COLUMN: Don’t let anyone limit your dreams | columns

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a fairly common question, often asked to children as a conversation starter, akin to “How’s school going?”

What do you want to be when you grow up? The answer depends heavily on the age of the person being interviewed. The younger the respondent, the more imaginative the answer – a superhero, a cowboy, a sports star, a pop star, a movie star, a fighter pilot, President of the United States.

As the child grows older, these seemingly fanciful dreams begin to fade and more practical future careers come to the fore – doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, business owner.

But what if even those doors appear closed? I recently heard an interview with pastor and author Michael Phillips, who told his teacher at the age of 6 that he wanted to be a lawyer, just like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, his grandmother’s hero.

“She (the teacher) told me that for a person like me, that would never happen,” Phillips said in a recent interview on NBC’s Today Show.

And by “a person like me,” of course, she meant someone who was black.

Having no positive male role models since his father died of a stroke when Phillips was only 12, he began emulating the only role models he had, the neighborhood criminals.

At the age of 18 he was arrested for selling drugs. Facing a 30-year sentence, a concerned judge gave Phillips a choice – go to jail or go to college and get an education. He eagerly chose the latter. Today, Phillips pastors a thriving church in his hometown of Baltimore, is a church leader, and serves on the Maryland State Board of Education. He also has a son who graduated from Harvard in 2020.

After being told, “You can’t do that,” Phillips got a chance and a challenge from the judge, who saw his potential.

So what should we tell our children when they answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with an answer that we find imaginative, if not downright impossible?

Do it. Who says you can’t be a top athlete? It’s not going to be easy, and the odds are against it, but if you work and train hard enough, you might have a chance. The same goes for becoming a pop star or a movie idol. Chances are, to be sure, you’ll never know until you try.

There is little in this world that you cannot do if you focus and are willing to work to achieve your goals. Superhero status is one such unattainable goal. A human cannot fly unaided, cannot lift a car over his head with one hand, and cannot melt steel while jets of fire are shooting out of his eyes. I know. I tried.

Of course, men cannot give birth. If they could, birth control would be much more readily available, let alone abortion.

But aside from that, if you want to be the next Patrick Mahomes? Do it. Want to be the next Meryl Streep? Try it. How about the next Jeff Bezos? OK, that’s a target to shoot at. Crazy? Could be. Impossible? Who is to say that. The point is to believe in yourself and believe in your dreams. Just realize that nothing is handed to you, hard work and sacrifice is required.

And even then, you may not reach your goals. That’s a simple fact. Not every star athlete makes it to the pros, not every actor makes it to the big screen. Not every singer becomes a global superstar. Success is often as much a question of timing as it is of talent. But even if your lofty goals prove unattainable, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you tried.

Our dreams should not be limited by our gender or the color of our skin, only by the depth and breadth of our imagination and our ability to work hard.

To quote a philosopher no less than Han Solo from “Star Wars”: “Never tell me the odds.”

What do you want to be when you grow up? OK, do whatever you can to make it happen.

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Mullin is an award-winning author and columnist who retired in 2017 after 41 years at News & Eagle. Email him at [email protected] or write to him at Enid News & Eagle, PO Box 1192, Enid, OK, 73702.

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