhat conditioned to believe so.
Not many women become fighter pilots. The first woman Thunderbird pilot wasn’t supposed to lose her military career to Lyme Disease. Nor was I automatically destined to become a motivational speaker or patient advocate for a highly controversial illness. All of these thoughts continuously flashed through my mind as I faced an unexpected transition to civilian life. It’s almost as though these thoughts in my head weren’t actually from me; they had been planted there by years of living in a society that places so many expectations on us.
Being able to differentiate between the thoughts in my head that I recognized as foreign, and those that are the real me, was one of the biggest factors in aligning my abilities with my belief in my capabilities. The youthful me that didn’t care whether something had been done before kept telling me the truth; that I am capable, that I am worthy, and that I am right where I need to be. I challenged my own (though, were they really my own?) assumptions about myself, threw off the expectations of others, and stuck to what I knew best: breaking barriers, pursuing what I believe in and value, and loving every second of it. I think this is what people mean when they say to ‘be authentic’, and it’s so true.
So, dream big, whether you’re 12 years old and want to go to space or you’re 49 and want to change careers. At the end of the day, if you believe you can, you’re right…if you believe you can’t, you’re also right. Other people’s expectations should have no bearing on your goals and efforts. So believe you can, and then go make it happen.