I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations and how hard one should push to soar when there is some very real evidence that the goal is unattainable. I have a student who recently took the PSAT and plans to take the SAT along with all her friends in the spring. I don’t want to discourage her, but I also don’t want to see her hurt. She has significant learning disabilities which no amount of hard work and enthusiasm will change. There are many things she can do, and do very well indeed, and the realistic approach would be to start at the community college and test the waters. I suspect that is what will ultimately happen since her chances for being accepted at the state university she wants to go to are very, very slim. I’m trying to balance encouragement for her plans along with suggestions for other very viable options.
I’ve thought about this dilemma of dreams vs reality in my own life, especially after starting a fitness program with Fitbit a week ago. The reality that I’m dealing with is very bad feet (severe plantar fasciitis) and an arthritic left hip. Is it realistic to think that I can walk and jog? I’m definitely enjoying it and my osteopath was very encouraging yesterday, so I’m forging on. She made some suggestions about stretching and she also suggested that maybe running barefoot wasn’t a good plan. Today did go much better as a result, and so I’m cautiously optimistic.
I’ve had several goals during my life that went against my abilities. The most notable one was my desire to learn Latin. I actually have a learning handicap just as many of my students do. I can’t really visualize and I am totally unable to memorize. Needless to say, this is a pretty big handicap when it comes to learning a foreign language. My drive was strong enough that I did succeed in earning a BA in Latin. I also balanced a healthy dose of realism with it when I opted, after doing two years of ancient Greek, to “settle” for the BA in Latin rather than in Classics, which had been my original goal. I’d like to think that the strategies I developed which got me through the Latin and two years of ancient Greek would also have gotten me through upper division Greek, but at the same time I realized that the stress and anxiety such a plan would cause made the goal not worth the sacrifice to my sanity and health. Of all my degrees, including my PhD in English, I think I’m proudest of my BA in Latin. That was the degree which represented the biggest hurdle for me, given my learning difficulties.
I’m very grateful for my learning difficulties because the strategies I’ve developed over the years enable me to help my students when they struggle for whatever reason. It also gives me a lot of compassion for those with much more severe learning difficulties. But I’ve learned that some realities need to be faced honestly, and some dreams need to shift. I loved ballet, but never got beyond the third class (out of five). I had a wonderful time, but I’m just not built right for ballet. It would have been cruel if either I or someone else pushed me to become a ballerina. No amount of effort and practice would have made that dream even remotely possible. I was never going to be a pianist either. I have a sister who plays beautiful piano. I have two children who are very talented musicians. However, no matter how many hours I practiced, I wasn’t going to succeed in anything beyond the intermediate level. Among other things, my fingers are short and squat, making reaches impossible.
I think all of us need dreams and aspirations. I definitely encourage my students to shoot for the stars. I’d just like to see those dreams and aspirations grounded in a healthy respect for who they are. It does all of us good to stretch and reach, but unreal expectations can, I think, produce some real damage. It’s a tough balance to find. At the moment, I’m still doing my 30+ minutes of jogging/fast walking each morning first thing (to my fur friends’ disgust as that delays their breakfast). I already have noticed that the adrenalin rush and the effort required to complete the intensity of 5000 steps has boosted my spirits and overall, I feel much better. Completing the entire 10,000 steps then becomes a very doable goal, as I go about my regular activities. And I will continue because of the beneficial results on me overall, at least until someone says that I could end up crippling myself (which would obviously be very counterproductive). However, I do not aspire to running an ultra-marathon as my son and daughter-in-law do.
I’ve learned then that shooting for the stars is a good plan, if it is balanced with some realistic expectations.