…you can ultimately be in a situation where you say, “Well, I know that there are downsides to this thing that I want to achieve, but it’s my dream. I can do it because I can do anything.” But what happens, is that, even if you do achieve your dreams, ultimately it never results in it being as good as you had dreamed it, because how can a dream that you have ever live up to the reality? – Charlie McDonnell, TEDxYouth@Bath
I seem to be in the habit of finding new quotes or new perspectives about a topic just before or just after writing about it. Whether it’s because I’m actively or passively searching for something related to the topic I’m writing about, because I watch videos of people with similar questions to me, or because of some unknown factor, the fact is that it happens rather frequently. Today, that trend hit again.
Charlie McDonnell is a YouTuber and writer from the UK who has been active for over a decade. I will admit that I am not a regular follower of his work, but I have connected to his more introspective videos quite a bit. Earlier today, while spiraling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I came back across a talk he gave at a TEDx event toward the end of last year. The talk, entitled, “How to Unfollow Your Dreams,” carried some similar themes to what I’ve been thinking about today.
Around the same time McDonnell gave his talk, I wrote a post, “Giving Up My Rockstar Dream,” where I discussed giving up my dream to become a rockstar drummer. I talked about my path through drumming, when I was more active and when my practicing tapered of, finishing my describing the dream as both unfeasible and no longer my current dream. However, I left out one of the most important thoughts I have nearly every day: What can I do, and what should I do?
This thought is in the back (or more often, the front) of my mind as I continue to think about what to pursue as a career. What if what I choose isn’t what I’m supposed to do? What if what I choose doesn’t help people? What if what I choose is just a triviality, placing my choice of some un-legitimate path ahead of something more important? Looking back at the month+ of posts that have been a part of this project, I can see this theme popping up in more places than I had maybe realized as I was writing.
A major piece of why this came up today, and why there is some connection to McDonnell’s talk, is that I have been thinking more about what I am capable of doing. I’ve seen many times where I knew I could do something and did it, and I’ve seen many times where I didn’t know I could do something, and still was able to do it. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of times not being able to do something, but for some reasons, these failures don’t shake of a confidence I seem to find whenever I decide to do something new. That confidence is not unshakeable: first, I need to go through the terribly long stages of deciding to do something; then I need to persevere through however long a task or goal may take; then, along the way, I need to continue to decide whether a task is worth doing. However, for some reason, I have this confidence that I can do what I fully commit myself to.
The thing is, I learn more and more about the difficulties of trying to achieve “normal” things, much less achieving dreams. With that in mind, a question that continues to go across my mind is not just about trying and failing to achieve a dream, but rather, what if I go through the difficulties, trials, and hardships, actually achieve the dream, and then find it wasn’t worth pursuing? That my dream wasn’t actually what I wanted to achieve, or didn’t have the impact I thought it would?
Throughout my lifetime, if not longer, there seems to have been a push to “follow your dreams.” However, there are a lot of jobs that are no one’s dream that still need to be done. These support the worker, the community, or the lifestyle our culture has chosen. Are we to think of the people doing these jobs as failures since they haven’t achieved their dream, even while we benefit from their work? Is this the type of job that I should be doing?
To answer the first of these questions, no; we seem to like judging achievers and winners, but I think our definitions or our lenses fail us in our attempts to do this. To answer the second question, no; I just left one of those jobs. To answer both questions, it may almost be worth redefining how we should be dreaming about what we want to do.
I have long considered going into political advocacy. As a part of advocacy work, advocating is not done solely around specific legislation or specific pieces of a whole; rather, it is done around ideals, around themes that we can fall back upon. If a piece of legislation were to fail, and that’s all a group was united around, then that group will disintegrate rather quickly. If a group is united around ideals and themes, however, there is a common ground to fall back upon if something more specific fails.
I think dreams may need to work in the same way. If I were to dream about doing a specific job and wasn’t able to achieve that role, then I would have failed to achieve my dream. But, with all of my thoughts about what I should be doing (or about what someone should be doing), maybe achieving that one dream job isn’t what was necessary. What if there was an idea (like helping people, or something along those lines) that was my dream, something that I cared about and benefitted the community I was in? Not only does casting a broader net mean a greater likelihood of achieving the dream, but it means more possibilities of what could be a “dream job” and what could be fulfilling.
In addition to all of this, I’ve been wondering more and more if there even is a “dream job” that exists for me that is already a job. What if my dream job doesn’t exist, but I pursue some other “dream job” that does exist? I could become so focused on one thing without leaving room to change my ideas or my mind and work toward something new. My constant concern is that I know I can accomplish many things, but the focus I put into accomplishing those things could be misplaced.
In conclusion, I want to admit (as I probably have before) that my feelings around the whole idea of work and dreams feel jumbled and disjointed. I don’t know whether I’ve communicated anything clearly because I don’t know if my thoughts are clear. I don’t mean this to be a cop-out; I have legitimate concern for clear communication here, but writing about what’s on my mind leads me to write about things I don’t have answers to. I don’t know whether dreams are always worth pursuing; I do know that I have a desire to benefit my community, and that a dream job may not be what is best. I don’t think we can only think about ourselves with our work, but I find myself crippled about what to do when I think too much about what the best, most optimal work to help my community instead of just myself would be. As always, I remain open to thoughts on the subject.