Last night the NBA all star game was on. It wasn’t a great game to watch, because no one was playing defense and it was a ridiculous score at the end. Watching the game got me thinking. I remember when I was a kid my biggest dream was to be in the NBA. I loved basketball, and still do. I lived in Maine my entire life except one year. That one year I lived in New Jersey. Blackwood, New Jersey to be exact. It was a very different place than Northern Maine. Frankly speaking, Northern Maine does not have much diversity. It is very sparsely populated as well. So moving to New Jersey was quite a cultural shock. We had a basketball court at our apartment complex that I went and played at every single day that I could. Most of the time when I played basketball there, it was with people of different race than me. I was one of the only white kids around playing basketball, and it was a bit intimidating. I held my own, even though I was only 12 years old. Most of those guys would even pick me on their team before some of the older guys, which was a huge confidence booster for me.
I had a good friend who I played basketball with a lot on that old court. And I remember one time, after we were done playing and walking back to our apartment buildings, we started talking about the NBA. It was the time of Michael Jordan, and we went on and on about how awesome the Bulls were to watch. I was quite partial to the Orlando Magic too, because that was Shaq’s first year playing in the NBA. Who wouldn’t like a guy who could break the backboard when he dunks it?
As we kept talking I let it slip that “I really want to be in the NBA someday.” I remember thinking I shouldn’t have said that, because I was ready to be teased by my friend for having such an outlandish dream. I had that cowering feeling in my head while I waited for him to respond. Then he just said matter of fact, “yeah, I bet you could make it, you can shoot really good, and the older guys pick you on their teams already.” I was really surprised he didn’t take the opportunity to tell me how silly my goal was. But that moment stuck with me all the way until this day. I wasn’t prepared for a true matter of fact, supportive statement like that.
Being from a small town it can be harder to have big dreams. First of all, there has never been an NBA player from Maine. Not that I’m aware of anyway, if there was it was a really long time ago. When you’re from a small town you don’t see people going to the NBA, or going on to become actors, or famous musicians. At least you don’t see it that often. So it makes it harder for people to believe anyone can actually “make it.” If I would have told my friends in my small town that I wanted to be in the NBA, they would have laughed at me. But when I lived in NJ, they saw people go on to be in the NBA, or go on to be actors or musicians more frequently.
I didn’t end up making it to the NBA. I was a pretty athletic guy, and I grew to be 6’3 (still smallish for the NBA, haha), but I didn’t ever put in the amount of work that you need to make it to that level. Not even close. I also moved back to Maine where I stopped playing basketball as much, and focused on a lot of other things.
My point to this story is really about the moment my friend told me that he believed I could make the NBA. It doesn’t really have anything to do with making it there or not. That one second of encouragement stayed with me for a long time. Especially when I didn’t expect it. Plus I didn’t even think I could reach that goal myself. As an artist I’ve faced a lot of people thinking that art isn’t a real career, and that it’s not something you can really make a living at. So when being a professional artist became my dream, I faced a lot of scoffing and snickering.
Having my friends and family believe I could do it, even when I was dead broke, and not having a clue what to do to make it, helped me get over the hurdles I faced. And believe it or not, the moment my friend gave me that encouragement has helped me to this day, and that was 23 years ago. So if you know someone with big dreams don’t just encourage them in a fake way. Look up people who reached some of those goals and see how hard they worked to get there. If someone wants to be an actor, read about some actors and see how they made it there. You’d be surprised at how many of these famous people with amazing careers and jobs struggled to get there. You never know what a little moment of true encouragement can do for someone. It might help them get over that barrier that’s keeping them from their path to success. It might even help them get through something 20 years from now.
Never squash dreams. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Whenever I hear someone scoff at someone’s “crazy goals” it makes me feel sad. Some people say the only thing keeping you from reaching your goals is yourself, but the truth is that a lot of times its yourself and the people around you. Some goals you only have a matter of time to reach, so make sure you always encourage people. Discouragement comes from those who are scared of their own dreams and failures.