Time to Give Up Your Dreams?

Are you dreaming the impossible dream?

Stever Robbins,
May 30, 2011
Episode #091

Today's topic is how to know when it’s time to abandon your dreams. The quick and dirty tip is don’t, but if you do, consider the dream and the journey.

Listener Lionel writes:

How do you know whether certain dreams are still attainable so as to discard those that aren't in order to focus ones attention to those that are still within reason?

You’re growing up. Adults know what’s realistic. They are mature, down-to-earth, responsible, and often boring beyond belief. But never fret, you’ll get that way too. Today’s episode will help.

I’m biased. I love dreamers. But we’ve created a culture--especially in business--that stifles most dreamers. We give caring advice. “I just want you to be successful.” “Be realistic.” “Don’t make waves.” “Let’s just benchmark and adopt best practices.” “We want what’s best for you.” These all mean one thing: drop your dreams, stifle your creativity, and do what your parents, your peers, or your company wants you to do. Do what’s safe. Almost always, it means chasing a steady paycheck. That’s great advice for your paycheck, but I’m not sure it’s great advice for your soul. Yes, be practical enough to put food on the table. But keep your dreams! Growing up doesn’t have to mean growing resigned, but often, that’s what happens.

Know Whether or Not You’re Making Progress

Should you drop a dream? That depends. Are you making progress? How would you know? You can look at how far you are from your dream, or how far you’ve come. Which option you choose makes a difference!

My dream is a career in broadcast media. I’m smart, funny, know a ton about business, yet have an open mind, a disarmingly charming style, and impeccable taste in brightly colored sneakers. (Rachel Maddow, if you’re listening, you really need a business correspondent with a cool name like “Stever”.) But when I look at the distance to my goal, I despair. I compare myself with Oprah. By age 30, her audience could populate a third-world country and her income could buy more sneakers than I can fit in my closet. By comparison, I’m a total failure. I should just give up and go into life insurance sales. “It’s a shame about little Timmy. If you’d taken out a policy on him, at least you’d be able to console yourself with a couple million dollars. It’s not too late to take out a policy on little Sally. Can I sign you up?” I don’t think so.

When I measure how far I’ve come, the story is different. I started in a traveling New Age commune with only a pair of jeans, sandals, a polyester leisure suit, and a loincloth to my name. Now, my podcast audience could populate an entire conference room! I have a pair of fluorescent sneakers. I’ve done comedy improv, had a regular radio segment on entrepreneurship, was on CNN-fn a few times as an expert, and get paid big bucks for speaking. I even have a book coming out … someday … Looking at how far I’ve come, my dream feels much more possible and much more inspiring.

Distinguish Destination Dreams From Journey dreams

Some dreams are about the goal. You dream of curing cancer. If you need to find the cure to be happy, look at how far you have left to go and how fast you’re moving. Move to a new dream if it looks like you won’t reach the destination. If it’ll take 25 years to cure cancer-- but you can indulge your trapeze artist fantasies in just 5 years of circus training-- it may be time to trade in the lab coat for tights.

Other dreams are about the journey. Nineteen-year-old Matt Doyle loved acting more than anything, so he deferred a college degree to move to New York and try for Broadway. Other actors were discouraged by rejection, but he was in love with the whole experience. He kept at it: the auditions, the open casting calls, the rejections, the callbacks... Just being in New York, living the journey, inspired him. When you love the very act of pursuing your dreams as much as Matt did, stick with it. Even if you never get there, you’ll love your life. When the journey is the reward, why drop the dream at all?

Don’t Hang on to a Dream That’s No Longer Right for You

You may think, “I’ve invested so much time in my dream of being International Pretzel Sorting Champion, I can’t stop now!” Yes, you can. You’re allowed to change your mind; it’s everyone’s prerogative. Looking forward, ask if the dream still excites you now. Only if your answer is “Yes, Yes, Yes!” should you keep it.

And it’s fine to let dreams go, change them, or scale them down. My friend Mike’s dream of becoming baseball commissioner is now coaching his son’s baseball team. And he loves it! Also, you change. At 15, it’s great to dream of holding the world record for longest time chewing the same piece of gum. That dream will change by age 30, at least it will if you ever intend to have a romantic relationship.

Before abandoning a dream, look at how far you’ve come, how far you have left to go, and consider making it bigger or smaller. If it’s only the destination that matters, swap it out if it’s not performing. If it’s a dream where the joy comes from the journey, keeping it means keeping joy in your life. Matt Doyle kept hitting the auditions. By age twenty two, he's spent two years on Broadway in Spring Awakening, played the lead role in the touring company, and is opening in his second Broadway show this fall. You can hear him tell his whole story in an interview in this episode's transcript. And as for my dreams, Rachel Maddow, if you’re out there, you really need a business correspondent with fun sneakers.

This is Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter. Email questions to getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com or leave voicemail at 866-WRK-LESS.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


Little Boy image courtesy of Shutterstock