The Millennium Falcon

The oldest boy, Charlie, has a big imagination. Usually this is awesome and fills everyone’s lives with joy. Sometimes it’s kind of annoying, like that time he got really sad and upset that the Millennium Falcon didn’t land in the front yard and take him on a ride across the galaxy. (True story. Tears were involved.)

He’s still been on it. The other day he told me he’d seen a circular shape flying through the sky, which obviously must have been the Millennium Falcon. I was about to suggest that this must have been a more conventional sort of flying saucer with aliens on board, but I was afraid that conversation would veer off uncontrollably and he would spend a chunk of his childhood worried about alien abduction. Like I did. (True story. Tears might have been involved.)

Charlie also commented that maybe he was able to see it because he’s a kid and kids can see things that grown-ups refuse to believe.

This seems to be a common trope in children’s entertainment, and I sometimes try to shoot these things down. I’m old-fashioned, and think that children should generally defer to adult’s wisdom and experience. If an adult tells you the electrical outlet is not a “fork tester”, you should listen. But upon reflection, I think this is something worth keeping alive.

This is the thing: people don’t dream any more. Well, most people would like to win the lottery, or maybe slip on a wet floor at Walmart and sue the pants of them. Or they have dreams, but they’re the same dreams that everyone else has, like everyone in the late 90s dreaming of getting in on that Dotcom thing.

Those are not the kind of dreams I’m thinking of. Maybe a better term would be “ambitious dreaming”, dreaming of discovering something new amazing or making something new that will change the world.

These people exist, but they’re rare. I have a friend who decided to completely recreate the Internet, from the ground up, in his spare time. To that end, he created a new programming language and used it to build a new operating system, file system, command shell, networking stack, and network address ownership model.

That is what I call ambitious dreaming.

Maybe it will all work. Or maybe it will come to nothing. (Although it’s all a lot further along than I would have guessed.) But it’s something big.

Every change in the world that can’t be chalked up to random luck or divine providence happens because someone noticed something and then acted on it. “Maybe I can make power using steam.” Or “Americans might like Thai food”. Or “This is a great way to search for the website you want.” Or “What about chewing gum flavored like mud?”*

But if you’re doing something really ground-breaking, you’re going to fly in the face of all the received wisdom. Everyone you know will have dozens of reasons why this project of yours won’t work, can’t possibly work, has been tried before and failed, or might possibly work but there’s no way you could pull it off.

The most bitter pill to swallow is that, in all likelihood, they’re all right. If you have an idea that nobody else is working on, there’s a really good chance you have a bad idea, as the makers of Mud Gum found out to their eternal chagrin.

Or you have a good idea and someone else — or many other people — has that same idea. There were a dozen or so people working on a new social network to unseat MySpace at the same time as Facebook, and only one of them got his story turned into a major motion picture.

But if you are going to be one of those winners, if you’re going to persevere in the face of all the nay-saying, you need to tell yourself relentlessly that everyone you know is wrong, even the people smarter, wiser, or more experienced than you.

And I suspect this kind of tenacity is kind of like believing that Star Wars is happening right now and close enough that one of the spaceships could show up at any time**. In fact, just the other day we had this exchange:

CHARLIE: Dad, true or false: Most scientists believe Star Wars is not real.
DAD: True
[CHARLIE narrows his eyes and scowls at DAD]

So I hope Charlie keeps his dreams alive. I hope he clings to them with all the tenacity of a tick with lockjaw, right up to the point people start to think he might be nuts. I’d much rather Charlie spend his life dreaming big and coming up short than succeeding and playing it safe. After all, we’re all riding the coat-tails of the big dreamers of the world.

* That last one is not a very good idea. The principle still applies.

** This actually flies in the face of the opening crawl from the movies themselves, but really, what do the actual writers of the movies know?