Americans have a completely unfounded “no matter what” attitude about going for our dreams. If you’re ever given an opportunity to take a chance and go for your dreams, movies, self-help, and pretty much any whimsical asshole on the street will tell you you have to take it. This is regardless of the likelihood that it pans out, or the repercussions if it doesn’t. There’s no assessment of your situation whatsoever; just a blanket thumb up your ass romantic assumption that everything will be awesome.
”Of course you should quit your job as a neurosurgeon and focus on your reggae-grunge band. Live the life you’ve imagined! Believe in yourself!”
Now there are plenty of valid, attainable ambitions out there, so to be clear, when I say “dreams” here, I’m talking about dreams that are a product of growing up in a society that is so insanely privileged, that we actually think we can make a living doing whatever we want. I’m talking about dreams where, when you tell them to people, they say “Oh” in the most polite way possible. I’m talking about dreams that could cause you to lose your current job, sacrifice relationships, or end up doing anal for IOUs if things go awry.
And even then, some of those are probably worth going for. I can’t tell you whether or not you should take that risk and go for your dream. Nobody can. What I can tell you is seven things that I’ve watched people (myself included) wrongly ignore in blind, moronic pursuit of their dreams.
1. Remember: Your Inner Child Doesn’t Know Shit.
You do know you’re allowed to change your mind, right? You don’t have to keep pursuing what you dreamt about 6 or 26 years ago–no matter how much you dreamt about it. Desires change. It’s part of life.
In fact, I don’t like to generalize, but if you haven’t changed your mind on what you’ve wanted to do since your childhood, there’s a decent chance you’re a weird manchild with one too many action figures (so one) that wears graphic tees well into your 30’s, or a weird future cat lady with one two many Hello Kitty nick-knacks (so one) that still dresses like a Catholic school girl. There’s a lot of emphasis on following your childhood dreams because of this idea that the young version of you takes back to your purist desires before you were corrupted by crushed hopes, different priorities, and you know, reality.
But here’s the problem with that idea: being crushed by reality is VALID. It’s a really God damn important human experience that facilitates things like maturity and toughness. And also, hey, there’s this: 5-year-olds are dipshits. They have the worst ideas ever. If you presented a 5-year-old with an actual problem, their solution would likely involve hide and seek, and dyed sugar. 5-year-old you wanted to be an astronaut because stars are pretty and they thought warp speed was real. Their reasons sucked. Every thought they had was based on nothing. Ignore your inner children. They’re idiots.
2. Make Sure This Is Actually A Dream.
Accomplishing a big dream is so emphasized in our culture that it can feel like an obligation. So before you “risk it all,” make sure that this is in fact your dream and not just something you enjoy about as much as watching cat videos and eating Pop Tarts.
Like for instance, if you find yourself constantly procrastinating about following it, here’s an idea:
MAYBE YOU DON’T EVEN FUCKING ENJOY IT THAT MUCH.
You used to procrastinate with homework too. Was that because you loved it? Were you saving it for the end of the night so you had something to look forward to? It was the dessert to your meal of fucking around on twitter and youtube for six hours?
Maybe you don’t love this thing. Maybe you just like it as a friend and you should break it off before things get serious.
It’s not really a dream if you don’t think about it all the time, if you don’t feel a jubilation while you do it, and if, when asked if you would let 100 people die in order to achieve it, your gut response isn’t something along the lines of “Well, do I know them?”
Maybe you don’t have a dream. That’s okay. It doesn’t make you less of a person, but risking everything for something you don’t even love does make you more of an idiot, so take that into consideration.
With all of that said…
3. Loving Your Dream Is Not Enough. Make Sure Your Dream Also Isn’t Fucking Stupid.
There’s a belief that if you follow your passion, that will always lead you to prosperity. This is another one of those blanket statements that gets repeated ad nauseam. Follow your intuition, your instincts, your heart.
This is all well and good unless your heart is a dipshit with terrible ideas.
There are plenty of things people truly love out there that can’t become jobs. You may really, truly love farting in a cup and then wafting it under your friends’ noses. I get it. I do too. Who doesn’t? It rules. But that doesn’t mean you can support a family on that. I don’t care how passionate you are, how many salesman books you read, or how many falafel you force down every day to give yourself more product, nobody wants to pay for that.
4. Do You Actually Need To Do This As A Job?
There’s a feeling that if you love something, that must mean you should want to do it as a job, as if doing it in your spare time would just be horrendously insufficient.
”No, NO! Fuck you! I must spend 10 hours a day photographing waterfalls!”
Chill out. You have plenty of non-work hours in your life. So believe it or not, you can have a hobby, and that hobby can be the thing you love more than anything, and you can work some job where you do something you merely tolerate–all without the world collapsing and your dick falling off! Amazing, right?
5. Have Some Kind Of Logistical Fucking Clue What You’re Doing.
Say you really love making smoothies, and because of this, you think the key to your happiness and fulfillment is owning and operating your own smoothie shop. This is your dream.
But maybe you do some research, and you find that in order to make smoothies the way you love to make them, you have to charge $11 bucks for a 12 ounce just to cut a profit and Jesus, Jamba is barely keeping its head above water at $6 a pop. And maybe, when pressed with the questions of how much profit you need to make per smoothie, and how many customers you need per day, and how you’re going to advertise, and where you want to base the business, and what brand of freezers would be ideal, and what you want the chair-table color scheme to be, you just want to stick your head in the blender and set it to 11, because all you ever wanted to do was put some God damn fruit into a God damn blender.
So instead of starting “Get Juiced,” consider that maybe what you should do is…not.
6. Check Your Other Responsibilities.
So you’ve considered all of these things, and you still want to follow your dream? Alright. Here’s what you do next. Go through all of the rooms in your home in the middle of the night. If in any of them, you see a smaller version of yourself asleep…
Bail on your dream. Are you serious? Of course bail. How can you not bail? Another human being relies on you and your money to live. The rest of these are situational. This one is not. Bail.
7. Accept That Failure Is An Option And Be Prepared For It.
Some will tell you to go for your dreams as if there is zero chance of failure, to know that you’ll succeed–which, holy shit. Teaching that in blanket statements to everyone is absolutely fucking crazy. That’s like putting meth in the water supply because some people struggle with productivity.
Now to be fair, some people could probably use a little irrational optimism just as some shiftless idiots could probably use meth water, but consider this: that wasn’t just a chemical imbalance that caused stockbrokers to jump out of windows in 1929. They got their hopes up, their dreams were over, and they couldn’t handle it. For the wrong person, dashed hopes can be a dangerous, dangerous thing.
So maybe instead of listening to jerkoffs trying to sell a platitude, people should know the actual truth of their situation. They should know that:
90% of restaurants fail in their first year.
There are tens of thousands of aspiring screenwriters in LA alone, and like nine actual screenwriters.
Six years ago, there were 7,000,000 bands with profiles on Myspace. How many bands can you name?
Failure is not “not an option.” It’s usually the option. So if you have a risky dream, consider your backup plan, and if your backup plan sounds way worse than your current life, maybe use your fucking head.
Okay, so if you’ve made it this far, and you’re still gung ho about going for your dream. Congratulations! You made it! You’re probably a complete fucking moron, but wonderful! I’m so happy for you! Go for it, stupid!
Maybe you’ve decided to not go for your dream. But shit. How do you even start to cope with that idea?
The Bravery of Bailing on Your Dream
Our generation has things so good, that many of us expect a life that’s shit-your-pants, set-yourself-ablaze, scream-obscenities-at-a-baby amazing.
We feel in our bones that we’re getting a fantasy life because it’s all we’ve seen. It’s entitlement disguised as intuition. We feel like if we don’t live out our dreams, that we’re nothing but big ugly idiots that might as well walk into traffic. If we don’t do something special, then we must not be special. And if we’re not special, then we’re on the same level as everyone else, and have you seen everyone else?
There’s no way I’m on the same level as dude in the Ed Hardy shirt who posts four Facebook statuses a day with the word “Obama” in them, watches WWE with a little too little irony, and has to wear a long-sleeve and Band-Aids to cover his tattoos when he goes to work at Budget Car Rental. There’s just no God damn way…right?
Oh God, what if I am? What if nothing I write ever impacts a thing? I’d be nothing. I’d be in the same boat as all you douchebags. I’d be…replaceable. What a horrifying thought.
And that reveals what this is really about for me and people like me: cowardice.
If you fail at your dream, it can put you deep into debt, it can alienate you from your friends, and it can leave you severely disappointed–until you go for it again. And then sure, you’re in debt with fewer friends, but at least you feel okay about yourself. Your ego is intact. You’ve managed to cling to the hope that you’re special, and you can find comfort in that.
But admitting to yourself that you’re not going to be what you thought you were? That you’re not going to be able stand above a crowd? That you’re not going to be a superhero? That’s fucking brave. That takes a grown ass man with grown ass man balls (or a grown ass woman with grown ass…ovaries? Let’s go with ovaries.).
I’ll always write because it’s my favorite thing to do, but the reason I keep trying to do it for a living is really because I don’t have the courage to give it up. I don’t have the courage to accept normalcy, to accept a rational standard for a life.
So maybe the courageous thing isn’t always to risk it all. Sometimes, maybe the true courage is to look at yourself in the mirror and accept that you’re not above the world, that you’re normal, that maybe, in some ways, you’re replaceable.
Maybe you’ll read this and conclude that your dream is worth pursuing. If so, awesome. But if you conclude instead that the dream in your heart is a bad idea, all I can really say for you is this:
I hope you’re braver than I am.