Did my grandparents chase their dreams? No, they just went to work.
— Jeff Goins
Everyone has a dream. That’s what Billy Joel says anyway, and he’s been around for a while. Some of us scribble it down on bar napkins in fits of inspiration. Some of us stew over it when our workplace gets overwhelmingly petty. And some of us are lucky enough to live it.
Lately, I’ve had a lot of personal and professional conversations with people who make a living off their dream. Most of them weren’t expecting the opportunity, and weren’t even quite sure how it came their way. But when it did, they clung to it with all their might, and fought against gravity to achieve a certain amount of equilibrium in their professional lives.
Stories like these have made me seriously consider whether I should continue chasing my dream. The work involved takes most of the dreaminess right out of it.
And you know what? I’ve come to the conclusion there’s nothing wrong with letting your dream stay exactly where it started. In your head.
Here are some reasons why it might be a bad idea to pursue your dream.
1. You only like being the best at things
Following your dreams brings you into company and competition with other talented visionaries. Most of you are not going to make the final cut. And even if you do, there will always be someone who will be more clever, or graceful, or smart, or solvent, or — that meritocratic qualifier that stings the most because it means the least — more experienced than you.
If being runner-up takes the pleasure out of doing something you love, you’re better off doing it alone. That way, no one else can judge.
2. You need reassurance
I’m not talking about relying on people who love you and want you to be happy and successful, like when everything is falling apart, but the kind of person you rely on is someone who is as upset as you are, and is ready to stick her neck out alongside yours to get this project underway.
And guess what? That person will not always be there.
If you need constant affirmation your dream is worthwhile, you’re better off working for someone else. A regular paycheque is very reassuring.
3. You like the destination more than the journey.
If your dream is to be done with something, figure out what it is and take the quickest route there. If your dream is to write a novel, take a class. If your dream is to make money … well, don’t be a writer.
Following dreams is about perpetual motion. If what you love is achieving the goal, there are a lot of successful formulas for that. Don’t waste your energy on doing if it’s not what you really love.
4. You don’t like following rules. even your own
Dreams are bound by rules, whether the gatekeepers realize it or not. This is what they mean by paying your dues. It sucks, I know.
Sometimes the rules aren’t even unreasonable, like exchanging a certain amount of work per week for a certain amount of money.
But no matter how fair, there will be times you and your dream won’t want to cooperate with those rules. A metaphor involving a wild stallion would probably fit well here.
Creativity, initiative and originality distinguish dreams from mere ideas. They also help us see rules as things to be broken. The nice thing is you only have to follow the rules of a place where you want to belong. The bummer is following any rules at all takes not only work, but humility.
If what you really like is freedom, don’t submit your dream to the scrutiny of those who could help advance it. They will have parameters for you or your dream to follow.
5. You like TV, food, new clothes, alcohol, or large social groups
That all requires money, and in order to make money, you have to put the time in somewhere. Even for people whose dream it is to get rich have to devote a long time to collecting money before they can spend it.
If you value immediate sensory pleasure over long-term investment, then you’re in luck. That’s your real dream, and you can indulge in it every weekend. Keep that secondary dream as an identifier — refer to yourself as an artist, an entrepreneur, or what you will — if it helps you score. What’s in a name, after all?
6. You’re not willing to just about kill yourself working
I’ve got a number of friends who sleep, like, four hours a night. And not because anybody’s making them stay up. They work a regular eight hours like the rest of us, then they go out with friends. Then they get home, and the next thing you know, it’s 3 a.m. and they’re still up working. Or playing. Producing. Living the dream.
Working their tails off.
When you think about that, do you get excited? Or would you rather get a good night’s sleep and, you know, keep dreaming?
7. It’s not worth failing at
It’s easier for most dreamers to contemplate glorious, bloody defeat than a slow evaporation into obscurity. What if, instead of going down in a blaze of glory, your dream just fizzles, with an embarrassing noise, while others look away?
8. You like being spiritually and emotionally comfortable
David Vandas, a Vancouver-based filmmaker, recently spoke with me about what he has learned leading artists in the collective We Make Stuff. He kept mentioning the concept of “pain points” — the things that touch off deep hurts and fears, what we all instinctively try to protect. Those, he told me, are the places where real breakthroughs happen. But only if you lay them open.
I’ll just quote him, because he said it way, way better:
“You’ve got to be careful with comfort, which kind of opposes hunger. Hunger is one of the most important things as a creative. If you’re a praying person, ask for God to keep you hungry. It’ll hurt; it’s painful, being hungry. It’s the removing of the false. You don’t wait for creativity; you don’t wait for inspiration. You have to physically and mentally schedule in the hours, and hit that wall until you break through. It’s agonizing, it’s painful, to break creative ground in your own personal life. There’s so much doubt, there’s so much insecurity.”
If we’re not all cut out to follow our dreams, what are dreams for? Why do we have them?
One reason, at least, is our dreams tell us the truth about ourselves. My dreams are very different from Kanye West’s or Leon Kass’s.
The mere possession of a specific dream offers an identity, which can (and should) be enjoyed and explored. But if the only time you think about your dream is when you’re frustrated, feeling under-valued, while putting in long hours, it’s probably better off staying in your head.
This article was originally published in the print edition of Converge, September – October #14
Flickr photo (cc) by Capt Kodak