Thoughts On Sunday: There's A Reason Why People Tell You To Follow Your Dreams

Sunday, 28 September 2014
(Image source: Roman Boed)

There are probably hundreds and thousands of blog posts which cover the topic of following your dreams. Entire blogs and books are dedicated to the subject. You may have even had teachers and parents telling you to do so before you could even fully grasp what a dream was. It is something that we hear over and over again, and just like when you repeat the same word over and over again, it starts to lose meaning. It starts to become a case of: okay, thanks for the advice, but what do you want me to do with it? What does it mean? Have you tried following your dream in an economic downturn, when your desired field is no longer hiring, when life is placing obstacle after obstacle in your path and outright beating you up and you're pretty sure the end is nigh? What if dreams are just dreams and we should stick to reality? 

The concept of following your dream can seem abstract to the point that it appears as the privilege of a select few. I acknowledge that the ability to follow your dream is in itself a privilege. No matter how much people wax lyrical about every individual's ability to do 'anything they want in life' this has to be dabbed with a dose of realism. Not everyone, everywhere, has the capacity, the opportunity and the freedom to live their life in accordance to their dreams. There are those who dream of going to school but can't because they live in a war-ravaged area or their education system simply isn't accessible; there are those who are actively stopped from dreaming and if they were to follow their dreams it would result in the loss of their life - there are those who truly cannot follow their dreams, no matter how much they would want to.

I think that's part of the reason why we're told to follow our dreams so much. It is a privilege to do so when you can, so why spend your time doing something else? Even then, being told you're lucky to be able to do something doesn't necessarily inspire you to get going. It certainly didn't work for me. What has pushed me the most in recent times was fully realising the consequences of not following your dreams when you can

You will never be able to quite shake the feeling that there is something else in life you should be doing. I imagine we're perfectly capable of living with this feeling. I've managed to convince myself for long stretches of time that I wanted to be doing something other than writing, that I wanted to work in a non-creative environment, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing things that I didn't want to do. People are often able take their dreams to the grave. The truth of the matter is though, when you don't follow your dreams when you could have, you're haunted by the ghost of 'What if'. And the ghost of 'What if I had just gone for it?' weighs a lot heavier than the one that says 'What if I was born into different circumstances'.

Chances are, you will feel unsatisfied. There is something that you really want. You know it'll make you happy, and you wake up every morning dreaming of a life where you're doing it. You pass your local bookstore imagining your name being touted as this year's bestseller, you read about the success of yet another company and think you could have done the same if you'd started at the same time, you watch a Youtube video and wish you could be doing the same. It's very difficult to appreciate and be satisfied with the life that you're living when you're not on the path you want.

As a consequence, you're generally unhappy. It doesn't necessarily mean you're sad or that you can't feel happiness, but you're not really happy. Most of the things in life we either do because we have to or because they make us happy. Often we also end up doing things because we think we should do them, and yet they're neither things we have to do or that make us happy. Most of the 'should do' in our lives are linked to comparisons, to societal pressures and to a fear of reaching for what we want, and none of those are a combination for happiness.

If you don't follow your dream, more often than not, you will have regrets. It's amazing how fast 'I should be doing...' turns into 'I should have done...' when that thing you thought you should have been doing wasn't what you wanted to do. I have never regretted the things I have done that I wanted to do, even when they've gone wrong or turned out the complete opposite of how I expected them to be - I've just chalked them up to bad experiences and happily moved on. The times that have stayed on my mind have been the moments when I gave up, when I chose the easy path instead of the dream path, when I didn't do what I wanted to do, and I have ultimately regretted those moments.

When you don't follow your dreams when you could have done, when you're not doing what you want to do for all the reasons and excuses that are personal to you, it's hard to feel truly alive. It's hard to get up early in the morning or feel enthusiasm for the coming day or find rhyme or reason in powering through the obstacles that life places in your way. Ultimately, it will chip away at you, without you even realising it. You're existing and going through the motions, but there is more to life than that. And often those who tell you to follow your dreams know all of this on a subconscious, if not conscious, level.

That's why so many people tell you to follow your dreams, especially when there is nothing truly stopping you from doing so. It's not for the fun of hearing themselves talk about a subject that's been done to death. It's because doing the opposite? Well, it sucks.