We’re told in high school to figure out what we want to do for the rest of our lives, so we can be taught the necessary skills in college and eventually start our careers. But how the hell does a 16-year-old know what his 30-year-old self wants to be doing? Can you imagine if you had to follow every high school idea you ever had? I for one would be married to a drastically different person. But then why should we follow our high school self’s ideas when it comes to a career?
In high school, most of us just try and fit in, never straying too far from center. Following our parent’s advice all the way to college where we choose a career path, that again, doesn’t stray too far from center. Flash-forward 10 years and you’re a consultant or a sales guy in a career you don’t love, wishing you had pursued sports writing, acting, law, music, investment banking, or even cooking. You may regret the years when you prioritized having a good time with friends over mastering your passion, wondering if it’s too late to turn back. But is it? When is it time to give up your dream?
To answer this question, each of us has to view our lives as a long path through the woods. We all start on a one-lane path, then eventually it splits, we choose a direction to follow and continue on that path for years and years. Each passing year enjoying new things, making new friends, getting promoted, starting a family, while the other alternative path gets further and further away. So then if one day you think you don’t like the path you’re on, the only way to switch to the other path and to follow your dream, is to turn around and go all the way back to when the path split. Strip it all down and go back to the fork in the road. Giving up most of the things you enjoyed/gained along the way. Because if you’ve ever gone hiking before, not all of your friends and family will be thrilled or will even follow you when you turn around.
So the short answer? It’s never too late to give up on your dream. But the further along in your life, the more you’ll have to give up and the harder it will be to get back to the beginning. So if you are prepared to give up some friends, family, your job, and think you have the years of patience to go back to the beginning and even more years of patience to then pursue a different career path, then by all means, follow your dream. But like most of us, if you don’t want to sacrifice everything you’ve accomplished, then luckily there is an alternative. Just tweak your dream a little.
When we’re young we have wild expectations for our future, and as we age our memories of the past are always better than the reality. That touchdown in high school is now 90 yards instead of 60. That article in the school paper is Pulitzer winning and not just on page 5. So when we picture our dream job, it’s not just as a sports writer, it’s as Mike Wilbon or Bill Simmons. Not just a musician who plays at weddings around town, but the next Bob Dylan. Because why wouldn’t it? It’s our “dream,” right? But instead of sacrificing everything to follow a career path that could lead to a life like Bill Simmons’, just tweak your dream a little to be realistic.
I am a financial consultant whose dream was to be a writer. But I realized I didn’t have the platform or even willpower to become a JK Rowling or John Grisham. So instead, I tweaked my dream to just publish one book. I removed everything from my daily life I didn’t need, like working out or watching TV, then filled all that new free time with writing. I did this for 28 days straight because after that amount of time, I could at least say I tried. Every hour not working, sleeping, cooking, or doing errands, I was writing. After 28 days I had a couple chapters of my book, From Bud to Blow, and thought it was surprisingly good. So I finished it. And the craziest part? It didn’t even feel like I tweaked my dream at all. It felt like I was JK Rowling.
Because what I realized is, it’s not the fame or fortune that makes it a dream. It’s the act of doing it. Writing is my passion. So holding a book I wrote from cover to cover, was the dream the whole time. No need to sacrifice my family, friends, or even my job to become the greatest writer of our generation, I just needed to follow my passion.
So you’re in real estate but want to be a musician? Then practice guitar every night and on the weekends for 28 days straight and see if you can book a gig. You’re a sales guy who wants to be a brew-master? Then brew beer during your free time. Because the feeling of selling just one 6-pack of your own made beer or hearing applause from the crowd at a bar will feel like the dream.
Is it time to give up your dream? For most of us, yeah probably, because that dream was unrealistic to begin with. But you don’t have to live with regret over a decision you made in high school anymore, because one small tweak and you can still follow your passion on the path you’re currently on.
Photo: Getty Images