I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, for one night a few weeks ago (before going to visit the Botshabelo orphanage) and I awoke to this beautiful summer day. From the window of an Air B & B on Linksfield Ridge, where I stayed, I looked out over Orange Grove, the suburb I grew up in.
As I gazed out of the window and drank my tea, I imagined myself, half a century ago, as a pre-teen kid sitting on my favorite rock on the ridge, close to where I was now standing, and looking across my neighborhood.
I often did this after school.
I’d have my lunch and climb up the koppie (little hill), sit on the big rock, and contemplate as I looked down on the red roofs of the Grove.
I just loved sitting up there and thinking.
I was a big dreamer in those days (and still am) and often sat up there by myself dreaming of my future. I am very lucky to say that I have reached most of my dreams, but, because I'm an eternal dreamer, I have a whole set of new ones.
I felt safe up there on my big rock.
It’s the place I cried after being bullied.
It’s the place I licked my wounds when my first girlfriend (who did not even know we were dating, because I never told her) started loving my brother instead of me.
It’s the place I cringed with shame and embarrassment after failing school and being told by a teacher that I wasn’t very book smart and that I should consider leaving school and doing a trade.
It’s the place I scratched my initials onto the rock after the art teacher told me I was not talented enough to take art as an elective for school.
It’s the place I went to feel free after feeling trapped in a classroom all day.
I was terrible at school and was told I would amount to nothing. I was spanked for not paying attention and spanked again for doodling in my books and spanked again for questioning why I was being spanked.
My report card often said I would fail if I did not pay attention and stay focused. I didn't pay attention and didn't focus and failed standard six (aka Form one or Grade eight). Truth be told, I almost failed 11th grade too. It was touch and go on that one.
They spoke the truth though. I did not focus and I did not pay attention. I found it extremely difficult to pay attention and felt stupid because I was scolded for being an idiot. They had no idea that I was struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder (and still do.)
To cover my shame I became mischievous and got into trouble to deflect the attention away from my school work. (Funnily enough, many years later I earned the title Dr. Of Mischief while volunteering with terminally ill kids as board president of the American Childhood Cancer Organization.)
I remember sitting up there on that rock, as a teen, dreaming about being a best-selling author one day.
Then, ever the romantic, I hauled my guitar up there and dreamed of a being songwriter.
On some days I wanted to be an artist and others a photographer.
I dreamed about making movies often. And acting in one. And writing radio plays and giving speeches.
I dreamed of working with kids and making cartoons and traveling the world and living in America and helping kids like me feel better about themselves.
I was always passionate and enthusiastic, even about the smallest things like making characters out of clay or making mini movies on my dad’s super 8 camera.
As a bona fide member of the Attention Deficit Disorder club, my dreams changed daily and even hourly. (They still do.)
Because I have such a fertile imagination, I decided to float down and speak to the younger me who was sitting on the rock, dreaming.
I put my arm around my younger self and said:
Don’t stop dreaming and hoping, and don’t believe that you are an idiot.
Don’t ever lose your passion and enthusiasm. Even when you get a lot older.
Don’t let someone else dim your light simply because it’s shining in their eyes.
You won’t remember me visiting you in your dreams, but I am here to tell you that, after a lot of hard work, many rejections, days of deep disappointment, and even days of being physically hungry, you, my friend, will one day become a best-selling author and illustrator with more than a million books in print in 22 different languages.
You, young man, will star in your own award-winning animated TV series on a station called PBS in America.
You will co-write an album of songs with an amazing music composer named Carl Thiel.
You will act in a short movie called Drawing Closer. You will have both art and photographic exhibitions.
You will travel the world and do over 1200 school assemblies in 16 countries and speak to more than a million kids about resilience and how to keep dreams alive even if the going gets tough.
You will co-own a children’s media company.
You will co-found a non-profit called The Comfort Crew.
You will meet Prince William and his wife Cate.
You will work with the United Nations in The Congo, Uganda and Burundi to help child soldiers.
You will get through some really sad, difficult and uncomfortable experiences by using these three quotes as a foundation upon which to grow:
‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot.’
‘Nothing will grow in your comfort zone.’
And last, but not least, ‘Failure is NOT permanent.’
Now go back down that hill and do your homework.
"The place where I grow ideas and create stories using words, illustrations and photographs." - Trevor Romain