I stumbled upon this video clip recently, and my first reaction was: bravo! A wonderful, inspiring sentiment: if money were no object, what would you do? The message being:pursue your dreams. But it seemed to me something was missing–an acknowledgement that most of us don’t have the luxury of ignoring financial concerns. For those of us barely scraping by, the question isn’t whether we should pursue our dreams, but how.
1. On the one hand, yes, pursue your dreams, absolutely. It’s a no-brainer, although the emphasis should be on pursuing rather than dreaming. I’d be the last one to suggest that pursuing the all-mighty dollar is the key to a happy life. But at the same time, do figure out a way to pay the rent. For more than a few great artists it was worth sleeping on couches and starving in order to pursue their dreams, but if that’s farther than you want to go you’ll need to address the issue. My pragmatic advice: hedge your bets.
2. Picking a dream is just the beginning. In most cases, achieving the dream is a long journey. Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in one of his intriguing books that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at practically anything—even for many prodigies. That’s good food for thought. Especially when we’re starting out, it’s nice to know that our fumbling attempts at many things are par for the course. Even if we do hold true to our dreams, it may take years, even decades, to get there.
3. It’s not necessarily a straight shot. For some of the privileged, meaning those with deep pockets, sure, no problem: sleep in your own bed in a comfortable house, eat when you’re hungry, get tutoring if necessary, earn good grades, get into a good college, make the right connections, get into medical school and voila! It’s just that easy. But for the rest of us there are obstacles along the way – not just hardcore obstacles like economic barriers, job layoffs, drug abuse, jail time, domestic violence, medical crises, nervous breakdowns, or unexpected pregnancies, but run-of-the-mill concerns like academic challenges, heartbreak, and the general confusion that comes with finding our way in the world.
4. Don’t go it alone—get help from those who have gone before you. The vast majority of us need some kind of coaching, mentoring or other assistance. Get help identifying all the steps involved in getting where you want to go, including blocking out time for daily practice, but also such fine details as how to fill out a college application, or how to apply for financial aid. Ask a counselor or librarian for help finding resources.
5. Be prepared to suffer. Success will involve sacrifices. Time otherwise spent partying, playing video games or just relaxing may have to be devoted to reading, researching, or practicing – a lot. Remember: 10,000 hours. Thomas Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” It’s not enough to talk the talk; you have to walk the walk.
6. Choose your friends carefully. Spend more time with the people cheering you on than with people who say you can’t succeed. Ferret out others who share your interests.
7. You may not yet have a dream, and that’s okay. Particularly in our early years, if we’re lucky, life includes considerable exploring. Try a little bit of everything to see what really grabs you. Failure is part of the learning experience, but so is fun. Don’t expect perfection right out of the chute.
8. Despite your best efforts, you may not get there, ever– and that’s okay too. For every kid who reaches their personal finish line, there are hundreds more who fall short or change direction, finding other interests along the way. They won’t quite make it to being professional baseball players, astronauts, movie stars, screenwriters, or Presidents. That’s not failure. That’s real life. Dreams change, and that’s fine. In fact, it’s change that keeps life interesting. Reality is what happens while we’re making other plans. Sure, some kids are born knowing they’re going to be veterinarians. But for most of us, finding our true vocations can take a while.
9. Finally, one key caveat is NOT necessarily to latch on to one dream and hold on with a death grip. Yes, dream, and yes, do throw yourself into the pursuit of your dream with passion. But be prepared to change direction, and be willing to let go. The journey is at least as important as the destination. It’s developing the skills involved, the focus, commitment, and overall process of pursuing dreams–the planning, studying, research and practice – that may be of greater value in the end.