What to do when you dream against the stream
When she walked out of the terminal building, I almost cried.
I was waiting outside the busy airport, seeking refuge from the scorching heat together with about a million taxi drivers that were all trying to yell the highest to convince people that their prices were the lowest. I felt vaguely out of place, being almost the only woman, with a skin tone bordering on glow-in-the-dark and at least one head taller than everybody else.
I was waiting for a friend outside the airport in Chennai, in a south eastern region of India called Tamil Nadu. In the crowd of Indians, I was feeling self-conscious about being the odd one out, I was uncomfortable with people staring at me, and I felt awkward in my brightly coloured clothes that neither fulfilled their purpose of blending me in, nor did it help that drops of sweat were dripping down the inside of my baggy pants. So yes, I might have felt a tad emotional already at this point.
But it wasn't reuniting with my friend that made me tear up. It was an Indian woman walking out of the terminal building.
Although all the heads turned in her direction when she walked out, she walked tall and proud. She was wearing dress pants, a white shirt, and on her shoulders were four golden stripes.
In that moment, I think my heart skipped a beat from sheer admiration. Admittedly, I know nothing about her, and all my thoughts around her story is based on assumptions and cultural stereotypes. However, I imagine that the path to becoming an Indian female pilot and captain is not an easy one – even becoming a pilot is hard, period, when you factor in the years and years of training and costs involved.
According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, only 3 % of the pilots of the world are female, and the majority of them works in the United States. That should give you the idea. Factor in the historical role and status of women in India, and you've got yourself a woman with a dream against the stream.
Another person who make me tear up every time I watch her is Misty Copeland. Last summer she became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. And she didn't even start dancing until she was 13, which is almost unheard of in the ballet world where most dancers start as soon as they are big enough to stand on two feet without falling over.
In addition to these stories, I could write about so many other people who are dreaming against the stream – and not only gender and racial "streams". I know people from "Ivy League families" who chose not to go to college, countless students who where expected to study engineering but ended up in arts, women who deliberately choose to become single mums, couples who choose not to have kids, families who take their kids of out school to go sailing, 50-year olds who go to college... just to name a few examples.
However, as you may know, making dreams come true can be challenging. And doing it while also having to go against the stream can be extra hard sometimes. You may feel lonely, feeling extra pressure to succeed and you may feel burdened with having to prove yourself to others. In addition, because beating norms can be scary for a lot of people who want the best for you, you may have to do it without the support of your family and friends.
If this is you, know that I salute you. And I believe in you. You have the support of this entire community of dream-chasers behind you! We will celebrate you, no matter if you "succeed" or "fail". Trying is what matters around here.
If you are currently working on a different dream, or if you are silently dreaming about one – here are some strategies for you.
When you dream against the stream
Seek out community
Being in a community with people who are trying to achieve the same as you is super-important for making dreams come true, but it can be even more important if you all dream against the stream. Seek out the other people like you! Most likely, there is already a society or organisation set up already, and they can not only connect you with like-minded people, but also give you a sense of identity and belonging.
Can't find a community of people like you who are trying to achieve the same? Start one. You'll all be glad you did. A Facebook group is a good place to start!
I've always believed that what you think is your greatest weakness can be your greatest strength. Are you a woman in a male-oriented field? Are you way older than everybody else? Are you the first in your family to do something? Standing out from the crowd can open a lot of doors – IF you use it to your advantage.
Being able to dream against the stream says a lot about you. Don't think of it as a weakness, think about it as a unique asset, and make sure other people also see it that way. Promote yourself! Be proud!
Use it to fuel your motivation
Wouldn't it feel good to go down in history being the only, the best the first, the youngest – or the one famous for overcoming a big obstacle...? I thought so! And it's totally okay to have these desires, in fact, I encourage you to realise how amazing you are.
However, don't forget to think about the doors that you'll be opening for the people coming after you. For example; Misty Copeland is using her recognition to empower young dancers that don't fit into the tight idea of what a prima ballerina should look like. How can you do the same?
Don't fall for social constructs
When I talk to people about their dreams, two of the most common reasons I hear for not doing something is "I'm too old" and – you guessed it – "I'm too young". The paradox here of course, is that there is no right time to do anything. You'll be too young ... until you're too old, because the perfect time doesn't exist! That you have to be a certain age for getting a degree, travelling the world, quitting your job, relocating, becoming a musician/artist/writer is a social construct. It's a "rule" that has no validity. See thought it, and ignore it. You are always the right age!
Other social constructs are our beliefs that "women are not supposed to...", "men need to be...", "Firefighters/doctors/teachers/other professions have to be..." and "You can only ____ if you have _____".
Remember, these are constructed rules – not the truth.
Talk about your dream
When we dream against the stream, our natural instinct is often to keep these dreams secret. However, this is totally understandable. Sharing dreams is vulnerable and scary, and you can multiply that with a lot when the dream is unusual or we feel like the odd one out as well!
However, this is all the more reason to talk about it. Share your uncommon dreams – loud and proud – and you'll notice that most people are supportive and encouraging. And as a bonus, you'll encourage others to talk about their uncommon dreams as well.