Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to follow your dreams. Following my dreams led to years of frustration and dead-ends. My life improved when I gave up on my dreams.
Big Dreams are for Disney
Dreams are important, but if you have more than one dream they compete with each other. I call this dream-jousting. My dreams created an impossible life for me: writing full time, travelling around so I could talk about my writing, running a ‘consulting‘ business (I had no idea what consulting even looked like), and living in a cabin in the mountains. True, there are some people who live like this, but for me living all my dreams would be exhausting. I would be too busy to live, too busy to earn the life-experience that I needed so that I have something of value to write and talk about.
The Impossible, Inflexible Dream
My ‘big dreams’ made me too single minded, too focused, too early in life. I heard that successful dreams should be specific, so I wrote them down with as much detail as I could. I expected success but I ignored the hard work, hard knocks and flexibility (aka, Failure) that create success.
I was a new writer and I was terrified of feedback (aren’t we all?). I would spend hours on a piece, only to receive feedback that it was good (insert yawn). The lukewarm results discouraged me. Eventually I concluded that I would never be a writer. So I gave up on my dream. That was one of the best things that I could have done.
After several years of not writing, my dream stirred again. For months, I hesitated because I didn’t want to face the disappointment again. My dream-desert had uncovered how I had turned my dreams into rescue fantasies. My dreams were my way of avoiding what needed to change about my job, my circumstances and mostly myself.
Our dreams are meant to be an inspiration, not a guide. Dreams can set us on fire only when we take action. I held onto my dreams but I refused to do the hard work that it takes to succeed: Persist, get feedback, take risks, be open to different opportunities, fail and learn, listen to what people want, know that people are not waiting for you to show up so they can be amazed by you, earn the right to be heard and realize that success will likely come you from unexpected avenues.
“It’s only when people take action that true transformation happens. Don’t dream of being a writer, begin writing. Don’t dream of being an activist, go start something. Don’t dream of being an entrepreneur, launch something. Dreams are powerful, they are fuel for change.”
Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
Living the life you want begins with letting go.
In addiction recovery, change begins not by starting something new but by first acknowledging and then letting go. We have to create space for the change we want by letting go of what is. Six years ago, my life began to change because I let go of:
- Holding onto dreams that were really just rescue fantasies
- Blame and excuses
- Rigid and narrow dreams (expectations)
- The idea that my dream has to be specific to be real
- The belief that I needed to quit my job in order to ‘pursue my dream’
Give up on your dreams, but never let go of your themes
My life improved after I gave up on my dreams. I became more accepting, more thankful and more willing to work hard at the small things. Real dreams are seeds, never abandon these. My new dreams seeded belief, growth and energy back into my soul. Instead of following my dreams, I followed my themes:
- Take work that will contribute to my growth and development, which usually means taking more risks and being out of my introvert-comfort zone
- Be creative every day
- Be funny, make people laugh and be a genuine human
- Share funny stories
- Mentor, nurture and support other people’s dreams
- Read and nurture ideas and wisdom
- Get outside more, move more, try to eat a little less
- Spend time with people I respect and enjoy
When I stopped following my dreams but started following my ‘themes,’ my life has gone in directions I never dreamed of 10 years ago. In fact, if I followed my dreams, I would be miserable.
What are your life themes? Follow them and expect surprises because life delights in surprising us.
Keep it real
For an excellent article on Life Themes, see James Altucher’s post, To-Do Lists are Ruining the Planet.
Originally published on smswaby. Used with permission.
Photo credit to Dave Fayram.