Goals Vs Dreams; The Battle Begins


A few weeks ago I wrote about finding your passion and how difficult that search might be. Today, I look at a similar but opposite statement: Follow Your Dreams.

Follow Your Dreams. That sounds simple enough, right? We hear those three words so often when we are looking for inspiration or when we are at a point in our lives when we need to figure out what to do that you’d think someone would have figured out the formula by now.

But the problem with the map titled, “Follow Your Dreams” is that it doesn’t tell you how the hell to get there! It ends up being a more paralyzing statement than a liberating one.

Your dreams – in this analogy – took you on a path to the Darian Gap of life: An uncharted, thicket of confusion, without any semblance of trails or direction.

What’s in a Dream?

Dreams are sexy, and dreams make us feel good because they represent something we yearn for. Dreams are necessary to keep us motivated in our pursuits, but dreams by themselves are only a fairytale if there is no follow through. Dreams are purposely unspecific so that greeting cards can be sold and that someone can tell you to follow your heart and then go his merry way.

Would This Hallmark Card Sell?

Cover: The world is your oyster. Follow your dreams!
Inside: But get ready for a lot of hard work and creating excitement around inchworm-like progression towards smaller, manageable goals that you create for yourself.

I want to be President of the United States is a dream, not a goal. Of course, without the want you’ll never do, but things occur because of what you do, not because of what you want.

  • You dream of becoming a professional rock climber? What hike are you doing this weekend?
  • You want to play in the NBA one day? How many free throws are you shooting tonight?
  • You want to speak fluent Spanish? Have you purchased Rosetta Stone yet?
  • You want to write a book one day? How many words are you writing today?

For your dream to even have the chance at realization, small goals need to be met and those goals should hopefully trigger some sort of enjoyment on your part. You want to write a book because you enjoy the act of writing, I hope. If not, you might want to rethink your dream.

This Wasn’t How I Drew It Up

As you find yourself working towards a dream, something odd can happen along the way. You might find yourself realizing that the big crazy idea you had when you were younger, isn’t exactly what you truly want in your life.

  • The dream of becoming president might change after you have been involved in local politics.
  • That dream of speaking fluent Spanish might fizzle when you fall in love and start a life in Chicago.
  • That dream of becoming a professional rock climber might not be possible because of a previous heart condition.

But that’s OK and it’s normal!

Life rarely follows the path of a dream. Your dreams will be subject to luck, timing, if that photo taken of you in college finds the light of day, politics, kissing ass and a zillion other things out of your direct control.

The problem with the dreams of tomorrow is that they sometimes cloud our brains and hamper our ability to be content in the now.

Let’s look at the idea of being President (you can use any pinnacle profession in any field, not just politics, e.g. best-selling author for writing, NBA star for basketball, John Varvatos-stature for a fashion designer).

Your path might take you from the debate team in school, to interning for a local campaign, to a law degree, to a public defender’s office, to fundraising events for local politicians, to applications, to door-to-door stumping, to being mayor of a town.

At each point, your bed of knowledge will be numerously more than the previous step, but if you’re not taking stock and experiencing some joy at each mini goal, you are going to wear yourself out. Do you have to become president to be happy, or to consider yourself successful? I hope not. I hope you would find joy, pride and happiness in the efforts you put in to be wherever you are in the political sphere.

Don’t let a dream you had when you were 8 years-old be the key to whether or not you are happy and fulfilled in your adult life.

You find your purpose through working, tinkering, connecting and so forth.

Did you want to be president or did you want to be a part of social change? You might quit your life in politics but start a local non-profit fighting for a cause that became apparent to you only when you ran for local office.

It’s Semantics, Really

Just because you had a dream once doesn’t mean that it is failure if you don’t get there. Fail at goals, not at dreams.

  • Dreams are what you tell people you’d like to do with your life. Accomplishing goals is what you’re doing with your life.
  • Dreams are the great motivator. Action is the great realizer.
  • Dreams are what we tell everyone we want. Reaching goals are how we get what we deserve.

Of course, we aim for the stars, but sometimes the sky is the limit for us. It’s semantics.

Your goals should always be what you can control. Your dreams are what happens if the Plinko disc of life drops the way you fantasized it might.

As Seth Godin said recently: “An alternative is to be happy wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got, but always hungry for the thrill of creating art, of being missed if you’re gone and most of all, doing important work.”

Do you have any dreams that are paralyzing you so much so that you can’t figure out what to do next? Share them!

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