Everyone said, “Follow your dreams.” They were wrong. Here’s what you should really do.

Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, I was always told to “follow your dreams.”

It’s the kind of advice that sounds comforting and inspiring, plastered on motivational posters and repeated in graduation speeches.

With this mindset, I moved to New York City at 18, wide-eyed and optimistic, ready to conquer my dream of becoming a successful novelist. My parents waved me off, repeating that well-meaning mantra: “Follow your dreams.”

Years passed, my hair turned a little greyer, my bank account fluctuated more than I would have liked, and the manuscript drafts piled up.

“Follow your dreams” started to feel more like a taunt than a blanket of comfort. I found myself questioning if the pursuit of my dream was really worth all the struggle and heartache.

I’m not the only one with this sentiment. After interacting with people from various walks of life – successful entrepreneurs, struggling artists, folks who had given up their dreams for stability – I realized that “follow your dreams” wasn’t always the best advice.

Instead, I discovered something more realistic and potentially fulfilling – a different approach to the whole concept of dreaming and achieving. And it’s this revelation that makes me challenge the popular adage everyone seems so fond of.

Returning home to Wisconsin after years in the hustle-bustle of New York City was an experience in itself.

But what really threw me off was when I started sharing my newfound perspective with friends and family back home. The reactions ranged from shock to denial; some even called it cynical.

But let me tell you about my experience in New York City, my journey through the realm of dreams, and why I think we need to reconsider this seemingly innocent piece of advice.

After all, our dreams deserve more than just blind following.

My journey through the city of dreams

New York City was a world away from my quiet Wisconsin town. The skyscrapers, the noise, the sheer speed of life – it was intoxicating. I dove headfirst into this whirlpool of opportunities, ready to seize my dream.

I spent my days working part-time jobs, anything to pay the bills. Nights were spent writing, rewriting, and dreaming of that breakthrough novel. I lived on coffee and determination, fueled by the mantra: “Follow your dreams.”

But years passed and the dream began to wane. I was no closer to becoming a successful novelist. The city that had once seemed so full of promise now felt like a crushing weight.

My part-time jobs left little time for writing, and constant rejection letters were a blow to my morale.

Yet, I pushed on, believing that this struggle was just part of following one’s dreams.

Then came a turning point. An unexpected conversation with an elderly cab driver who had once been a struggling musician. His words struck me: “Don’t just follow your dreams, kid. Chase them, sure. But remember to live too.”

His words hit home. I realized I had been so focused on achieving that one dream, I had forgotten to live my life.

That’s when things started changing for me. I began to look at my dreams differently – not as an end goal but as part of a larger journey.

In the next section, we’ll explore why this mindset shift is crucial and how it challenges what we’ve been taught about dreaming and achieving. After all, there’s more to it than merely following.

Unraveling the ‘Follow your dreams’ advice

Traditionally, we’ve been conditioned to think of dreams as these lofty goals that we need to single-mindedly pursue.

Our society glorifies those who have “made it,” reinforcing the idea that you must sacrifice everything in the pursuit of your dream.

“Follow your dreams” is often interpreted as dedicating your entire life to achieving one specific goal.

I, too, fell into this trap. I thought my dream of becoming a successful novelist was an all-or-nothing deal. Either I achieved it and was happy, or I didn’t and lived a life of regret.

But my experience in New York City taught me otherwise. I realized that while it’s important to have dreams and ambitions, it’s equally important to live a balanced life.

Dreams shouldn’t become our chains; they should be our wings, inspiring us to grow but not holding us back from experiencing life.

This understanding challenges the traditional interpretation of “follow your dreams.” It suggests that dreams are not the be-all and end-all of life but rather a part of our broader existence. It’s about chasing them while also enjoying the journey and learning from it.

In the next section, I’ll share how this shift in perspective helped me navigate my way out of my struggle and how it can help you too. It’s not about abandoning your dreams, but learning how to dream better.

Learning to dream better

setting goals Everyone said, "Follow your dreams." They were wrong. Here's what you should really do.

The biggest shift for me was realizing that dreams are not the final destination but rather part of the journey.

I started focusing less on the end goal and more on the process, the learning, and the experiences.

I didn’t give up on my dream of becoming a novelist. Instead, I shifted my perspective.

I started to see my writing as a journey, appreciating each word written, every character created, and every plot devised.

I began to enjoy writing for writing’s sake, regardless of whether it would make me a successful novelist or not.

And guess what? This mindset didn’t just improve my mental health; it also enhanced my writing. I wrote with more passion, authenticity, and joy than before.

Even if I never became a bestselling author, I realized that I was living my dream every day by doing what I loved.

For you, dear reader, going through a similar struggle, remember this: Don’t get so caught up in the pursuit of your dreams that you forget to live your life. Dreams are important but so is your happiness and well-being.

Chase your dreams but remember to enjoy the journey too. And most importantly, understand that it’s okay if your dreams evolve or change along the way. That’s not failure; that’s growth.

In the next section, we’ll explore some practical steps you can take to balance your dreams with your daily life and how to redefine success on your own terms.

Stepping back and taking control

Taking a step back from my struggle, I realized that I had been living under the weight of societal expectations and norms.

The belief that “following your dreams” meant a single-minded pursuit of a specific goal was not my own; it was an idea embedded in me by society.

I learned to take responsibility for my situation. While it wasn’t my fault that I had internalized this societal norm, it was up to me to challenge it and redefine what success looked like for me.

Here are the key takeaways from this journey:

  • Acknowledge your current dissatisfaction or struggles.
  • Avoid blind positivity; face the reality of your situation.
  • Understand external influences and societal conditioning.
  • Pursue personal ambitions and desires, not externally imposed ones.
  • Seek self-empowerment by breaking free from societal expectations.

This shift in perspective allowed me to live life on my own terms.

I started writing not because I wanted to become a successful novelist, but because I genuinely enjoyed writing. My dream was no longer a distant goal but a part of my daily life.

The greatest lesson I learned from this journey is that self-empowerment comes from within. It’s about questioning societal norms and expectations that limit your potential, embracing the journey of self-exploration, and reshaping your reality.

Remember, it’s not about abandoning your dreams, but learning how to dream better. Because at the end of the day, it’s your journey, your dreams, and your life.

Picture of Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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