I’m a big fan of dreams. I think that having something higher, something driving you, something you wake up wanting in the middle of the night gives you an incredibly powerful force.
I’ve always been pushed by my own dreams. I dream of being an entrepreneur, being a designer, a writer, a musician, a technology journalist, a jogger, a comic book author, a software developer — all the things that I have wished would be a part of who I am.
They’re what keep me going. Those ideas that I could achieve great things, and tomorrow reach higher than I could today. Without my dreams, I don’t know how I’d get out of bed in the morning.
But we get so many bullshit pieces of advice. You have to give up your job to follow your dreams. You have to let go of money to follow your dreams. You can’t let anything stand between you, and those dreams.
I think following your dreams is always an easy thing to do. As long as you’re staying realistic, you’re not expecting the entire fucking universe to bow to you, and you aren’t allowing anyone else to set your standards.
* * *
1. Your dreams don’t have to be big.
I don’t think you need to always be focused on being the biggest, the best, the greatest, the hottest or the fastest. Those accolades don’t mean a whole lot in real terms.
It’s okay to have small dreams. Your dream could be to start a punk rock band, or build a simple, light weight note taking app. It doesn’t have to be about reaching billionaire status or playing to a packed out stadium. It can be as small as you want.
The point isn’t to have something huge that towers above you like an unattainable peak. If you’re the kind of person who wants to chase big dreams, there’s nothing wrong with that — but size isn’t important.
2. Your dreams need to matter—but only to you.
This is the only way to measure the worth of your dreams. By how much they matter to you. You, and nobody else. If your dreams mean something, if they connect with you deep inside, if they just make you feel excited to get out of bed, that’s enough.
My Dad never understood what I wanted to do. My dreams of making music, starting my own business, writing comic books, learning to make software — none of that mattered to him. As far as he was concerned, I needed to be studying medicine, science or law. No other option.
Looking back, I’m glad I had enough arrogance and rebellion in me to let me buck against his opinion. To realise that my own dreams mattered to me, and it didn’t mean shit if he hated them.
3. There’s no right way to follow a dream.
I hate this idea that there’s a wrong or a right way to follow your dreams. It is just not true. People are going to tell you that you can’t follow your dreams of building a startup if you don’t move to Silicon Valley. That you can’t follow your dreams of being an artist if you’re working in an office.
None of this is accurate. The fact is, you can follow your dream from anywhere, through any means, and to any degree, and there is no wrong path. If you want to build a startup from Boston, Brazil or Bangkok, you do you.
If you want to hold down a job in insurance that lets you pay for petrol/food/Xbox games while you’re writing your novel, you go right ahead and do you. As long as you’re working on it your dream it’s OK.
4. Pretend the clock isn’t ticking.
Ask yourself, what would you be doing if every clock in the world stopped ticking and you no longer felt that time was a precious commodity you were running out of? I think the biggest obstacle to anyone following a dream is that they can’t commit to the time it will take.
Do you know how long it took Will Allison to write What You Have Left? Seven years. And for an author, that’s not even unusual. The way to measure the success of a business, artwork or book has nothing to do with speed. It’s about how well you tracked against your goals.
So set realistic ones. If you’re aiming to publish your debut book, look at a 5 year time frame. If you want to grow your startup, look at around 36 months. Don’t give in to the rush that happens when you can’t block out the sound of the clock.
5. Don’t be a dick to yourself.
I used to wake up and sit in the shower every day, repeating to myself how much I sucked at everything, because I wasn’t achieving success. It was my daily fucking mantra, sitting under the water and crying.
I was being such a dick. Treating myself in a way that I would never treat anyone else in the world, tearing myself down, being incredibly cruel. When you’re following a dream, with your entire soul focused on it, it’s so easy to give into that kind of behavior.
But it doesn’t help you get anywhere. You really have to treat yourself the same way you treat other people. With kindness, love and respect. If you don’t, why would you ever be productive? If you had a boss who treated you like shit, would you do good work for her? It’s no different when that boss is you.
6. Don’t stop working on them.
My Mum works several jobs. She tutors kids, she’s a lecturer, she speaks at conferences and she’s a busy woman. Mum even works Saturdays. But she still found the time to publish a text book last month. It wasn’t easy to get that time, but she carved it out and got it done.
That’s what you have to do. Make those dreams of yours a priority, no matter how exhausted and drained and tired and over it you feel. Sit down and work on ’em. Do it for 10 minutes a day. Try and get it up to 15 minutes. Try and get it up to 30 minutes.
You know what, when I said there was no wrong way to follow a dream, that wasn’t completely true. There is one wrong way. It’s never actually working. Talking, thinking, dreaming, and never doing. Doesn’t matter how busy you are, or how hard it seems, you have to put in a fraction of your time, every day.
* * *
Your dreams are the most personal, intimate aspect of your life. They’re so unique to you, and they give you a power that nothing else ever could. They make it possible for you to climb mountains, and ship code and record blisteringly fast drum tracks, and that’s awesome.
But your dreams are also incredibly vulnerable and sensitive. They can be torn down by your perceptions of what makes them valuable or worth while. They can be killed by being ignored. They can be damaged beyond repair by the laughter of other people, or they can wither when you hide them away.
You need to tend to your dreams. Take good care of them. Give them room to grow. Protect them when needed, but jump at the opportunity to show them off to the world.