By Juliana Kedzior Kaminski
Some of us dreamt of being a ballerina that stars in The Nutcracker, leaping gracefully across the stage in an elegant pink tutu. Some of us dreamt of being an astronaut, exploring the depths of the universe. Some have even dreamt of being the president of the United States even though we’re Canadian. Our dreams led us to where we are now. And for most of us, it’s not exactly what we imagined when we were kids.
Whether it’s due to loss of interest, fear of putting themselves out there or unfortunate circumstances, many childhood dreams never become a reality. Only 30 per cent of 8,000 surveyed professionals landed their dream job or work in a related field, according to a 2012 LinkedIn survey. And according to a study by an online career training resource, almost 70 per cent of people who didn’t follow their childhood dream job were happy with their current job. For the adults who did, nine out of 10 of them are still happy with their job. There are so many reasons why people don’t follow their childhood dreams. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy doing something else.
Riley Goldsmith is now a first year psychology student, but at 17 years old she had hoped to attend Ryerson University’s performance dance program. However, over a year ago she was diagnosed with a life changing condition that diverted her path. A few years before that at an extracurricular dance performance, Goldsmith, a then acrobatic dancer, was walking across the stage upside down on her hands during her solo routine when her shoulder popped out of its socket. It was an excruciating pain, which followed by a crunching noise. But she couldn’t look to see what happened or else she would’ve lost her balance and fallen on her face.
“There were a bunch of little kids watching me, and they all sort of gasped, so I could tell that there was a visible difference … so I just sort of did this weird shrugging motion, still on my hands, popped my shoulder back in and finished the dance,” says Goldsmith.
Since she was a child, Goldsmith thought she was going to pursue a dance career. She had gone to an arts high school where she studied drama. Outside of school she worked rigorously to become an incredible dancer. But everything changed when after her diagnosis.
Doctors told her she had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) when she was 16 years old. This means she has a larger than normal range of movement in her joints. “[EDS] is the most major thing in my life right now. I can’t walk down the street without feeling pain. I can’t sit down for too long. I can’t lie down at night. It affects every single part of my life.” EDS affects 1 in 5,000 people worldwide. There is no cure for it. “I stopped [dancing] for a year. In my Grade 12 year I didn’t dance at all and it was the worst year of my life … I fell into such a deep depression and my anxiety skyrocketed,” says Goldsmith.
Goldsmith’s mother also used to be a professional dancer until the age of 17 when she lived in Montreal. Like mother, like daughter. “She never wanted me to be a dancer … she quit because it was ruining her life and her body. The competition is insane and with the strain that you have to put on your body and mind to be a dancer. She never wanted me to do that. But I fell in love with it anyways.” Her mother eventually stopped performing and continued on with a psychology degree. Years later, her daughter would do the same.
Psychology was something that Goldsmith could see herself pursuing. She needs stability and organization in her life. And seeing it now, a dance career would not have been able to give her that. “You’re actually living paycheque to paycheque auditioning and hoping for gigs. You have to pay for auditions that you might not even get jobs for,” she says.
After high school, Goldsmith realized that she couldn’t live without dancing. Currently in her first year at Ryerson, she attends classes at The Underground Dance Centre in Toronto where she dances three times a week, despite the pain.
But psychology gave her something that dancing couldn’t. As someone with autism, she also struggles with understanding people’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. Her program made it a lot easier to look at “someone as a brain with their own system.” But she still wishes she could continue with dance.
“Every waking moment I wish that the past seven years of my life never happened and I just constantly worked hard and my body isn’t broken. My psychology lectures, I absolutely love them, and for those three hours, I can say that I’m happy with the choices that I’ve made.”
Alicia Chan had always dreamt of being a fashion designer. She remembers watching shows like Project Runway with her older cousins. But it wasn’t until she received her first sketchbook for Christmas when she was seven or eight years old that she finally put her dream to work. It was one of those sketchbooks with a mannequin figure on the pages and Chan would draw her designs on top of them. When Chan was eight years old, she went to her very first fashion designer summer camp at a local art gallery. There she would make little outfits for her Barbie dolls.
“They were all awful,” recalls Chan. “I made a tube top, and then I cut the edges off of old curtains … and glued them onto a fabric and I made them into a skirt.”
The camp was a two-week program, and it was also a place where Chan would learn how to sew, tie-dye and transform her old clothes. Outside of camp she made two dresses for herself. One of the dresses was made from a brown piece of fabric from Fabricland with huge floral prints. Chan felt so proud of herself because it was the first real fashion piece she ever made. “It was exactly what fashion magazines were promoting that summer and I felt so cool. It was the most fashionable thing I had for two years.” She donated the piece when it got too small on her.
‘Listen Alicia, this is really cute. But you’re never going to be a fashion designer’
But when Chan’s father told her she wasn’t good at design, the fire inside her died. “I think I turned 11 or 12, when my dad … said, ‘Listen Alicia, this is really cute. But you’re never going to be a fashion designer.’” He stopped buying her sketch- books after that. She was sad for a summer but then she eventually got over it. Now, Chan considers fashion to be more of a hobby for her. And although her dream died out, she moved on quickly. Currently she is studying new media in Ryerson’s RTA School of Media.
“I’m a huge cinematography person. I’m very big on aesthetic and on how something looks, how something is executed. The final product has to look good for me. I would love to be a cinematographer or director of photography for a big film.”
Chan is happy with where she is right now because in her program she learns technical skills, yet is still able to express herself creatively in a different way than fashion. To this day, Chan will still pull out her old sketchbooks to look back at her designs from when she was 10 years old.
At the age of 11, Joshua-David Heath wanted to be a marine biologist because he loved sharks, particularly the great white. “There was a book that I was reading called Tales of the Great White, which is a collection of short stories all about great white sharks. I loved watching the movie Jaws. It was actually phenomenal. I watched Jaws and I started reading the book … I loved it so much and I learned so much from it,” he says.
When Heath was a kid, he had heard a rumor that sharks can’t get cancer. And that idea sparked his interest in the species. He wanted to be a marine biologist so he could help with medical advancements for humans. He wanted to help people.
For a school project when he was 12, he made a shark-shaped board for his project about the great white. It was made of two bristol boards folded together. “I got help from my mom. We made this big bristol board thing that was shaped like a shark and it had all the information on it and it opened up. It was really cool,” says Heath.
After hearing my friends who went through [biology] and literally complaining about it almost every day, I’m glad that I didn’t stick with it. My interests had slowly changed over time.”
Even with a growing interest in sharks, Heath would eventually realize that he lacked the passion to pursue studying biology. “I still love animals … but after hearing my friends who went through [biology] and literally complaining about it almost every day, I’m glad that I didn’t stick with it. My interests had slowly changed over time.”
Heath is now in his first year of aerospace engineering at Ryerson. His interest in the program stemmed from his time spent as an air cadet. Investing his time in learning about planes and how they work grew to become his new passion. His love of aircrafts had started at an early age.
“For the longest time I had a poster of the F/A-18 Hornet on my wall signed by an actual Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 pilot that I got when I was at the Medicine Hat Stampede,” recalled Heath. It was that poster and an alarm clock on his desk that had little F-16s and rocket ships all over it that he’s had since the second grade.
For Heath, he’s happy that he’s in the aerospace engineering program because he knew that being a marine biologist just wasn’t for him. The more he thought about biology, the more he realized he couldn’t see himself doing it every day. In his current program, he will be able to help more people through engineering and he can see the real life impact.
“Being at the age of 12 and thinking that I’m going to find the cure to cancer because nobody else has done it yet, it was a great dream to have, but it’s a dream that you need to think through because you might not be able to attain it.”
Abbey Humphreys-Morris always thought she would follow in her family’s footsteps. Growing up in a family of opticians she believed she would eventually end up being one. As a kid, she would accompany her dad to optical showcases all over the world in convention centres like the Javits Center in New York City. There, other opticians come to look at frames and talk with one another. Opticians would get together in one building, and to Humphreys-Morris, that was really cool to see. Her father is the one talking to clients, showing off products and making appointments in their optical company.
She thought she would be just like her parents, but that didn’t end up happening. “I got to Grade 9 math and I went, ‘I hate this. I can’t do math.’… I figured if I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t like it then I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
It wasn’t just her disinterest in math that stopped her from pursuing opticianry, she just didn’t have the same passion for it anymore. “[My parents will] talk to me about it and I’ll get into it but I have no drive of my own to do it. I’ve helped them before … but it’s something I don’t see myself doing. I can’t see myself in their shoes,” says Humphreys-Morris.
Humphreys-Morris was fortunate to have parents that never pressured her in joining the family business. “My parents have always upheld the belief that you do what makes you happy and money will follow.”
Now, Humphreys-Morris is in the process of switching from the history program at Ryerson into creative industries. She had always loved history; as a child she would read lots of historical fiction books about Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette. She didn’t want to go to school for 11 years just to become a history professor. There was something that she couldn’t place about the creative industries program that really enticed her. Having friends in the program she knows there are lots of opportunities within it. She also likes how there is more creativity to it than a history degree. She wouldn’t be as boxed in.
She hopes that her younger self would be happy that she found something she can see herself doing. “She would be surprised at the major choice and what I would be doing as a career, but I’ll also be surprised with what I’ll be doing in four years. She’ll be surprised and I’ll be surprised.”