“Follow your dreams” has been popping up in my life with an irritating regularity as of late. Like an ex-boyfriend you never ran into when you were dating but is seemingly unavoidable post-breakup, this phrase is rearing its privileged head in every coffee shop and Facebook post I come across, likely because for the first time in my adult life, I chose to do the opposite: instead of following my dreams, I followed the money.
I worked hard, I climbed the ladder, and I made my parents proud…so why did I feel so bad about it?
I’m part of the Gold Star Generation where everyone gets a ribbon. And when you grow up being rewarded equally for the things you put effort into and the things you didn’t, it warps your sense of what you’re entitled to. We were told we all deserved a trophy, and now we believe we all deserve our dreams. Facebook is one article after another about finding yourself, how to break the mold, how to still be a special flower. Tumblr is littered with quotes about doing what you love over images of white girls spinning in fields. And a lot my own writing is on the same subject, of chasing what you want. I am an alcohol ad where I preach the joys of being bold with the legal disclaimer to have three months rent in the bank.
We’ve romanticized following your heart to the point that we’ve bastardized listening to your head.
Chase your dreams, pursue your passion, do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. But what happens when what you love becomes diluted by the process of incorporating it? When writing becomes scripting tweets for Merrill Lynch? When designing clothes becomes needing to hit sales numbers and Facebook likes? When becoming a character on the stage means having to constantly play a character in life? What is so wrong with having a job that’s just a job? When did we become so entitled to think that we should enjoy every minute we are literally surviving? That we can just fly from airport to airport finding ourselves? Who’s going to run the airport?
And more importantly, what happens when what you love is something that needs money? Money matters. It’s foolish and arrogant to say otherwise. Anyone who lets the mail pile-up knows it matters. Anyone who drives herself to Urgent Care instead of calling 911 knows it matters. Anyone who wants something for their children they never had knows it matters. Anyone without it knows it matters. After purposefully joining friends late to dinners so I could just order water, after begging to be let out of an ambulance because I couldn’t afford the cost, after years and years of having to say I was busy instead of broke, money started to feel like the dream. How sweet it would be to just go to the doctor because you can afford it. How amazing to be able see family more than once a year. And what a sweet treasure to be able to call a cab instead of walking the three miles home at midnight. Maybe it’s brave to quit your job to go paint in Peru for a year, but it’s also brave to work two jobs to help pay for your mom’s medical bills. It’s smart to stay at the law firm until your loans are paid off. It’s OK to only tolerate your job but love your hobbies, because as soon as passions are turned into careers, you risk turning love into work.
So you don’t love your job — who gives a shit?
Are you happy with yourself? Are you happy with the way you treat people? Are you happy with your life?
Yes, jobs make up the greater part of our day-to-day, but in the broader pursuit of your dreams, if you’re not happy with who you are, then achievements will feel no greater than Facebook likes. The moment of acquiring your dreams is brief and fleeting. The part we are meant to enjoy is the chase, the effort, the work. There’s nothing less-than about needing to choose stability over adventure. There’s nothing embarrassing about having to choose money over marvel. And there’s nothing shameful about making a responsible decision for your future. Sometimes you will need to make decisions that direct the course of your life, and not every decision in life can align with some flowery quote from Instagram. Not every decision is a dinner party story. Not every decision is something you proudly proclaim on social media. Some decisions are power decisions where you are the anti-hero, where you have to make the choice to not be idealistic, but to be strategic and tactical.
So let’s change the script. This isn’t about pursuing your dreams or “doing what you love” — this is about doing your best, it’s about being smart. We’ve pushed ourselves into this peculiar ideal where we’re not living unless we’re euphoric all the time, but some kinds of happiness are harder won, some of the best things in life come from places of pain, some of the truest joys are meant to be kept small and secret. And sometimes, chasing the money is exactly what you have to do to chase your dreams.