You have no doubt heard this before: Pursue your dream! Don’t listen to naysayers! Believe in yourself! Follow your heart!
It sounds like great advice. After all, it seems to have worked for the people dishing it out.
But what if they are wrong?
After all, you have a dream, too. Maybe you’ve had it for a long time, and nothing’s happened. You’re no closer to reaching your dream now than when you first conceived of it.
Do you just need to grit your teeth, bite the bullet, and keep pushing forward? Maybe.
After all, most of the people who tell you to “keep going and you will make it” actually made it in their chosen pursuits.
But that doesn’t mean you will.
Sometimes, the cost of holding on to an ill-advised or unsuitable dream is far greater than the cost of letting it go.
Nobody likes the concept of giving up, though many times it is the wisest thing you could do with a dream. But how do you know when it’s best to lay your dream on the altar and let it burn to ashes? Consider the following:
1) If it’s not your dream, give it up.
What is your dream? To be a multimillionaire by 40? To be a bestselling novelist? To have your own art exhibition one day?
Before you run helter-skelter after your dream, stop and consider who the dream belongs to.
I came from a musical family and began playing the piano before age 5. For nearly twenty years, I studied piano intensely, spending thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on my music education. I practiced, performed, and competed, like all the other aspiring musicians.
But whenever I heard people say, “I’m so jealous — you get to pursue your dream!” I felt an inexplicable sense of resentment.
Because the truth was, music was not my dream. It was an attempt to honor the dying wish of my grandfather, who loved music and wanted his grandchildren to learn music.
While there’s nothing wrong with learning music, my mistake was to consider music a “dream” and pursue it like one.
Family traditions, popular culture, and my own ego told me that I ought to have and pursue an all-consuming music dream. And I obeyed the voices until they nearly annihilated my love for music, as well as my sanity.
Those voices may be saying something similar to you as well.
But if you do not have a deep inner motivation to pursue whatever the voices want you to pursue — ignore them. In other words: if it’s not your dream, give it up.
2) If you’ve been talking about — but not actively pursuing — your dream for a long time, give it up.
Someone once joked that if you stop any stranger in Hollywood and ask: “how is your screenplay going?” almost all of them will give you an answer.
But if so many people are thinking and talking about writing screenplays, how come there are so few (quality) scripts?
Because talk is cheap.
If you’ve only been talking about, but not actually pursuing your dream, then you probably don’t care that much about it.
If you keep making the same New Years’ Resolutions, year after year, that’s a sign that you don’t really want it.
People often say:
“I’ll write my book after my kids grow up.”
“I’ll start my business after I make $X.”
“I’ll travel the world after the stars align.”
Those are excuses. And rather lame ones, at that.
The lamer your excuse is for not doing something, the more likely it is that you aren’t interested in that thing. If you really wanted it, you would go for it. If you are not going for it, then can you really call it a “dream”?
I think not.
Let it go. Put a nail in the coffin and get on with what you really want to do.
3) If you’ve been investing in your dream for years with no results, give it up.
There’s a fine line between persistence and madness. (Ask anyone suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and you’ll see what I mean)
If you’ve sunk massive amounts of time, energy, and money into a dream, with zero or very little returns, either change your approach, or give up the endeavor.
It is better to cut your losses now rather than bear the burden of regret (and debt) later.
Of course, it may be difficult to let go of something you’ve spent so many resources on, so keep reading — if several of the following points also apply to you, consider letting go. Seriously.
4) If chasing your dream leaves you starving in a refrigerator box, give it up.
Last time I checked, eating food is necessary for sustaining life.
Having adequate shelter helps, too.
And it goes without saying: You can’t pursue anything if you’ve starved to death.
5) If ALL of your close, trusted family members and friends don’t believe in your dream, give it up.
Pride and ego are pesky things that we all have, and they blind us to our weaknesses.
You only need to watch a few episodes of any talent show (particularly the pre-show auditions) to know that many, many people believe they are more capable than they really are.
Don’t let your ego deceive you into pursuing an unsuitable dream. Get some wise outside advice from close, trusted family and friends, to make sure you are on the right track.
Now, notice I said, “of your close, trusted family and friends.”
Don’t listen to “haters,” of course. Those people shoot you down not because they think you won’t make it, but because they think you will, and want to discourage you so that you can be as miserable as they are. Listening to those people would be foolish.
Your close, trusted family and friends, however, not only know you better than you know yourself, but they also have your best interests at heart.
And if they tell you that you are tone-deaf, color-blind, or unable to write a story to save your life, it’s probably time to let go of your self-delusion and find a better dream.
Now, granted, family and friends have been known to hold dreamers back in order to maintain their familiar, comfortable status quo.
But if you are going to face so much resistance from people who you care about and who care about you, not to mention all the usual challenges dreamers face — then you need to have at least one friend or family member in your corner, believing in you, encouraging you. No success was achieved independently.
So if not even one of your family and friends believes in your dream, let it go.
6) If your dream is getting in between you and your family, give it up.
Life is short, and people are important.
If you are sacrificing the most important people in your life in order to pursue your dream, your priorities are backward.
Yes, dreams require sacrifice.
But be careful to 1) only sacrifice what is less valuable for what is more valuable, and 2) only sacrifice what is yours to sacrifice.
- There are few things in this world more valuable than a healthy, strong, positive relationship with family. And those relationships takes time, energy, and resources to build and maintain. Many personal dreams are far less important than family. If you are in danger of risking your family for a personal accomplishment, proceed cautiously, if at all.
- If your dream prevents you from providing for the basic necessities for your family, you are not the only one sacrificing — they are, too. You may be okay with going hungry or sleeping at your office in order to pursue your dream, but are your kids? Did you ask them? Is it fair to sacrifice their well being for your ambition?
You may think achieving your dream will make you happy. But you will never achieve true, lasting happiness by neglecting your responsibilities and betraying those closest to you.
It’s been said:
“to the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.”
There will always be artists, millionaires, inventor-gardeners, whatever. But you have only one family, and they have only one you.
If you forsake the responsibility and privilege to love and care for them, no award or recognition in the world can make that up.
Caveat one: Providing for your family may not mean “making money at a miserable job so they can live a super comfortable life.” Love, expressed through presence and time, is more important.
Caveat two: if you have a wonderful spouse and kids who are willing to eat instant noodles for a year so that you have a shot at your dream, thank them and go for it — if they believe in your dream that much, it is worth pursuing. (Remember to pay them back once you hit the big time, though!)
Not all dreams are created equal
There ARE many rags-to-riches stories of people who never gave up, and achieved success against all odds.
But most (if not all) of these successful dreamers: 1) were actively pursuing dreams that belonged to them, 2) and not simply talking about it. 3) These people probably failed a couple (or more) times, but they learned from their mistakes, changed their plan of attack, and kept going. 4) Many of them maintained their day jobs, until their dream developed enough momentum and success to keep them alive. 5) They did not neglect family and friends, 6) but rather were supported BY family and friends, as they pursued and succeeded in reaching their dreams.
If this does not sound like you, consider giving up your dream.
It’s not easy to let go of something you’ve held on to for so long. It can be like breaking up with a long-term boy- or girlfriend. But if the dream is not working, you must be willing to give it up.
Giving up, however, does not necessarily mean cutting yourself off from that pursuit entirely. It may simply mean changing your mentality.
Instead of aiming to write a bestselling novel, be happy with scribbling stories for yourself and your friends.
Instead of aiming for the Louvre, be happy with a local artist exhibition.
Instead of a multimillion-dollar empire, be happy with a mid-sized business that makes money and gives back to the community.
Also, giving up may be temporary. Distance allows valuable perspective. If you believe in your dream, and others do too — if you’ve been going after your dream for a while but have been disappointed with the results, don’t be afraid to put away your instrument, your paints, and your ambitions.
Let go of your ego. Try something new. Let your dream go for a season so you can gain distance and perspective.
If it is a truly worthy dream, it will be back.
What to do now
So go through the above list again. And if your current dream fits into one or more of those categories, then consider giving it up.
Holding on to a dream that does not suit you is not only burdensome, it can keep you from pursuing something truly valuable. You may have many ideas, dreams, and goals. But not all of them are worth pursuing. Let go of the ones that do not make the cut.
Let go of the burden of a perpetually unfinished to-do list, the pressure of unrealized goals, the pain of fighting against the current of discouragement.
Explore a new pursuit. Embrace a different mindset. Enjoy your family, your friends, your freedom.
It may be the wisest thing you’ve ever done.
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This article was originally posted on Medium.