A few months ago I guest-hosted a Q & A session at a performing arts school in my home country, Barbados. I was excited to share my experience as a professional dancer with these kids and hoped to inspire them to pursue their dreams of making it in the performing arts.
One boy approached me when the session was over and explained that he wanted to be a professional actor. He already knew what university he wanted to attend, what company he should work for and even what he intended to do after retiring from acting. He made a detailed blueprint for his life.
I saw so much of myself in this kid. I used to think that to succeed, I needed to plan an exact route to my dreams. I gave him the advice I wish someone had given to me at his age: “your life will probably not turn out the way you imagined and that is a good thing”.
He was stunned. He expected me to praise him for his diligent goal planning. I explained that although I am all for vision boards and getting things down on paper, my life turned out different to what I planned and I am so happy it did.
At his age, I wanted to attend a dance program at a university in New York. Why? Because New York is the place every artist needs to be! It is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, according to Jay Z. And Frank Sinatra told me that if I could make it there, I’d make it anywhere.
I figured after graduating, I’d join a modern dance company where I would gain experience, break into Broadway, go on tour with Beyonce, then when I was ready to hang up my dancing shoes, I would return to Barbados and open my dance studio.
But life had its own plans. Instead, I hurt my knee just when I was about to fly to New York for auditions. I missed all the submission deadlines for the schools I was interested in and ended up auditioning for Canadian schools instead.
I attended Ryerson University in Toronto where I made some of my closest friends to this day. Not only was I allowed to refine my dance technique in a safe and less competitive environment, but I found confidence in singing and acting, skills I never thought I would attain.
After graduation I traveled the world as a main stage dancer on a cruise ship. I saw places I never dreamed of seeing: Alaska, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand to name a few.
While on a break between contracts I auditioned for a world-famous production and now I am in London performing in the West End.
None of these were on my list of goals. Not one. But I could not have dreamed up a better life for myself if I had tried.
Sometimes we are so relentless in our pursuit of dreams that we become inflexible to life’s twists and turns. It is healthy to have ambitions because they give us focus and purpose; but we need to remember that life doesn’t always present itself in the way we expect. If we stubbornly refuse to be open to what life is offering, we miss the beauty of possibility.
Life is not a progression of check lists that you can manipulate at will. Sheer force and determination will not get you what you want.
We need to set our goals but let go of what we think the outcome should be.
Sometimes our dreams aren’t ours either. We are influenced more than we realize by the media, friends or relatives. Looking back I realized that I wanted to be in New York because everyone said it was where I needed to be.
The problem with dreaming is that sometimes we dream too small. In reality, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
So I leave you with the wise words Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, who was mesmerized by The Mirror Of Erised:
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.