Follow Your Needs, Not Your Dreams

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Don’t just follow your dreams, chase them.

Be the girl who just went for it.

Follow your dreams, they know the way. 

And my favorite:

If you want to be successful in this world you have to follow your passion, not a paycheck.

*Insert cartoon brain explosion here.*

These fluffy quotes are all over Pinterest. They were scattered across every journal I owned in high school and within the quotes I wrote down feverishly. They’re plastered on little girls’ tees in every department store, on stickers and birthday cards and planners and file folders. Follow your dreams is the life cycle rule of completion and the lesson within every story of success. Following your dreams is the expectation. Our society has built a fallacy that fetishizes the intense passion to make them come true.

And I hate it. 

That’s right. I’m here today to tell you: Following our dreams is kind of bullshit.

We’re beaten over the head with the pressure of following our dreams. It’s the most common, prideful quote I remember growing up. Pursue your passions or you won’t be happy, fool!!! Besides!! Your dreams will lead the way to happiness!! But what if we can’t complete them? Then what happens? Eternal sadness? Exponential anxiety and uncertainty?

Follow your dreams is the life cycle rule of completion and the lesson within every story of success. Following your dreams is the expectation. Our society has built a fallacy that fetishizes the intense passion to make them come true.

My dreams when I was younger were fruitful. I could do anything, so long as passion lived within my heart. And I believed that. This cultural mainstay stuck with me during college, where I could finally chip away at my dreams. Which, at that time, were to be the next Pioneer Woman (AKA: made famous by food blogging) and get married, in that order. 

Ha! I haven’t touched my own blog since 2011 and I’m still not married. Suck on that, dreams.

Either way, let’s take a moment to envision the expectations of how ridiculous dreams can be. No matter the details of my dreams, these expectations always end in purified adventuring, living in luxury, or traveling across the continent in an airstream. Or, they end in tremendous professional success—presumably by making a lot of money and looking fantastic and ageless doing it. Oh, and don’t forget about that PERFECT Liam Hemsworth looking partner that loves listening to me talk about my wildest dreams 24/7. 

That’s just how following your dreams work. They are big. They have to be. They are drastic gestures that we all think the world owes us if we merrily imagine the impossible.

As I mentioned above, if you know anything about me, I am a woman built on intense passion. I have lived an entire life defined by following my dreams. I have chased life fantasies like a wild animal. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in first grade and wrote my first novel. I felt, deep down, it was my destiny. So, I don’t want to be insincere about what following my dreams has done for me. Even in dark, weird times, words and my dream to be a writer has been a driving force. It was my fundamental truth in life.

Which brings me to the inevitable realness about what it means to have dreams: Not. Everyone. Has. Them. And for the love of God, if someone doesn’t have big dreams they would drop everything for, they are not a loser. They are not a failure for their uncertainty. Not everyone knows in 1st grade that they want to be a writer!! This discussion of passionate destiny and dreams leaves so many feeling ostracized and alone. Dreams are isolating. Dreams are selective. If a central passion is an absent feeling for some, that’s purely okay. Beautiful, even.

This discussion of passionate destiny and dreams leaves so many feeling ostracized and alone. Dreams are isolating. Dreams are selective. If a central passion is an absent feeling for some, that’s purely okay. Beautiful, even.

And this close-minded view of the world and following our dreams is only the beginning of the problem.

Second, there’s the disappointment. When I graduated from college and quit my job at an ad agency shortly thereafter, no one read my blog, and the only men I could find were senseless losers. I didn’t travel. I didn’t step foot anywhere near an airstream. And I made no money. The result? I become discontented with my general existence. I felt a deep sense of humanized loss. Nothing I did was up to par with my dreamy expectations and I convinced myself I wasn’t working hard enough for them.

Third, there is the heightened expectation of guts. Following our dreams requires a flaming pit of passion fire. If we’re not passionate, who are we at all? Dreams are “a gift.” We deserve them! We (or many of us) live in America! We are gifted with the opportunities to fulfill our wildest dreams! And we should be grateful for that! Yes, you should do what you love, but the pressure of following your dreams is too dependent on disappointment. High expectations get us nowhere. And if I don’t fulfill my dreams, I feel as if I don’t have a purpose. 

People believe accomplishing dreams will solve all of the current problems we have. But what happened to dealing with the things we’re going through in the present, instead of looking forward and trying to cover up things with a new, (maybe) atrocious reality?

People who appear to be content with their life, those who are depressed, unemployed, raising a family, moving out to the suburbs, or living with their parents are looked upon as being devoid of dreams, as if they have completely given up. The daily grind of our lives shouldn’t appear as a confined, dreamless hell. But, it often does. It’s an entirely wrong way of observing others’ lives and what completes them. Chasing dreams also makes the people that bind themselves into thousands of dollars in credit card debt to become a traveling influencer in order to complete them look like they’re following their dreams the right way—which isn’t the case either. Because no one wants to find themselves in deep, soul-crushing debt with a doubtful foreseeable future.

Which brings me to this: You can’t drop everything to follow your dreams (which is entirely the expectation of dreams). Life and personal responsibility are far more important than “passion.” We need to pay bills, bring in a constant paycheck, go grocery shopping, communicate with the ones that care about us, and take care of our children. Letting dreams be the sole thing that drives us robs us of everything. They can be manic and demanding.

As I get older, this broad-minded and oversimplified message turns me off entirely. “Follow Your Dreams” doesn’t capture the true demented and flawed human experience. It doesn’t consider the pain we have to go through. It doesn’t consider the mistakes we have to make and the moments that will slow us down. It doesn’t consider what we truly need to be successful: a savings account, good friends, a 401K, a solid work ethic, and enough sleep. Following our dreams doesn’t give us the credit of our complexity as human beings, either. We are messy and we take wrong turns. Dropping everything to chase a hot passion doesn’t give us the opportunity to make mistakes with an open mind or stumble along the dozens of paths we’re given. 

“Follow Your Dreams” doesn’t capture the true demented and flawed human experience. It doesn’t consider the pain we have to go through. It doesn’t consider the mistakes we have to make and the moments that will slow us down. It doesn’t consider what we truly need to be successful: a savings account, good friends, a 401K, a solid work ethic, and enough sleep.

It’s not to say we can’t have dreams. I have them, too. So many places and people open my heart to those dreams—my mentors and my mother. They tell me I can do whatever I believe I can do. And I won’t sit here and tell you nothing is possible. Because everything is. But, if we have a mindset that if we don’t reach those dreams, we’re worth nothing, then we get nowhere. 

We need to shift expectations toward what we need. I need to help those around me and build a proper budget that allows me to put some money aside here and there. I need to be curious. I need to be present. I need to take care of my personal health and visit the doctor and dentist on a regular basis. I need to connect with others. I need to write. I need to sleep. I need to be patient. I need to find contentment within gratitude. I need to call my mother. These needs can be boring and frustrating and rewarding and tiresome. But, they take care of us. They help us become the human we’re proud of.

Big and gallant dreams delude the simple beauty of our lives. Dreams steal our curiosity and don’t give us permission to make mistakes. Dreams don’t allow us to find the things we love in small increments. Dreams are needy. Dreams don’t account for the ongoing, gasp-worthy tale of life; the things that make life raw and powerful.

When we have what we need, when we let go of the intensity of dreams and care for ourselves first, we become quiet. We observe what gives us internal peace and carefully watch each other grow. We can work to accomplish what we want to accomplish, but we all have the humility to be curious instead. We have the humility to let the dreams go and take another path if they don’t go as planned.


BY Brittany Chaffee - January 26, 2020

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Leave a Reply

Cedarhighoniris

Thank you for this honest, authentic introspection about the “dogma of dreams” ! I have come to a point in life where I taking stack of the (for me )bare necessities I need to getmy life running (health, finances, energy to take care of oneself, of the parents , friends, household, ) vs. the big dreams, passions, visions, thrive for creative processes etc. , just at a point where I know I have given, done and worked for a lot in my life. Those overgeneralized mantras “live your dreams”( “everything will be fine, just be positive” is another one of… Read more »

MaryLou Meyer

Well said and a tremendous amount of material to reflect upon.

A

When you used the word uncertainty all i could hear ringing through my head was the work by the Belgian psychotherapist, Esther Perel, who identifies this very problem. Living in a service economy and now what she calls the individual economy is that everyone is so concerned with identity. Who are you? When honestly, why does it matter? I can’t even enjoy getting to know myself because I am in survival mode because someone told me to follow my dreams… well now I’m overeducated in my 30’s working at a job that barely gives me a living wage (this is… Read more »

Lisa

This article came up on a search I did on the phrase, “follow your needs”. It was the first item in the search results and the only one containing the exact phrase for which I searched. So, with intense curiosity, I read. I’m on a journey of my own and I was curious about what I perceived as cynicism in the title, “Follow Your Needs, Not Your Dreams”. It is difficult for me not to imagine that for some, needs and dreams might not be one in the same. I have learned that perspective is everything and not all humans… Read more »

Faith

This is beautifully written and very honest. I often feel clueless in life and the phrase “follow your dreams ” is cloying and confusing. Focusing on simple practical steps, finishing school, getting a first job at a store, are far more important than going after some vague fantasy.

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