You Don’t Have To Follow Your Dreams

It was my 24th birthday last month. In the 24 years I have been endowed with consciousness I have had many dreams of what I wanted to be. Here are just a few I had growing up that stand out in my memory:

From the age of 6 – 8 I wanted to be a priest. I was raised catholic and went to church every week. The way I saw it, my priest only worked one day a week, got to live in a huge house seemingly free of charge, and got to be the center of attention who everyone wanted to be friends with. And to top it off, he had a personal phone line directly to the big bearded guy upstairs!

From the ages of 9 – 11 my interests took a radical turn. I spent my time endlessly watching James Bond movies and decided being an international spy was the clearly the role I was born to do. I fashioned myself a secret service ID badge (I laminated it so everyone knew it was official), had my family call me 007, and walked around in a suit holding a brief case full of secret documents (normally just homework).

From around 12 – 14 I wanted to be an actor. I figured international spy was a pretty competitive industry and I was a bit clumsy so probably wouldn’t be allowed to have a gun. If I was an actor I could just pretend to be a spy without any of the danger! Plus, I’d get paid to work with pretty girls. Perfect! However, after a few acting classes it turned out my crippling stage fright might get in the way.

For about a week at 15 I had a brief stint of wanting to be a doctor. Then I remembered a time I went and got a blood test and fainted at the sight of the nurse holding a needle. So maybe not.

There have been MANY more dreams in my 24 years that have come and gone. Including fireman, train driver, video game tester, food tester, chef, candle stick maker, architect, professional sleeper, Christmas cracker joke writer and concert pianist. The list could go on. And it will.

However, there comes a point in everyones life where we are told we have to start being pragmatic and realistic with career goals. You are given the world of opportunity and told you have to pick a thing. And so you pick a thing because you like it. But down the line you might not want the thing you thought you wanted.

My dreams have changed so many times. They still change even today. This scared me a lot growing up as I felt very fickle and indecisive. How can I begin on a career path when I can’t even decide what I want to be? Over time, I have slowly came to the conclusion that changing your dreams is okay. It’s okay to go after something new.

In Dan Gilbert’s TED Talk entitled The Psychology of our Future Self, he talks about how we tend to imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Which is not the case. He summarises:

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.

We change everyday and so it makes perfect sense that our wants and needs will change with us. Ambitions change with new experience. That dream you have been chasing your whole life? It can change! Because people change.

So here is my advice:

Don’t live your dreams. Or at least don’t feel pressured to. Your dreams were dreamt by a more imperfect, past version of yourself. Your past self didn’t know what you know now. There is absolutely no loyalty to your former self. A person that doesn’t even exist anymore.

I am objectively smarter than I was five years ago. By definition, I am the smartest, wisest, most experienced version of myself at any given moment. I have never had as many experiences as I have right at this moment. I have never had as much knowledge as I have right at this moment. I have never read as many books as I have right at this moment. Live in the present and don’t be held hostage by your former desires.

That dream you had in high school may not be the same dream you have in college. That dream you had in college might not be the same dream you have when you start working. Let the failures come forth and create a new world from the ground up. You are allowed to be lost. I have been lost for years. And it has taken a while for me to be okay with it.

Alberta, Canada

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35 thoughts on “You Don’t Have To Follow Your Dreams

  1. You talk about “careers”, but a career is a modern invent. Up until the industrial age people often changed careers, even if you owned a business. Benjamin Franklin spent his life roaming from one job to another, never really locking into one “career “. If it weren’t for my personal situation, I would have changed more than once. As I near retirement, I look at it as a chance, not to stop working, but as finally having the freedom to explore other interests, possibly as a hiking guide for a local outfitter.

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    1. Not sure that I entirely agree with this … depending on when you believe the “modern era” began, that is. During most of the 20th century, the gold watch for 25 years long service was a big deal – but not all that unusual. People would spend their whole lives doing just one thing. Now … I’ve read that a young person will probably completely change career 5-7 times in their lifetime, entering fields that haven’t even been invented yet. I’m in my 50s and I’ve changed direction multiple times … and am still figuring it out!

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      1. The industrial revolution occurred during the 1800’s, ending in 1870. The modern age, of careers versus jobs, began shortly after that.

        There are always people who do no have careers, as we understand them (my daughter for one) but for the majority of people, lifelong careers are what they expect.

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        1. Well, I got curious so I googled this (briefly – so proud of myself for not getting sucked into an entire morning of mindless googling!) and WSJ appears to agree with you. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704206804575468162805877990
          I think the main change may be that the variety of opportunities – and the range of skills needed to meet those opportunities – is growing and changing exponentially. It’s an exciting time to be young, that’s for sure!

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          1. As it was when I was young. Back then a computer took up a whole room, and required heavy air conditioning, even then a tech could only stay inside (yes, inside) the computer for no more than 15 minutes at a time. 4k of memory was massive. Today, I have an iPad that has more power than a building full of those early machines.

            Yet, I think we have lost something by locking ourselves into careers, and goals of retirement. I think we had more freedom when we could leave a job today, and start out on a new one tomorrow, with no thoughts of futures or retirement.

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          2. Well … that is rather how I’ve lived my life, to be honest. So I think it’s very much a matter of personal choice. I think I’ve been an employee a total of maybe four years (out of 35-ish since I left university) … freelancing and consulting can be stressful and scary, but right now I’m contemplating employment in order to get a few things in place quickly before the decline into dodderhood, and argh, the prospect fails to appeal! I love the freedom of owning my days!

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  2. I completely agree.
    In the past and even today, because I have multiple ambitions and ideas about what I want to do in life, the word fickle has been applied to me. But I do not see it that way, and this post backs me up, so thank you.
    Just like an individual who will evolve over time and obtain new information, dreams and ideas will adapt to suit this. As we grow, they will change and never cease to halt while we become more aware with our inner self and the world round us.
    That quote sums it up perfectly.
    You are obviously wise beyond your years.

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  3. So true – things and people always change. In terms of changing as people in general, I think people change the most in their 20s and really start figuring out who they are. I know so many long term couples, and even some who married, early because they’d been together through high school, college, and even past college only to realize that once they really got into their 20s they were becoming different people. Then, they end up breaking up. Not to say that all people who marry in their 20s are doomed, because I do know some great marriages of young people, but I do think it’s important to note that people change so much during that time and who you’re with when you’re 22 may not be the same person at 27.

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  4. I love this! When I started college I was absolutely, positively 100% sure I wanted to go to medical school and there was no way that that was going to change. Well, needless to say, it took less than one semester for me to change my mind, and I couldn’t be any happier with the change. It’s such a relief to be able to accept that you aren’t the same person that you used to be and that that is totally okay!

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  5. Really well put and I’m in complete agreement. I was asked not long ago, ‘what did I want to be when I grew up’ and didn’t know how to answer because, like you, there were so many different things at different times (including Priest for me too at one point) and I felt like I was a bit odd and flighty for not being able to give a more fixed answer. But it’s natural that we develop and change over time as people and so the landscape of our dreams (dreamscape?) changes too.

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  6. I use to think I am gonna end something really big like astronaut or president. Maybe the best we can do is chose whatever we end up doing, we also get to be something we always wanted.

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  7. Life is like a piece of sculpture, moulded over time and presenting itself for whatever the purpose (like an exhibition). The sculpture never stops changing; so on your journey to where you want to go, the process of moulding will take you. 🙂 (I am twice your age and think I have had 50 + jobs ever since..and still going)

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