“Follow your dreams.”
A mental picture immediately arises at this phrase. Maybe it sits in your brain somewhere next to rainbows & unicorns. Or maybe your mind goes to those American Idol-ish kids who want SO bad to be a singer, but they are vocally & socially terrible at it.
The phrase “follow your dreams” has an air of UN-reality to it. I mean, dreams aren’t real right? They are things we WAKE UP FROM, born in our imagination. Things that get in the way of “real life.” It’s something lazy people do when they don’t want to get a real job, right?
But I don’t think “following your dreams” is an accurate description of what that phrase really implies when people use it.
I think a more accurate phrase is FULFILLING WHAT YOU WERE MEANT TO DO.
Whether we believe in a divine creator or not, I don’t think it’s a far stretch for us to believe that we were put on this earth for a reason. That our life has a PURPOSE.
Riki Lindhome recently had a fantastic interview with Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, the Avengers) on her Making It podcast. Riki talks with Whedon about a particularly dark period of his writing career and she asks him if he wrote every day during this time. His response:
“You know, not every day. Sometimes I’d go weeks without writing and then I’d be depressed and I wouldn’t be able to figure out why. It’d be like ‘I don’t know why I’m depressed!’ And then I’d be like ‘Oh, I’m not writing. So stupid.’ Like, every time I’d forget.”
Anyone who connects with the phrase “fulfilling what you were meant to do” can relate to what he’s saying here. For Whedon, his decision to be a writer is not a choice. It’s not a “dream.” It’s not a cop-out. It’s WHO HE IS.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in the very same position, sitting around, being bummed out, but not understanding why. Circumstances may be in my favor on any given week, but if I’m not writing, I don’t feel alive.
“For four years, I stopped making music, and really doing anything creative. When you’re in school, you can put your head down and focus. You have goals. You have stuff to get done, whether you like it or not. When you have a job, you come home at the end of the day and just sit there. You wait for the next day of work. It took me about four months to realize I had fallen into a deep depression. I was drinking by myself, a lot. I was refusing to go out, I was always tired. One of my best friends, a former hobbyist rapper himself, pulled me out of the mire and told me that I needed to make music again… I reluctantly agreed, and suddenly everything cleared away. Suddenly I was making music every night again.”
“When I first stepped on stage to perform, I could’ve made myself throw up if I just let a different stomach muscle flex in a weird way. But when I start performing, I lose all sense of self awareness. I lose inhibition. I don’t feel scared, I don’t feel insecure, I don’t feel anxiety. I just feel like I’m the person I should be.”
This to me doesn’t sound like someone who is “following his dreams.” It’s not some random desire that pops into Ahn’s brain. He is empty without making music. It makes him who he is. Being on stage is like being at home. And I know most of us can relate to that feeling. This is what it means to fulfill what you were meant to do.
Another important difference between the two phrases is that “following your dreams” implies that one day you magically arrive at your dreams, whereas “fulfilling what you were meant to do” is more immediate. It’s something you can wake up and do every day. Success really has nothing to do with it. That period of time that Joss Whedon references above – none of his scripts were getting made. Yet, just the very act of writing fulfilled his purpose. I believe 100% in setting goals and achieving them, but we don’t need to find “success” in order to fulfill our purpose.
So lets leave the fruity “follow your dreams” talk at the door… What’s inside of you dying to get out? What are you built to do? What gives you energy? What inspires you? What makes you feel like you’re at home? What pulls you out of those moments of depression? What gets you up in the morning?
What were you meant to do?
And the answer to that should leave no question as to where you should be spending your time and energy.