Wisdom to Dream Another Way

Dream-Bigger1When I was in my early teens, I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: the host of a morning talk show.  I used to pretend that our family living-room was a TV studio.  I would sit at an angle on the sofa, and with perfect posture I would look into the imaginary camera and say, “It’s five minutes before the hour, and this is TODAY… on NBC.”  I had other lines that I used as well, like: “If you’re just joining us…” and “Back to you, Willard.”

I was reflecting on that early this morning as I chatted with my kids in Uganda, and as I stared at the stacks of books and papers that have taken over my kitchen counter as I finish my dissertation.

I then thought about one of the times I called home from Guatemala when I was living and studying there, right after high school.  At that time, there were no cell phones.  In order to call home, I had to go to a central telephone office.  The small room was lined with telephone booths, each with only enough room to stand, and with a folding wooden and glass door that gave the illusion of privacy.  But you didn’t simply enter a booth, deposit coins and call.  Instead, you went to the switchboard desk, and gave one of the operators the international number you wanted to reach.  You then took a seat next to the many other people waiting for their own calls to get connected.  It often took time for the operators to make a successful connection.  Once they did, they would ask the person on the other end of the line to please wait, and then they would direct you to the correct booth.  And then you would just hope you could get into the booth, and say what you needed to say before the call dropped.

On that particular day, the operator finally got through to my parents, and directed me to booth “cinco.”  I was excited as I entered the booth and picked-up the receiver.  By now, both parents were on the line, each on their own extension.  “Guess what?” I said.  “The mission agency here has asked me to stay on–and work fulltime–once I have finished my language classes!”  My parents were silent.  “Hello?” I asked, thinking the call had dropped.

It hadn’t.

One of them (I can’t remember which one) said, “Are you telling us, or are you asking our opinion?”

“Oh,” I said, surprised.  “Well, I guess I am asking your opinion.  I just assumed you would support  the idea.”

“We will support you, but you’re 18, and you don’t have a degree.  We think you should come back and go to college, and then, if you still feel the same way, you can return to Guatemala with even more to offer the agency and their clients.”

I was in a bit of shock.  I had walked the 30 minutes to the telephone office, and I had sat for who-knows-how-long waiting for the call to connect, all the while excited about staying in a country that I had come to love very much.  And then just like that, a new perspective was offered.  I then called two other people whose opinions I respect, and they both said the same thing: get a degree first.

I returned to the states, and in short order was accepted to the University of Arizona, had a place to live, and a group of friends to support me.  By the time I graduated, four years later, I was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor and on a journey that has–again quite unexpectedly–led to my current reality, a reality for which I am most grateful.

I am a big dreamer, and a big believer in following one’s hopes and dreams, but I am an even bigger believer in heeding counsel from people who have earned their voice.  (Here’s how I determine if voice has been earned: “Light or Shadow: 4 questions I ask myself before offering counsel.”)

Now at age 40, I shudder to think what my reality might be if I had ignored the advice of those I trust.

If I had walked out of the telephone office and over to the mission office with a different answer (or god-forbid, ended up on morning TV), I wouldn’t have my kids.

I wouldn’t have my position and my voice.

And I wouldn’t be me.

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2 Responses to Wisdom to Dream Another Way

  1. Elena
    March 14, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Nathaniel, this blog is a real gift! So intelligent and nuanced (not to mention loving). It’s hard to believe you’re already finishing your dissertation. We will miss you sorely but will rejoice to see you returning to your kids. Meantime, I appreciate your being here!

    P.S. Had had no idea you’d lived in Guatemala during that time. What a galvanizing experience that, too, must have been.

    • March 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      Thank you, Elena. I very much appreciate this. All of it. Hopefully we can catch up before all the time disappears. =)

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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