I was 15 years old and stuck in high school for at least two more years. My grades were subpar, my only motivation was to leave as soon as I could. I craved what would be after high school – whatever that would be.
When I was younger, I dreamt of going abroad. I loved spinning my globe. I would say I was going to America when I was heading to the bathroom. Taking trains and planes was the biggest adventure.
So the day I passed my exams was the day I was free. Suddenly the whole world was up for grabs. And I was overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities that lay before me.
I could imagine Argentina, where I would learn Spanish and dance to Latin music. I dreamt of Australia, living the sunny life, learning to surf, and getting around speaking English. I thought of Budapest, where I could walk through pretty streets and discover new foods.
And I had imagined myself in Malta, living the island life, with friends from all over the world, hanging at the pool on long summer days. I imagined grabbing Maltese snacks after class and scuba diving on my off-days. I dreamt of making bonfires at the beach and reading books in the library.
Imagination is a human trait. It is what sets us apart from all other animals. Israeli philosopher Harari explains in Homo Sapiens how humans can communicate about non-physical concepts.
In nerd language, our prefrontal cortex enables us to anticipate. In normal language, that means we can talk about things that are not real. We can discuss concepts, ideas, the past, and the future. We can think of hypothetical scenarios and invent fictional stories.
The ability to imagine is what got us where we are today. It’s how we build skyscrapers, create art, and invent complex systems. It’s what brought us philosophy and science. It’s what makes us able to imagine a world different from today’s.
Our imagination is an underrated gift. Humans aren’t strong or fast. In the animal kingdom, we are super inferior. Without being able to imagine a different reality, we would most likely not have survived as a species.
If we hadn’t imagined what it would be like to have warmth in winters, we would not have tried to make fire. If we hadn’t imagined how we could live in one place living of our own grown food, we would have never moved to farms, and villages, and towns, and cities. If no one had imagined flying, your next city trip would have never been possible.
Imagination gives us the power to dream, and therefore shape, our future.
I moved to Malta when I was 17 because I had dreamt of living abroad. Had I never imagined myself exploring the world, I would have never even learnt English. Had I never dreamt of living a different life, I would have probably stayed in my Dutch lowlands.
Dreamers shape the world. Think about your heroes. Think Elon Musk, Malala Yousafzai, and Greta Thunberg. These are the individuals that dream of different realities. Be it a human space colony, gender equality in education, or environmental justice. It is the people that imagine a different future that are living their dreams.
So utilise your prefrontal cortex. Exploit your imagination. Imagine your future and aim high doing so. Where imagination is reality, dreams are everything.