We’re told we should either pursue our dreams at all costs, or quit dreaming and face reality. It’s a new year now–what should we actually do?
Open your eyes and take a look around. The truth is, many people do make a living doing what they love, and yes, this even includes the arts. Somehow they support themselves in painting, or writing, or pontificating on architectural theories—how, no one knows, but they don’t look like they’re starving. Many would tell you they knew this was what they were meant to do with their life. They couldn’t be happy doing anything else. They had to follow their dream.
‘You can do anything you want to.’ This is what many of us have been told since childhood—if you can dream it, you can do it. After a good dose of reality, most of us laugh at that (especially those of us who dreamed of being an astronaut but struggle with our multiplication tables). However, in our cynicism we do overlook the people that somehow, crazily enough, do follow their dreams at any cost and do make it work.
So yes, following your dreams is not necessarily a recipe for disaster. However, a very important piece needs to be added to the glib ‘follow your dreams’ phrase—figure out how to make your dreams work for you. You have to think about the practical side of things, and by practical I do mean money and survival. This is the piece that often gets lost when talking to kids (and no surprise, since we mostly assume kids don’t get practical stuff till they’re grown up).
Sure, you want be an actor—does this mean your love of acting is enough to do a million indie films which barely give a paycheque, while teaching classes on the side? Does this fit in to ‘do what you love,’ or by ‘do what you love’ do you really mean you want to magically become a Hollywood actor who can choose to make a couple films whenever you feel like it? Because that’s not being practical, that’s expecting the world to fall into your lap.
Or maybe doing what you love means using the creativity to do what you love any way possible. A few decades ago no one could imagine you could make a living acting in free videos people watch on the internet, but nowadays some people do. Someone was willing to use their creativity to try whatever was necessary, to keep doing what they enjoyed while at the same time not starving doing it. And, more importantly, not considering themselves entitled to a glittering career without throwing their all into it.
The funny thing is, when you start to think about practicalities you realize whether the things you ‘love’ doing are actually things you love doing. If making it work somehow excites you because you get to keep doing this wonderful thing, maybe you should be doing it. If you don’t want to think about practicalities, and only about being ‘there’ already, you may have a problem. If you can only see the end result of being celebrated by others for what you do, but could never do the same work without recognition but just get by and die happy, you may have a problem.
For myself, I realized quite early on that while I loved writing it was not a career I wanted to pursue. To have my every mouthful of food hinge on producing outstanding prose regularly just drained the joy out of writing. This is not the case for everyone, and there’s no shame in living by your pen as long as you don’t expect the world to worship every word you put out there. There’s also no shame in deciding this thing that you love—whether writing, or acting, or singing, or painting, or even athletics—is more enjoyable if your survival doesn’t depend on it. There’s no shame in deciding something is not a dream, but instead a hobby.
After all, we’ll always need accountants, and garbage-collectors, and people to do all the paperwork in our offices. Very few people would say this is their ‘dream,’ but society needs someone to do it to function. You’re not betraying your passion for music or whatever if your passion for music does not drive you to rely on it alone to eat
I think the people who have the drive to follow their dream wherever it leads already know they feel this way. I hope you do find a way to keep pursuing what you love, and that it keeps bringing you joy. Don’t forget about the many people who were told what they were doing was impractical but did it anyway and did make it work—there’s more of them than you think. But it might also take you in surprising directions, and cost you in sacrifices of other things.
Now for the rest of us—those of us that aren’t sure, and those that feel guilty for not putting everything they have into one passion. We’re not all the same, and we can’t all follow the same advice. We can love something without being driven to sacrifice everything for it, or we can love and enjoy multiple hobbies without feeling like we need to pick one to be an all in all. Instead, pursue excellence in what you do while you are doing it. And don’t worry so much about figuring out what exactly and precisely should be your dream.