I used to always ask myself, which dreams should I follow? Which ideas and concepts and burning desires should I make my life’s work? That question kept me up at night. But it was always the wrong question…
The thing is, you can take on almost any challenge, and you can follow almost any dream. Even if it’s in a small way, even if it’s writing as a side project instead of becoming Stephen King, even if it’s writing small pieces of useful software instead of revolutionising AI.
But what you can’t do is follow everything, all at once. What you can’t do is refuse to compromise when life gets in the way or when things don’t pan out.
I’m often asked by people, how did I know what I wanted to dedicate myself to? I didn’t actually approach it that way at all. I asked myself, what didn’t I want to dedicate myself to? What was I ready to let go of?
Just Because You Can Chase A Dream…
Doesn’t mean you always should.
And I’m not saying that because I want you to listen to the people who revel in telling you No. I’m saying it because if you really think about your dreams, you can often identify which ones you want to be chasing in 10 years’ time, and which ones are just cool ideas that you think might be…you know, fun.
You have to come to terms with the idea that, just because you’re excited about something, doesn’t mean that it’s an idea or a dream you should pursue. Not unless it really aligns with who you are and what you want.
I came to realise that it was time to let go of being a musician when I knew that I didn’t want to be getting up to go on tour every day for the next 20 years, it just wasn’t a life I was happy with. That dream wasn’t compatible with what I wanted out of my time on this great big spinning rock.
For some of my friends — it’s exactly what they want. And that’s great. It didn’t align with me though.
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And in the end, we all have dreams that don’t really align with who we are. I had other dreams of being a stand up comedian, a movie director, a break dancer and — as a child — an elephant in the circus. None of those are what I really want to do though. As exciting as being an elephant would’ve been.
People will search for what they’re meant to do. What fate has in store for them. What the universe wants. But they won’t find answers. People aren’t meant to do things, and they aren’t meant to follow certain dreams. We have to choose them, for better or for worse, based on who we are and what the fuck we really want.
We Don’t Have All The Time We Think We Have
I know it feels like time is almost limitless, but trust me — it only feels like that until you’ve run out. It only feels like that until you’ve committed to so many fucking dreams that you don’t even have the time to hug your cat and spend time with your loved ones.
And you can’t divide the limited time you have between a thousand and one passions all at the same time, because not only will you never make progress with them — you won’t give yourself time to enjoy any of them either!
What I Know For Sure About Following Your Dreams
Think of it like this. Every moment you spend on one project is a moment you cannot spend on another. Which moment is worth more to you?
Moving on from one dream to make another a reality isn’t failure and it isn’t giving up, it’s getting better at committing.
When people tell you no, it’s not the same thing to telling yourself no. The first is control and a lack of faith, the second is discipline and showing faith in yourself.
An interest is different from a passion is different from an obsession is different from a dream. Work out which is which.
There is no point at which you have failed at a dream, as long as you have spent energy and time to follow it.
Your dreams are supposed to be enjoyed, not blasted through at the speed of light, and if you don’t stop to enjoy ’em, when you reach where you wanted to be it will only feel empty.
Nothing matters more than what you wanted to do. By that I mean, don’t let other people dictate the paradigms and details and expectations and deliverables of your dreams.
Just because someone has share a shitty quote image of Elizabeth Holmes telling you that “having a back up plan is committing to fail” doesn’t mean it’s true. Embrace having multiple dreams to follow, and if one doesn’t align or doesn’t work, switch paths.
Remember, Steve Jobs’ passion was music a long time before it was tech. You don’t have to turn what you love into a life long dream. You can however let other dreams influence the dreams you follow.
People will say, if your dream is to be a playwright, you will never be as rich as if your dream is to write software. A lot of people will say that kind of shit. It doesn’t matter — the value of your dreams should not be measured in dollars alone.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to be happy.
There’s no point chasing or working for something that won’t make you happy. Even if you’re successful, that’s going to lead to you dedicating your life to a sliver of the happiness you’d get if you failed.
There’s a certain kind of sadness, that comes from convincing yourself that other people’s dreams are the ones you really want. That’s a sadness you don’t want. It will be their fault, but you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.
I know that when I’ve chosen dreams that seemed “smart” by society or other people’s standards, that’s when I’ve been the most miserable. When I stopped doing punk music because there wasn’t money in it, when I joined a startup I hated hoping it would be worth a hundred million bucks, when I went to law school thinking I could be a coked out entertainment lawyer — I hated it all.
Dreams are eminently worth chasing. In tiny ways — in huge ways — in every way. They’re worth chasing for an hour a week, if that’s all you can manage. They’re worth dedicating your life to. But you can’t ask which you’re meant to follow, you can only choose what aligns with who you are and what you want.[This post by Jon Westenberg first appeared on Medium and has been reproduced with permission.]