Sorry to break it to you, but you might not make it.
But surely not? Surely if you just got over yourself and your fears, and followed your dreams 100%, then everything would be awesome, right? I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve been taught.
I need to reference Liz Gilbert in her interview with Marie Forleo here, so if you love the following idea, go here and watch the video – it’s long and totally worth it. Fair warning: It is a bit of an ‘adult’ concept!
In the video, Liz talks about the need to…wait for this…’eat the sh*t sandwich’. She talks about your dreams as being the things you’re willing to chase, even though, on a daily basis, you’ll be asked to eat a sh*t sandwich in order to pursue them.
What?! The message here is that every single dream requires hard work. So much hard work. You know how most things you start, you stop doing? The life drawing, the dance classes, the no sugar diet…That’s usually because the effort you have to put in (aka eating the sandwich), just isn’t worth the rewards.
That’s okay. That helps us be discerning and to know how to direct our energy. It also means that just because you love something, doesn’t mean all the hard work goes away. It just means that for that one thing, you’re willing to do the hard work. The end result is worth it (but the end result here isn’t success, it’s actually just the chance to practise doing what you love).
Why it feels like it shouldn’t be like this
There’s a few reasons:
First, it doesn’t seem fair. A lot of times, people are asked to risk a lot in order to follow their dreams. Some end relationships, some live starving while they pursue their art, some risk their houses in order to fund a new business idea. Being able to tolerate all that risk is difficult enough, but the idea that the risk won’t pay off, and you die starving and potentially alone too, just seems too unfair. But still, in truth, it happens. A lot.
Once we already believe something, our minds do an interesting thing: they notice evidence that supports our idea, and ignores evidence that the idea is wrong (kind of an ego preservation thing). It’s called ‘confirmation bias’. So once you’ve decided that following your dreams definitely leads to success, you read biographies about this, and don’t really listen to that guy at the party who’s tried unsuccessfully to make a living from his art for the last 20 years. As time goes on, you have more and more evidence to suggest you’re ‘right’, because you only take in information that supports this idea.
A lot of people who are trying to sell you on the idea that if you fully believe in yourself and your dream you will definitely succeed, state that if you try and fail, then your mindset was the thing that let you down. If you follow their system to the letter and still aren’t successful, it must be because you didn’t believe enough. The very convenient thing about any therapy, system, coach, guru, etc. that hinges on your internal mindset as the reason for success or failure is that the therapy/system/ coach/ guru can always blame you, and your mind, for any failure you encounter. The system itself can’t be held responsible. And as our minds are very difficult to train, and we have about 70,000 thoughts a day, then there’s always going to be room for blaming ourselves, instead of questioning the idea that anyone can be successful if they just think hard enough about it.
The media focusses on people who have made it. The successful ones. They make for a great story, particularly if they’ve done something against traditional wisdom and still been successful. In the technology world, the fact that Steve Jobs (apple founder) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) dropped out of college is made much of. But no-one’s interviewing all those other people who dropped out, followed their dreams, went bankrupt, and now work at the petrol station down the road. And there’s much less attention on the fact that most people who earn a lot money in the world completed college. The lack of these stories in the media means that we think that a path to success for one person will work for us too. We only hear about the successful people, and it means we over estimate our chances of being successful, particularly if we focus on details like ‘college dropout’ and not so much on things like ‘luck’.
Successful people do stay on the lookout for opportunities and are prepared to exploit them. Those opportunities don’t appear to everyone equally. Your timing, your circumstances, your gender, your looks, your education level, your race, your country of birth, your parents incomes, all contribute to ‘luck’. Yes you can be successful despite all these things. But a disproportionate % of ‘lucky’ people are still white American males.
An upside to this: we’re all pretty lucky to be living right now. The internet has levelled the play field a lot, as has globalisation. Plus to be following your dreams your basic survival needs do have to be met on a daily basis. And more and more people have access to vaccinations, clean water, enough food and shelter, all of which is helping to equal out the luck.
Please don’t mistake the tone of this post: I totally think you should follow your dreams. And I’m willing to bet that your fears are standing in the way of your dreams somewhat, more than they have to be. And you should totally go to someone and work that stuff out. But not because you’ll be a success. Because following your dreams feels good, and right, and makes life feel worthwhile. So worthwhile that you’re prepared to do all the hard work it takes, eat all those sandwiches, no matter where you get to in the end with it. That’s what makes a true passion a passion: you’d happily do it every day, just for the experience of doing it.
So let me know: what do you love doing so much that it doesn't really matter whether or not you're ever 'successful' at it or not?
Try making doing more of that thing your New Year's resolution: it's the best way to bring more happiness into 2016!
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.