As a preteen I boarded a plane for the very first time from the Jamaica to the United States. As a young child, the U.S. represented endless possibilities to me. I remember being captivated by the music videos, television shows and movies I watched imagining that life in the U.S. was exciting and filled with opportunities. The early dreamer in me dreamt of one day living there. By the time I was 11 years old, I yearned to venture out beyond the beautiful mountains of my island home to the world of my dreams and imaginations. I distinctly remember walking alongside a friend during lunch and looking at those mountains wishing to myself that I would one day see beyond them. As you can imagine, I was super excited when I got the opportunity a few months later after making my wish.
Unfortunately my earliest years in the U.S. were not what I imagined. I missed my mother terribly and was forced to deal with adjustments much too burdensome for a young child. For most of that period, I dealt with messages of “can’ts.” I was told often about life limits that would shape my future. Others would tell me that I needed to adjust and redefine my goals to fit “reality.”
In the summer before my sophomore year in high school, an uncle visited from Jamaica and asked me where I wanted to go college. I gave him a list that included some of the best universities in the U.S. He told me to go after my dreams. I sat beaming with pride, reassurred by his belief in my dreams.
You see, the list and my desire to attend college were far-fetched. Though we left Jamaica to achieve a better life, circumstances I mentioned earlier made that dream appear nothing more than an empty wish. I faced a number of obstacles: there was no money to send us to college; no steps taken to help us secure and prepare for a better future; and silent resignation that our possibilities were limited.
Yet I had drive, determination and divine intervention on my side. Despite my reality, I kept on dreaming and preparing for my dream by excelling in both school and extracurricular activities. In all honesty, looking back I chuckle at my audacity. Where did I get it from? How did such a young girl decided she would not accept the limits others placed upon her? Despite admonitions to stop chasing an unattainable dream, despite discouragement to set my sights elsewhere (like considering getting a job after high school), pure determination kept me striving. There were times I was afraid and worried. Times I felt unsure, because I did not have a plan B at all. I was not sure about the “how?” but that very important question did not stop me. Today I am happy to say that it all worked out. By the end of my senior year, I had applied to six colleges and gotten into all six. Today I can proudly say that I am a graduate of Columbia University, the number one college on the list I recited to my uncle.
Until now, I haven't really taken the time to reflect and appreciate the gravity of that important lesson from my youth. I admit that writing the above made me tear up a little. I had refused to allow other people and my circumstances to limit me or destroy my dreams. In the face of tremendous obstacles, I kept my eyes on the prize and achieved more than my wildest dreams. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I’ve always adhered to that lesson. There were many times in my life that I had to relearn the lesson and remind myself not to accept other people's limits.
What are you allowing to limit you today? If there’s a goal you would like to achieve or a dream you want to fulfill, do not allow people or circumstances to tell you that you can’t. People have opinions, but opinions are not facts. Circumstances change, but you are far more than your circumstances. Operate from a place of “can” and refuse to accept “can’t.” You have to know and believe that your possibilities are endless.