• Dani Eberbach

To the Graduate: Don't be Afraid to Dream Small

Butterfly sitting on a leaf at the Fort Wayne Botanical Conservatory

If you've ever graduated from high school, college, or even eighth grade, I have a feeling you’ve heard someone tell you to “dream big.” It’s a sentiment that’s supposed to get you excited about all the possibilities ahead of you as you prepare to graduate and move on to the next phase of your life. It’s supposed to inspire you to take what you’ve learned and use it for something significant.

But what if the things you want to do in the next few years don’t feel “big” enough to be considered “dreams” at all? How “big” is big enough? What if you’re only 18 years old and aren’t even sure what your dreams are yet? I think that’s one of the problems with just telling graduates to “dream big.”

I’m here to tell you that your “small” hopes, passions, and dreams are valid. When your school invites a graduate back to speak to current students, they tend to pick someone who’s done something above and beyond the everyday. Things like going to space, working in the White House, or planting a hospital for a community in need tend to get a lot of recognition—as they should! But I think students often miss out on hearing about the “small” accomplishments of everyday people.

I should add a quick disclaimer here. I’m not trying to tell you not to “dream big.” If your dream is to start your own company, or plant a church overseas, or become a member of Congress, you should absolutely go for it. Don’t let the big things scare you. But also don’t be discouraged if your aspirations are smaller than someone else’s.

More important than the size of your dreams (or goals, or passions, or whatever you want to call it) is that you’re working towards something that’s meaningful to you. You don’t have to move far away or become a household name to “make an impact.”

You can impact the people you live with in college just by being a good roommate and friend. You can impact your co-workers by being a valuable team member and bringing your own unique personality and strengths to the workplace. You can impact your local community by the way you raise your children. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about—whether it’s big or small—you’re going to be a positive influence to those around you.

Instead of telling you to “dream big,” I prefer a line from a song by the Avett Brothers: “Decide what to be and go be it.”

Who or what do you want to be? Where do you want your life to go? It’s okay if you don’t have definitive answers right now, and it’s okay if your dreams change later on. But my guess is there’s something you want to do or be—whether it’s something as big as becoming a CEO, or as simple as living in your favorite city—and that thing you want is worth going after.

I think that’s really what people mean when they tell you to “dream big.” But I’m here to tell you your dreams don’t have to be big. It doesn’t matter what shape or size your dreams are, as long as they’re yours. Just decide what to be, and go be it.

Congratulations to all the graduates! I’m wishing you all the best this summer, as you move on to college or the workforce, and as you navigate life beyond high school. You’re going to do great.

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