Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Follow your dreams: and other such nonsense

We are told, by seemingly everyone these days, to follow our passion. However, I would like to ask this question; is that always a good idea? Seriously, is following your dreams always a good idea?

Being a GenXer,  I was not beaten over head the head with this notion to the extent that my children were. Today when you sit your little ones down to watch a kids/teens movie, these messages will be central to the story. Be yourself. Believe in your dreams when no one else does. Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. You can do anything if you try hard enough. You can change the world.

I know it makes for good movies, but is it good advice?

Who am I to do battle with Walt Disney Studios and the billions of dollars they have made selling this idea with movies, music, books, backpacks, t-shirts, theme parks and commemorative Christmas ornaments? I'm really not doing battle with the idea of following your dreams, I'm just saying lets step back, take deep breath, and think about this.

Let's take the idea of following our dreams and see how that plays out in real life. I consider myself lucky enough to have a few things I am passionate about. I'm not talking about my family, as they are my driving passion, my main concern and the biggest responsibility in my life. No, I'm talking about the interests, hobbies, and passions that make up all the things I would rather be doing when I'm not doing them.

For me they are; music, writing, the outdoors, art, making things with wood or steel, and a host of others. Given the choice, would I rather have some type of vocation centered around one of them? My honest answer is yes; probably.

I do know people who have taken the thing they love and turned it into a successful business or career. That seems like a wonderful thing. Are they the lucky ones? I would think so. What about everyone else?

What if you are passionate about art. You have watched all the movies about believing in yourself, following your dreams, and you set out to change the world with your art. You study art, create art, live for art, try to sell art, try to teach art, but you can never make enough money for a first and last month's rent deposit? What message does that send to you? Are you a failure? You stayed with dream when everyone said you're crazy, you believed in yourself when no one else did, and it didn't work out. Now what? Do you become dejected? Bitter with the world, with yourself? Will you now have to 'settle' for some other 'meaningless' job to pay the bills?

I love music, and I would love to be a professional musician. It is a huge part of who I am as a person. I have always wanted to play music and sing. The singing part comes naturally to me, but the guitar/bass part is where my fingers and brain part company. I play bass well enough to get by if you keep it simple, but I understand my limitations. I am not gifted with that kind of talent. If had started playing music much earlier, by this time in my life I could have been a respectable musician, which I am not.

Instead of following my dreams, I followed the dreams picked out for me by my father. When my father passed away, so to did those plans. I had to make it up as I went. I also had a family and needed to make some sort of living.  I took whatever work came along. I have worked construction, heavy equipment operation, driven trucks, cowboy, network cabling, inside and outside sales and project management just to name a few. I have been happy in each of those jobs; Save one. I briefly sold cars while waiting for my contractors license. I hated that job. I was good at it, but making money by helping people make bad financial decisions was not for me.

I have dabbled in freelance writing, and I enjoyed it. I would consider doing that again, but only on the side. Much like my music, I enjoy writing, but I'm not that talented. I believe I could have made a living in almost any vocation, including ones that share my passions, but it didn't turn out that way.

Am I miserable? Am I working at a job I hate? One that crushes my soul and strips away my happiness? Not at all. I actually love my job. I get to meet new people, learn new technologies, and it's a great place to work with good benefits. My job enables me the financial means to enjoy my passions and interests in my spare time and since I no longer have to travel for work, I have that time. But even if I didn't have a good job, and believe me, there have been times when I didn't, I think I would still be happy. Why?  I think it's because I define success differently than a lot of people.

What I am trying to say is following your dreams is great, but it shouldn't be what defines your success. What if your dream is to be a professional baseball player, and you are extremely talented. There are three hundred million people in America. That means there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of extremely talented baseball players trying to get one of the 835 roster spots on a big league team. Dreams do come true, but the odds are very long indeed.

Could you take your passion for baseball find a way to work around the sport you love? Broadcasting, sport phycology, personal trainer, marketing, transportation, or even grounds maintenance. Being around the ballpark everyday would be cool, even if you were not playing. Could you work around the thing you love without being at the center of it? Could you feel successful without fulfilling that childhood dream? I hope so.

Even if you make your dream come true, will that guarantee your happiness? You could create a piece of music that hits number one on the charts, or have your art hanging in a prestigious gallery and get written up the The New Yorker, or write a novel that gets made into a motion picture staring Matt Damon. Cool. Let's say you make it, let's say you are financially and critically successful doing the thing you love. This may sound harsh but, so what?

Plenty of people achieve success. Are they happy? Did their success turn what they loved into something unrecognizable? Did they or their manager, agent, or studio take over their project and slowly turn their passion into a commodity to be packaged, marketed and sold like soda pop? Did the fame, money and success make them happy?

Will they be playing their one hit song in an Indian Casino thirty years later to pay for alimony, and child support payments? Will they be in and out of rehab? The tabloids are filled with successful people that come to find out they had achieved their dreams, only to be miserable. Maybe they were chasing the wrong dream.

What if you redefined your goals and your dreams? What if your dream wasn't to have success as a (fill in the blank)? What if your dreams were about you as a person and not what you do? What if your goal was to be a better person today than you were yesterday? What if your goal wasn't to change the world but to change one life at a time? What if your dream was to try to be positive influence on those around you? What if your dream was to be the best version of yourself you could be?

That would mean, no matter where you find yourself, you are in charge of your success. You could be working in a recording studio, producing music, or working at radio station as a production assistant making minimum wage. You could be working as a professional plumber (and they make a very good living) and still get together with your friends and play music a few nights a week and live a wonderful life. You could work as a therapist, really helping people, and paint, draw or write poetry in you spare time.  Wouldn't you consider that success?

The great thing about living life with the goal of being a good person is it makes you a bit tougher when the world hits you with a setback. You will know that your job is not you. Your house is not you. Your bank account is not you. The only thing that is really you is how you treat others, and how you view yourself.

Being a good person doesn't mean being perfect. We are all going to fall short at times. There will be peaks and valleys in life, they are unavoidable; health issues, relationship issues, financial issues, but you can choose how you deal with every one of them.

No matter what today threw at you, tomorrow is another chance to succeed. That is a dream I can follow.