Don't Follow Your Dreams

There's something far better to follow that will take you further and cost a lot less.

We get told from a young age to "follow your dreams" or "follow your passion."

This is bad advice.

Don't get me wrong, those who give this advice have their hearts in the right place. But the advice to follow your dreams can be incredibly dangerous. And I'll give you two reasons.

Dreams can be hedonistic pleasure traps

Dreams can be good. But dreams too often get confused for things that give us pleasure. Lazing about a mansion eating the finest foods is probably a very pleasurable experience. But it is far from a north star to guide our daily activities.

I once dated a girl whose dream it was to be married to a rich man so she could lay about the house all day (we are, obviously, no longer together). Some of us dream of winning the lottery or hitting it big in Vegas, leading to crippling gambling addictions.

I dream of a world where I get to retire in my thirties, and do nothing but make music, write, and raise my future kids. But to devote myself to making this a reality would invariably lead me down a career path that I don’t want to be on, and drive me to sacrifice my ethics on the altar of money.

Dreams create unhelpful binaries

There's another problem with dreams: they are too often unattainable. The dream becomes a binary. Either it comes true, or it doesn't. And with very rare exception, it almost never comes true. This reality means that following a dream is almost certainly following a path of disappointment and disenchantment.

A guy I played football with in high school had the dream to play in the NFL. He was talented, too! He got a full ride to a big football school, and then he got injured. He never produced at a level to get any meaningful playing time, let alone to make it to the league.

So he quit football and hasn't set foot on a field in almost a decade. His dream was over. What else was there to do?

Following your dreams often either leads you to pursuing selfish hedonism or seeking an unreachable level of success.

So what's the alternative?

Instead of dreams, follow your creativity.

The intersection of your passion and your talent.

Where you can be creative and leave a lasting impact.

While following your dreams may lead you to seek an unreachable level of fame and fortune, following your creativity leads you to seek to have a realistic impact on others around you.

Remember that teammate I was talking about?

I also played football with others who saw the field as a canvas. Football wasn't a dream job for them; it was a creative outlet. So when it inevitably became clear that their football playing days were over, they found other ways to stay on the field, to keep close to that creative outlet. Many of my teammates now coach, or work for football teams doing analytics or logistics. It doesn't matter that their "dream" didn't happen, as long as they still get to create.

While following your dreams can become an escape from reality, following your creativity forces you to stay grounded. Following your dreams can be aspirational, while following your creativity keeps you in the present. Following your dreams leads you to think about what you might want the world to look like one day, while following your creativity keeps you focused on how you can change the world today.

So don't follow your dreams; follow your creativity.


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