A few years ago, someone asked me this question:
“If you didn’t have to worry about other people’s opinions or making money, what would you do?”
I no longer remember what I answered, but I remember how I felt:
Because, at that moment, I realized I did not have an answer.
My mind was a blank. Literally.
Quickly, I ran a mental inventory of everything I was doing: Studying, tutoring, music, church activities. Surely the answer would lie somewhere in those activities?
But nope. Still nothing.
It was scary to realize that I had somehow, somewhere along the way, lost my dreams.
Crazier still, I couldn’t even say if I’d ever had dreams in the first place.
Somehow, life had turned me into a mindless automaton.
That was the first time I got a hint that something was very wrong with me, and the way I was living life.
(Too bad I didn’t pay attention.)
From then on, whenever I had the chance, I would ask other people that same question.
Amazingly, a lot of people seemed to have the same reaction I did: surprise, and then confusion, and then some would answer, “I don’t know,” or else they would come up with an answer without any conviction.
I suppose that’s because people with a clear, immediate answer to this question are already doing whatever it is their answer is.
The rest of us are just taking things one day at a time, going where the waves and the wind take us.
I have heard of people who have chased their dream so hard and so single-mindedly that they ended up throwing away their health, their families, their very lives.
But I’ve also met people who do not have dreams (or do not act on their dreams), and walk through life constantly dissatisfied, even if everything else outwardly appears to be going well.
Is it better to have a great dream and risk great loss for great gain?
Or is it better to play it safe?
If you don’t have a dream you are actively pursuing, is that okay?
For some people, it is okay.
To them, “what if” questions like this one are unnecessary, useless, even harmful. They think: why worry about hypothetical situations that will never occur? After all, we will ALWAYS care, to some degree, what others think of us, and we will never NOT need money to survive.
I don’t have the answer to that question.
Perhaps every person must choose for themselves.
But I will point out one thing:
People who DO have a clear, confident answer to The Question usually possess a mysterious yet irresistible magnetism.
Whether the person’s answer to the Question is that they want to become a pastor, an astronaut, or a crocodile wrangler— whether the answer is doable, or pushes the limits of reality — just having an answer gives the person an inner glow that is very attractive.
Call to Action
Socrates once said:
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Socrates also pioneered the Socratic method: a method of teaching that uses questions, primarily.
We don’t need Socrates or any other teacher to ask ourselves The Question.
So start by asking yourself this Question: Do you have an answer? How does that make you feel? What did you learn from asking yourself this question?
Then try asking others The Question: how do they respond? Are they excited or uncomfortable? How does their response make you feel? What did you learn from asking them this question?
May the answers you come up with help clarify your thoughts, path, and ultimately, your life.
(By the way, a few days after being asked this question, I finally came up with an answer. Or rather, I finally remembered how I would have answered had I not gotten so distracted by my life at the time. Anyone want to guess? I’m doing it now)
Thank you for reading!
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This article was originally posted on Medium.