A decade ago, we were told that we could be anything that we wanted to be as long as we worked hard enough for it and never gave up. We were taken to sports practices, music lessons, karate, art classes, and other miscellaneous extracurricular activities in order to be considered more well-rounded and talented than the next person. And we would all get a shot at that coveted trophy, but if we couldn’t, we’d at least receive a medal (or certificate) just for participating. We just needed to pad our college applications with a long list of achievements to demonstrate our eagerness to work hard and do it all.
This has warped our view of success. Now, we are living in an almost-apocalyptic age of bleakness with many 20-something millennials experiencing depression, panic attacks, and early quarter-life crises because there’s a huge disconnect between what we’re expected to do by others, what we think we ought to do, and what we really want to do. If we’re being honest, most of us have difficulty trying to cope with being thrown out into the cold with no emotional support or proper mental preparation.
We’re expected to join the corporate world, climb up the ladder, buy a house, raise the next generation, send them to college, make them ruthlessly competitive, and also be able to take care of our aging parents. Who gives a shit if we’re miserable, bitter, trapped, and exhausted?
We think we ought to change the world, change the political structure, be extraordinary, and do something groundbreaking that would solve major global crises. If one of these things isn’t on our list of dreams that we want to turn into reality, then we feel guilty and punish ourselves for it by not caring for ourselves because we believe that we haven’t earned that privilege.
But what we really want to do is zero in on what brings us the most joy, not fleeting happiness based on temporary highs or external validation. A lot of us have a mental list of things that fulfill us, but we are constrained and confused because of conflicting desires within and external demands that we cannot control.
Our dreams are too big for us. Our dreams promise freedom, but they enslave us. But our dreams are not really our own. They are merely guilt-tripping aspirations that are all rooted in fear, social conditioning, and insecurity. We’ve made dreams our masters, but we haven’t mastered our dreams.
Having fewer and smaller dreams can help us. As much as we think we should, we can’t expect ourselves to create utopia for everyone, make millions of dollars before the age of 25, get a revenge life in order to fill every condescending person with regret and shame, become CEO of some Fortune 500 company, write a bestselling book, look like a model, cure world hunger, become a major politician, and have millions of followers on Instagram. Hell, we can’t even manage to do one of these things. This is very encouraging and liberating because we can finally let go of those fantasies that we cannot possibly accomplish with our time, energy, and financial constraints.
We need to strike a balance between thinking before we act and acting before we overthink. We need to find a few skills that we can profit from and serve others at the same time. We need to find moments to enjoy the little things and experience joy right now, instead of postponing that for some other day that may never arrive as we expect it to.
And these are the major benefits of having smaller and fewer dreams:
1. You’re able to focus on the essentials.
The essentials vary from person to person, but because you are passionate about a few things and have attainable goals that take into account what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what you can earn money from, and how you can best serve a certain group of people, you’re better able to focus on what matters most to you and do so in a way that makes you feel both accomplished and fulfilled.
2. You can accomplish those few things instead of accomplishing nothing at all.
You understand that you don’t have the energy to be the world’s superhero, and you have let go of the desire to become what you don’t want to be. Having smaller and fewer dreams actually helps you accomplish them because you allocate your energy towards only those dreams and nothing else. You know very well that if you expect yourself to excel at everything, you can’t do anything at all (and feel very empty and lost in the process).
3. You have more time to care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.
You don’t exhaust yourself or force yourself to sacrifice rest for the sake of being perfect at everything for everyone. By letting go of grand and unrealistic dreams, you have more time to rest and enjoy some peace and quiet by yourself, which helps with maintaining your health and sanity.
4. You feel more secure with who you are and what you have to offer.
You do more and talk less. You don’t bother with talking about all the big dreams you have and how you’re working on saving the world because that’s all fluff that only insecure people talk about. Even though what you’re doing isn’t going to transform the world on a large scale, you’re more secure with who you are because you know that you have a unique set of skills and visions that would change a few aspects of life that matter most to you. Most importantly, you do the work to make that happen.
5. You realize that self-worth does not come from the number of accomplishments or praises from others.
You don’t need other people to validate you based on their definition of success. Only yours matters, and you make an effort to focus on your own fulfillment and know when enough is enough. You wisely note that an obsession over a high number of big dreams is merely a symptom of a bruised ego that needs constant attention and external affirmations.
6. You feel more energized and worry less about how your life looks.
The more you think you have to do, the more drained you feel. The more you put upon yourself, the more you worry about what could go wrong. The more promises you make, the more people will be disappointed when you fail to fulfill them. You have more energy when you’re focusing on fewer and more attainable dreams, and thus, you worry less about what you’re failing at or how others would perceive such failures. You do what you’re capable of and forget about the rest.
7. You act more and talk less, so your little dreams are closer to becoming reality than the massive clump of fantasies that others talk about.
Sure, other people might have a long list of very impressive aspirations, but they are nowhere near making their own dreams come true, since they are too caught up with the vague generalities that look good on the surface, but they haven’t realized that it would take a tremendous amount of effort and energy to put all of that into practice. However, because you have let go of things that you can’t control and quit pursuing things that you aren’t good at or have no interest in, you’re able to strategize and implement life practices that bring your humble dreams closer to reality in a manner that brings inner peace, unconditional joy, and everlasting fulfillment.