Is Not Following Your Dreams Killing You Inside?

I once wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “An Open Letter to Those Who Would Quit Their Jobs.” It got over 1300 likes and over 60 comments, which is a lot for me.

I realized at that point that “jobs” and “work” are topics that hit very close to home for almost everyone. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have strong feelings (good or bad) about their job or the job they want.

We care about the work we do. As in, if you’re doing work you don’t enjoy, it’s really going to bother you.

And if you’re doing work you love, it’ll make your day every day you do it.

Which is why a lot of the comments on that article were critical. Some said it was worthless, and a waste of time to read.

To be honest, I can see why they would say that. Perhaps they opened the article hoping for advice. Maybe they wanted that final kick in the pants to make them quit a job they hate. Or maybe they wanted a coping strategy for how to make do in a job they hated but felt they needed.

I couldn’t give them that. My message at the time was about honestly evaluating your situation and understanding why you do what you do. I wrote that maybe there are legitimate reasons to stay in a job you don’t like–but you better be aware of them. And there are also legitimate reasons to leave it all behind and follow/find your passion. People do it everyday, and they’re always happier afterwards.

It was a reasonable, realistic article. That’s because at that time, I was being reasonable and realistic. I wasn’t exactly certain how to quit and follow my passion, or what I would even do. Could I write, could I coach? I had no idea. But the seeds were planted–I knew I would one day stop working for someone else, for a resume I didn’t care about, down a career path I didn’t care for.

That day has come.

My life is now unreasonable and unrealistic. I’m making crap money. The part-time job I do have keeps me afloat. I’ve put in hundreds of hours working on projects that have no guarantee of bringing any reward. I’ve spent massive portions of my savings investing in coaching school, a coach, and a website.

And I love every second.

I bring this up because if I were to write that article for the Huffington Post again today, it would sound a little bit different.

It would sound a little like this:

Ultimately we don’t matter, so we might as well spend our lives doing something we love

This phrase came to me out of the blue as I was driving down the freeway on a rainy afternoon.

When I reflected on it, my first reaction was that it’s a bit nihilistic. We don’t matter?

Well, sort of. In the sense that, once you’re dead, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve accomplished powerful, world-changing things, or played it safe and led a quiet life. ‘Cause you’re dead.

Nothing is wrong with either option. Do whatever you want. But do you want what you’re doing?

I also mean it in the sense that, for most of us, when we are long gone, we are survived by a dozen or so people with whom we are very close, and by whom we are loved greatly. They will always remember us, and in my opinion there is nothing more important than sharing love while we’re here.

But there are 7 billion more people on the planet, and counting, who don’t give a flying fudgemonkey about your life.

In the face of undeniable, belittling anonymity, who are we trying to please by dutifully submitting to the status quo? By not getting really honest about what we really want, and then doing what we really want?

I used to think–well yeah, that’s great for some people. Other people aren’t made for that sort of thing. Some of us have to responsible. Some of us want to build up a safety net for ourselves, and then our kids.

Again, that’s totally fine if that’s your path.

BUT. What does denying your dreams do to you psychologically?

It blocks you up

I’m not a psychologist. Figured I should say that.

But I do observe things. And I see patterns.

For any of you out there who know what it’s like to go to a job you don’t like, day in and day out, I feel your pain. And it IS real pain right? It’s like you have to swallow a ball of frustration or rage or apathy. Then it gets digested and distributed throughout your body.

And that’s not healthy.

The most extreme example of this is called karoshi — a phenomenon identified in Japan. It literally translates to death from overwork. Young people, who otherwise appear healthy, simply drop dead because they work too much.

I would also venture to say that it’s not just that it’s too much work, but that it’s not fulfilling, rewarding, or satisfying work. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything that could be enjoyable 110 hours a week.

Most people in America aren’t that extreme. Maybe we’re not doing enough to drop dead randomly–but what unseen effects does it have on us? Stress has been called the root of all illness. It puts an incredible strain on your mind and body to force yourself to do work you don’t like to make a living for yourself and your family.

Liguria is on my bucket list

Liguria is on my bucket list

In The War of Art, (which you must read if you plan on pursuing a passion) Steven Pressfield relates the story of a few patients who were diagnosed with cancer. He says that being told you only have a few months of life left radically and unequivocally shows people what is important to them. Many patients begin visiting the places on their bucket list, working on a symphony they’d always wanted to write, and telling their loved ones how special they are. And then their cancer goes into remission.

Now, this is not a scientific assertion. Not every story ends that way. And there are plenty of people who spend their lives doing something they love, then get cancer early and die.

However, it does point to a subtle awful feeling that we all have when submitting to a shit job out of others’ expectations. That feeling isn’t there when we decide to not give a damn and come alive with passion.

Romance and Art

A great analogy for this process exists in the wacky world of romance.

We’ve all heard that you need to love yourself before you can truly love another right?

Well that’s spot on.

If you don’t “truly love yourself,” you enter into relationships consciously or unconsciously looking for good feelings to come from your partner. It distorts love and makes us insecure. Needing approval, affection, and attention from another person becomes a burden on them and desperation in us. That’s not a foundation on which healthy love can grow and evolve.

On the other hand, knowing you can meet your own emotional needs means the other person is free. They can be themselves, and you can come together as two whole people. Because you have everything you need, that person is just about the sweetest bonus you could possibly want. (Not that it’s a cakewalk. But at least the foundation is there.)

A similar thing occurs when we start living in accordance with our dreams.

We dream what we dream for a reason. Your dream is yours because it is the heat of your soul’s potential lit on fire. Our dreams are our deepest thoughts about who we can be on this planet.

Every second we spend knowing our dreams but ignoring them is a victory for the internal forces that try to keep us small.

Every second we spend pursuing our dreams is a victory for the soul. The soul is the essence of life in individualized form. When we get in line with that, man, powerful things start happening.

So, like in romance, when we get real about who we are and what we’re meant to contribute, we start to rectify our relationship with the world. It becomes healthier, stabler, more nourishing.

We chase goals we care about, and we awaken with purpose in the morning. Sometimes we make less money for a while. But the reason it’s a radical shift is because by focusing on our destiny, we affirm to the universe that we have discovered what is more important than money.

Money and Security

Those are what seduce us into lives we don’t love, right? The promise of money, the promise of security.

And when people get those things, they realize they’re still not happy. They must need more money and security. And the hamster wheel spins on.

Hopefully at some point, those of us who chase money and security wake up and notice that the thing we’re really chasing has nothing to do with money or security.

That’s why when I traveled Ghana, the family I lived with was content, despite owning a fraction of what I owned. They had the very thing we all sought.

A different experience of being alive is available when we awaken to our dreams. By wedding our destiny and divorcing our plans, we become energized by the force of god (pick a different word if you don’t like that one) instead of the force of our little minds. By wedding happiness over money, we tell unseen powers that we are worthy of their blessings, instead of looking them in the eye and then turning away.

Like in the Huffington Post article I mentioned above, I still hold that I don’t know what’s right for you.

Except, if you’re anything like me, I do.

I know you have dreams. And by standing by your inner voice that urges you onward to your dreams, I’m standing by who you really are. Not the well-constructed, safe, secure version of yourself.

Despite the tone I’m taking, I know for some people, following a dream doesn’t mean leaving it all behind to travel to India and learn to teach yoga and live in a yurt. It doesn’t have to be drastic. Maybe you’re good with your job, but want to get involved with the animal rights group in your community. Maybe you want to get serious about your hobby–writing short stories, playing the saxophone, growing food in a garden.

It can be anything. You just have to come alive. At risk of sounding trite–you must do what you love.

It will make every day matter to you. It will plant you in a healthy state of mind. It will give you the stuff you’re trying to get by lying to yourself.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Dive deeper

And, if you’d like to discuss this with someone who understands the challenges and and triumphs of this path, sign up for a free consultation call with me. If you enjoyed this article, I’d love it if you subscribed so I can send you weekly reflections–plus you’ll get the new guide I just put together, entitled “5 Mind Shifts to Move from Suffering Straight to Wellbeing.”

Thanks for reading!






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