The most important lesson of all

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today” — James Dean.

The most important lesson I’ve ever learned in life was taught to me by Elmo.

Before I explain the deeply philosophical worldview imparted upon me by Sesame Street, take a moment and ask yourself the same question I’ve been struggling with for years: what do you want to be when you grow up?

Your answer to that question, should you be lucky enough to even know, is likely something you too have been contending with since you first stepped foot on campus.

All too often, we struggle through each day, going through the same routine while doing just enough to get by. For most, the grind of student life means cramming for that one last exam or essay, working whatever part-time job you can find and balancing it all while hoping to relax on the weekend. But it is important to occasionally reflect on who you are, what you are doing and where you intend to go from here. Reflecting on life, especially during the rat race that engulfs students in their 20s, is something we often lose sight of.

This leads back to my point — the most important lesson of my life.

Elmo and his friends on Sesame Street taught me how to dream. Elmo taught me how to aspire. Elmo and his gang of buddies taught me how to imagine that if I want to do something, I can do it — so long as I take the chance. It was a message of positivity, hope and aspiration — but it is also a message that is tragically socialized out of our generation after about the age of six.

Now please, I know what you’re thinking: “Silicz, you’re a loser who has clearly been watching way too much Sesame Street.” While I may be guilty of one of those two accusations, it is not my intention at all to be conceited or naïve. But I cannot stress enough the power of dreams and the importance they play in filling our lives with meaning, drive and happiness.

We live in a world that judges our individual worth and value based primarily upon our job. It’s what you do from nine-to-five that so often defines citizens in our society. Most of us right now are “students,” but one day we’ll be “young professionals” who will introduce ourselves to new people with first our name, and then in all likelihood, what it is that we do for a living. We’re taught that if we go to school and get the right degree, we will get ahead. But therein lies the problem — what exactly is “getting ahead?”

Society tells us at a young age to be dreamers and that we can do anything we set our minds to. But the grind of university and the experience of the working world teach us the opposite— we’re told to be obedient employees, we’re instructed to follow the rules and we’re forced to conform to societal norms. Most concerning of all, growing up socializes us not to ask questions, but rather to accept the world the way it is.

So while on one hand we’re taught as children to dream big, on the other hand as adults we’re often forced to abandon our dreams out of economic necessity. It’s a shame that Elmo only told us half the story.

Once you leave the halls of academia and join the full-time working world, you will have a daunting choice to make. Will you do what you’re supposed to do — get a job based on the degree you’ve earned and lead the life of conformity — or will you take a risk, swim against the current, and break out of the confines of stereotype and expectation? Will you follow your wallet or your heart? To put it bluntly: will do what society expects of you, or will you take the advice of a sock puppet named Elmo?

I’m proud to say that after spending a decade of doing exactly what society expects of me, I can now take a risk, give up many potential rewards and risk a new struggle that both my heart and soul are really in.

What do I want to be when I grow up? I am ecstatic to say with 100 per cent confidence that I have no clue, which by simply admitting brings me one step closer to my own true dreams, all of which have been put on hold for a decade as I conformed as society demanded of me. And for that, I have Elmo to thank.

Michael Silicz is an alumnus of the University of Manitoba and former Comment Editor of the Manitoban, and thanks you for putting up with his rants for the past four years.