Following your dreams is a very romantic idea, until you start doing it.
When it’s just a far-off possibility, when it’s just a maybe someday kind of idea that lives in your brain, it’s much more appealing. Because that version of following your dream is the highlight reel. It’s you consciously or unconsciously imagining your ‘dream achievement’ montage in your head, in which you’re writing late into the night next to a beautiful cup of coffee, or taking an invigorating breath before a huge presentation. That’s the romantic version of following your dreams that lives in your head.
But if you actually start to follow them, if you actually dare to believe that you deserve to pursue something that makes you happy, it all becomes very unromantic. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Because in addition to being unromantic, following your dreams is at times very boring. Or painful. Or monotonous. Or exhausting. Or frustrating. Or heartbreaking. Or all of those things at once.
Following your dreams is very slow.
Once in a while, you live inside one of those picturesque moments in which you are working until the sun rises or walking down a city sidewalk in your dream-accomplishing-uniform (beautiful peacoat? converse sneakers? all-black outfit that is unbelievably chic?) and you know in your gut that they would include this scene in the movie of your life.
But in-between all those lovely moments are a lot of incredibly uneventful, dull, and even painful moments. Thousands and thousands of moments in which you look terrible and you create something that you are convinced is shit and you get in a fight with someone who’s just trying to help you because you’re being overly defensive and you cry in front of the refrigerator or, worse, you just stand in front of the refrigerator feeling nothing and waiting for some interesting food to appear.
Following your dreams is really unextraordinary and really mundane. It’s not always the story of moving to New York City with $7 in your pocket. Following your dreams is often a lot more unexciting than that. There are the occasional, pretty shots of your cappuccino while you’re working in a cafe or the exciting phone calls where you actually hear even the smallest bit of good news. But fifty times as often as that, there is that one piece of criticism or feedback that makes you wonder if you need to stop doing this immediately because you’ll never make it. There is that certain something you’re incredibly proud of that gets a lukewarm reaction from your boss or the audience or even just your friend when you test your idea or product or creation out on her. There is staying up until 3 in the morning and having nothing to show for it. There is hearing your alarm go off and thinking about how you’d rather be anywhere but in this moment, because you’re not sure that you can take another day of following your dream.
There are the life-giving moments of joy, sure. And there are the soul-crushing moments of pain and rejection, sure. But there’s also a lot of moments that involve you just feeling mediocre, or average, or uninspired, or unremarkable.
And often, these feelings are a thousand times worse than the painful feelings. Because at least the pain directs you somewhere, it challenges you to either let yourself keep sinking or to pull yourself out of it. But feeling unexceptional, or average, or how-am-I-ever-gonna-make-this-happen type of feelings? Those keep you on a plateau, where you can see out in a thousand different directions but not one of them includes a clear pathway from where you’re standing.
This is what following your dream is. It’s a lot of pain, it’s a lot of heartbreak. But more than that, it’s a lot of ordinary days, and hours, and minutes. It’s a lot of open-endedness. It’s a lot of monotony and flatness and tedium. It’s a lot of plateaus and a lot of open plains.
And yet somehow, through all of that, you have to find the spark – the thing that makes your heart race and opens your eyes and gets your blood flowing and makes you want to be so much better than you are right now.
Following your dream is finding that thing within you, call it whatever you want – passion, creativity, magic, inspiration, your muse, the universe, your soul, the guidance of a higher power – that thing that makes you impervious to thoughts of giving up, because you know that when you add them up, all those tiny little uneventful moments are the moments when slowly, and patiently, and fervently, and unextraordinarily, you begin to follow your dream.
So live in these moments. Keep doing the boring things that make way for the bigger things. Keep working that day job and do it with pride. Keep stumbling through this life and keep learning from that criticism and keep asking for help. Do this hourly, minute-ly, second-ly. Do it uneventfully, do it unglamorously. Be exhausted, be uncertain, be dedicated, be boring, be ordinary. Be all of this every day, do all of this every day. That’s how your heroes did it.