Transitioning from Reactive to Proactive Dreaming (1)
This post was originally written and published on August 3, 2015. I was a freshly-minted, 22-year-old college graduate.
Above is a picture of my family’s backyard, taken with a Samsung S4 cell phone from the immaculate vantage point of my first-floor bedroom window.
If I were to show this picture to the “me” of four years ago, he would probably be trying to claw my eyes out by now and would be yelling something along the lines of:
“Come ‘on! You’ve finally managed to get out of this town! Why’d you come back here? What happened? Why aren’t you a famous astronomer, music producer, or engineer? Why aren’t you someone who is moving the world right now? Why aren’t you a VIP?”
And there it is. That phrase.
Very Important Person.
One of the fundamental aspects of being a person, particularly being a young person, is that we dream. However, we often don’t have the meta-cognitive capacity to question whether or not our dreams are proactive or reactive.
Reactive dreaming stems from deep seated fears, a lack of confidence, or a need for affirmation. Reactive dreams have the elements of a daydream or fantasy, where the dreamer focuses largely on the physical and subjective fruits of his or her “success” without realistically considering the effort and tradeoffs that chasing your dream would entail.
Furthermore, for the reactive dreamer, achieving success is only an instrumental good. In other words, success is merely an instrument for obtaining affirmation or confidence.
On the other hand…
The proactive dreamer is self-confident, principle-driven, and grounded in reality. She sets goals that are tangible and quantifiable, allowing her to assess her progress and effectiveness.
Most importantly however, the proactive dreamer isn’t driven by deep seated fears and weaknesses, but by curiosity, enthusiasm, and seriousness toward her circumstances and opportunities. To her, her life is a journey of success, not a journey to success.
The “me” of four years ago was a helplessly reactive dreamer. He wanted to be many things: a famous director, a well-known scientist, a prominent engineer, businessman, etc.
But look at the adjectives being used for a moment: “famous”, “well-known”, “prominent”.
Those aren’t the words of a person who appreciates the process that comes with being a director, or scientist, or engineer, etc. Those are the words of a person hungry for social affirmation and wants to use “success” as an avenue for obtaining that affirmation.
Reactive dreaming combined with the inexperience of youth puts you into a very volatile situation as such a combination can give you a very short-sided view of what a meaningful path to success can and should look like.
The pre-college ‘me’ of the past would balk at the prospect of working somewhere like a fast food restaurant, simply because it wasn’t extravagant enough and didn’t offer me ego affirmation. The 18-year old Jerome Williams, wouldn’t have had the intelligence or humility to recognize the numerous possibilities of working somewhere so seemingly mundane.
For example, working at a fast-food restaurant would have offered me the opportunity to learn:
- Customer service skills
- Teamwork and interpersonal skills
- An insider’s understanding of the fast-food industry
- A better understanding of business in general
Had I not been so interested in my own social image or had been so fearful of being powerless and ordinary, I would have recognized that even the most seemingly ordinary and banal of circumstances can provide extraordinary opportunities.
Take for example two of several groups I was involved with during my time at Indiana University: The IU Aikido Martial Art Club and a competitive video gaming group called IUB Smash.
On the surface, the IU Aikido Club appeared to be a small club consisting of social minorities and bohemians who were practicing a complicated, uninteresting martial art called Aikido.
Most 18–22 year olds wouldn’t have it.
“I’m finally in college, why should I spend 3 weeknights learning some boring martial art among a bunch of weirdos, nerds, and old people when I could be having fun and partying?”
Well, among those boring weirdos, nerds, and old people were a collection of professionals and self-starters. My three martial arts instructors consisted of: an attorney/executive director of a consulting company; a entrepreneur of a video game company; and an engineer/business entrepreneur who produces and sells musical instruments.
Most interesting to me however was that the Aikido Club gave me the opportunity to interact with, manage, and lead an incredibly diverse number of people from all over the spectrum. I formed connections with and gained valuable perspectives on people from places like China, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and also developed friendships with persons of nearly every kind of sexual orientation from homosexuals to even someone who identified as asexual.
So much for a boring student group. And don’t get me started on IUB Smash.
It was senior year and due to logistical reasons, I was unable engage in an internship with an NPR affiliate called WTIU. As a result, I was searching for a new opportunity to use my design and production skills.
So I joined IUB Smash, a club which at the time consisted of about fifteen gaming fanatics who were determined to become insanely good at the video game, Super Smash Bros Melee.
So why choose a collegiate video game club, then? Isn’t that pretty lame? Interacting with a bunch of guys who have nothing better to do than try to get better at a video game?
But you see, that sort of mentality is the reactive brain talking, not the open-minded, opportunistic, “When life gives you lemons….” proactive brain.
You see, by the end of the same year in which I joined IUB Smash, I helped that group grow from fifteen members to fifty.
I partnered up with business student, Jack Harmening, and created the club’s first ever broadcast livestream, which went on to become of the best looking internet livestreams in all of Midwest.
I learned how to: manage video-hosting/social media sites like YouTube; learned how to create items like specialized thumbnails for each of our 150 videos,; and I produced trailers for special events.
I helped plan and run IUB Smash’s first ever regional tournament consisting of two-hundred entrants of which I managed a live broadcast of for roughly ten straight hours.
I learned an insane amount about the dynamics of organizational politics, figuring out personal strategies to overcome individual differences and disagreements in order to achieve a common goal.
I even developed a miniseries of educational tutorials in order to teach future members of the IUB Smash how to perform my duties once I graduated and abdicated my role.
And all we had at the beginning of the year was fifteen fanatical gamers, eight Gamecubes, and around a dozen controllers.
So as I sit here typing, occasionally looking out my window into my family backyard, I’m not all that worried about not being “successful” at the ripe, old age of 22.
If my college experience has taught me anything, it’s that extraordinary opportunities come to fruition through ordinary circumstances. You just have to be mindful, humble, and proactive enough to take hold of it.