As a Millennial, I grew up being told that I could be anyone and do anything. “Follow your dreams!” we were told. Then we grew up, went to college (or didn’t) and found that our dreams don’t pay the bills. Some of us worked hard, got lucky, and ended up in careers doing what we love. Most of us didn’t. It turns out that following our dreams was not necessarily a good idea. Some of us abandoned those dreams, others continue to pursue them – consequences be damned! But there is a middle ground.
Instead of giving up on our dreams completely or ignoring reality, we can have passion and ambition while still having a less-than-ideal career. In my case I went to school for religion and then developed a shaky relationship with religion. I was trained to be a pastor, but now I do not know if I will able to be one. I am still passionate about the work that a pastor does. I want to give counsel to others, lead, teach, preach, be an administrator, and create a team of people working together toward a common goal. The challenge we face is taking our passions and finding where they provide value to society so that we can be paid to do what we love.
Recently I had an idea for a project. This project involves creating a pretty significant website. The issue is that I have no idea how to do that. The last time I messed around with HTML was 18 years ago and a lot has changed since then! I know very little about programming languages and all the various facets of web development. I could be realistic and give up on my idea. Even if I put forth great effort to learn how to make this project work, I might not be able to finish it. Worse, maybe I’ll finish it and it will not be useful. The safe bet would be to say that the risk is not worth it and give up.
What if we shifted the focus from results to process instead? This project could potentially yield excellent results, but the odds of that happening are pretty low. However, the process necessary to complete the project will be guaranteed to have benefits. If I pursue this project I will learn not only how to create a website, but also how to ask for help from others, how to find resources online, and countless other skills along the way. I will encounter new people and communities and discover new things about myself. Our dreams may not succeed but perhaps pursuing them will enable us to earn wisdom, skills, relationships, and more.
If the alternative to pursuing our dreams is to do nothing but coast through life, perhaps it is better to pursue our dreams – even if they are foolish. It is possible to pursue foolish dreams in a foolish way, but it is also possible to pursue a foolish dream wisely. We don’t have to quit our day jobs or let our responsibilities go to the wayside. The pursuit of our dreams can happen evenings and weekends, on vacations, or even through our jobs or education. If we set our expectations correctly, pursuing our dreams will be a win-win situation. Even if we do not arrive at the goal we set, the process of working toward what we hope for will bring us new skills. We will meet new people. We will be better equipped to define our dreams less foolishly and more realistically. Maybe we cannot be an astronaut, but we could end up working in the aerospace industry. We might not become a Top 40 musician, but maybe we can become a local favorite at open mic nights and local music festivals.
If we can learn to celebrate the journey toward our dreams and be realistic about what we can and cannot do to achieve them, we set ourselves up for success. If we reach our dreams, fantastic! If not, look at the progress we have made and all we have gained along the journey. If we are creative and a bit clever, we can put our new resources to use to get us closer to living the life we are dreaming of living. If we hold in one hand the needs of the world and in the other our passions, we have the potential to walk the path of success – not that we will reach the goal, but that the process of trying to reach it will make us into the kind of person we were longing to be all along.