“Pursue your dreams” is one of those phrases that can make you gag if you hear it from the wrong person — or at the wrong time. I’ve been rethinking what it really means lately. I don’t think it ever meant you get to pursue your dreams 24 hours a day, whenever you want, at the cost of everyone and everything else. That’s just dumb.
It never meant you could quit a terrible job anytime, or excuse yourself from all of your responsibilities.
It never meant you were going to make a ton of money.
The economy has jumped off a cliff, but it hasn’t landed yet. My university is about to cut most of our arts programs. They’re getting rid of theater and dance. They’re gutting the humanities. These students will be tempted to hang up their dreams.
They shouldn’t — not without a fight.
Neither should you.
Here’s what I think it means to pursue your dreams, especially now:
It means extra work on top of what you’re already doing. It means not waiting around for someone else to make your life better, no matter how many of your problems aren’t your fault.
Losing everything is a perfectly good reason to give up your dreams. But you won’t do it. You like your dreams.
You need them.
Your dreams are what make you who you are.
Most of us won’t give up our dreams because we’re just not ready yet. We want to keep trying until the clock runs out.
You don’t have to quit your job to pursue your dreams. That’s not how most of us start out. It’s not how we start over, either.
People who pursue their dreams do it after work and between shifts. They do it at night, or in the wee hours of the morning. They steal whatever time they can and learn how to manage.
Eventually, your dream might become your only job.
That takes a long time, and it doesn’t always happen for everyone. Your dream can’t wait for that. You need to get on it now.
One hour pursuing your dream is way better than none.
Pursuing your dreams means taking chances— probably little ones at first. You don’t have to risk all you’ve got.
Not all risks are financial or life-changing.
Everything is a risk, in a way. If you carve out two or three hours you could’ve spent on something else, that’s a risk. Showing your work to someone is a risk, because it makes you vulnerable.
Pursuing a dream comes with lots of false starts, bad road maps, and moments when you feel completely lost.
It means going in the wrong direction for a while, then turning around and going the other way.
These aren’t the happiest moments — just necessary.
The worst feelings happen when you think you’ve won, and then you find out that you didn’t. Someone else did.
Nobody can tell you when it’s time to give up on a dream. There’s too many different stories of success told by people who kept going despite the odds and then surprised everyone.
There’s only one way to know: You either get interested in a different dream, or you run out of options.
Everyone has a unique vision of how their dream dies.
You have to decide what that looks like for you. Maybe it’s the collapse of a 5-year plan, a missed milestone, or one too many days living off Ramen noodles out of the back of a used car.
Pursuing a dream doesn’t feel that good half the time.
It means lots of headaches, mistakes, setbacks, and days when you feel like you’ve wasted your life.
It means epic levels of judgment from family, and also people you thought were your friends, or at least had your back.
Pursuing your dreams is hard enough during good times. In times like these, it’s easy to let cynicism win. You can let the daily avalanche of bad news stop you from doing what you really love, or you can decide how much your dream matters, and keep going for it.
You can still pursue your dreams, even now.
You have to put up a fight.
It’s going to get a lot harder. It’s going to take a lot longer to achieve them. But without dreams, most of us have nothing. We have no reason to get up. We have no reason to endure.
You don’t have to think of your dreams as dreams. The word implies a certain detachment from reality. But you need to have something along those lines, no matter how bad things get.
A dream is just an idea. It’s a sense of how you want your life to look down the road. It’s probably something you’ll never fully achieve. That’s the point. We have dreams so we can keep going.