“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
~ Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison (1956 – Present) is the first African-American female astronaut to fly into space in 1992 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor who also appeared in a Star Trek episode of The Next Generation series in 1993, one year after Jemison left active duty at NASA. Before her years with NASA, she spent two years with the Peace Corps. Jemison holds nine honorary doctorate degrees, is a dancer and has written several books. Since retiring from NASA, she founded a company which researches the application of technology to daily life.
Without a doubt, Mae Jemison has lived the words quoted above and has established herself as a true pathfinder. In this capacity, she speaks to all of us – but not just her words. No, Dr. Jemison’s life speaks far more eloquently than her words ever could. When I look at her life, and I look at President Barack Obama, I think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his beautiful dream.
We are all social beings and are raised from birth to adhere to rules, moral codes, and to live up to the expectations of our families. This training is not a bad thing because this ‘socialization’ we receive is the glue that holds a civilized society together. It is necessary to subordinate our wishes at times for the common good. It is also a good thing to serve others. It is not beneficial to anyone if we subjugate our imagination to those people who, in Jemison’s words, have limited imaginations.
Freedom of choice is the issue here. I’m not just talking about the freedom to choose a course of action, but the freedom to let our imaginations soar and to set no limits. We’re all familiar with the expression, “the sky’s the limit,” meaning that we have a lot of room to maneuver. Hmmm, I wonder. From my limited understanding, the sky is a tangible limit, and if I understand Jemison correctly, we need to free our imagination completely so that we can achieve exceptional goals.
This means, in our imagination, we remove limitations of gender, race, age, and the expectations of those around us so that we can explore the impossible. This is no easy task – partially because of the socialization we received as children. In my experience, the greatest set of limits on our imagination is self-imposed. We will never succeed in freeing ourselves from the limited imaginings of others until we can escape the boundaries we have set for ourselves.
When I refuse to try something because I fear failure or being embarrassed in front of others, I have imprisoned myself. Or I don’t go after a dream because I don’t believe I have what it takes. If I do not believe in myself, I will shut down my imagination and live within a prison built by the limited imaginations of myself and others around me.
Bust out of that prison! That sounds pretty simple. It takes a lot of courage and determination to stare down your demons and overcome the skepticism of others. When we fail to do this, we not only impoverish our lives, but we also rob society of the great benefit our achievements would have wrought. We not only owe it to ourselves, but we also owe it to society to become a beacon of light and hope – and push way beyond the sky.