When is it time to unfollow your dreams?

While I work, I like to listen to music – though, if the work is mindless enough, I’ll throw on an audiobook. Today, my music was playing, shuffling of its own accord, and this old song from a Starkid show came up.

  • Starkid
    • a musical theatre group based in the US
    • most famous for their A Very Potter Musical
    • all-around pretty talented group
    • I was obsessed with them at the beginning of the 2010s

The song I heard today wasn’t from their Potter-parody-musical. It was from an original show they did, called Starship. I won’t go into detail, but basically it’s about a bug named Bug, who dreams of becoming a human – I know, weird – and at one point, the show’s villain, Pincer (a giant lobster-crab-thing), is trying to trick Bug into doing his bidding, and Pincer, sings:

“You want to be a Starship Ranger. Or is that a dream that you forgot?”

You can listen yourself here, at the 4-minute mark. Dylan Saunders’ voice is to-die-for…

Well, it’s been ages since I listened to that song. It’s not one I usually choose myself. But, as I was working and listening, it came to that bit above and, without any warning at all, my eyes started welling up.

If you know me, you know that’s not unusual. I cry at everything. But I was surprised. What the heck was this song – from almost-ten years ago – doing, affecting me like this?

Well, it’s all in the lyric. Not the ‘starship ranger’ part – the other part. About dreams.

I recently started a new job, and it isn’t one that I have to think about outside of work hours, or take work home for (which is ironic because I’m actually… working from home), but it is taxing. It can be pretty exhausting spending hours a day, staring at my screen and handling customer requests/complaints/issues/etc./etc. My brain is fried at the end of most days.

And my dream, for as long as I can remember, has been to publish a novel.

That lyric – is that a dream that you forgot? – really struck me today, because I think I felt myself slipping, pushing my writing dreams to the back of my mind, thinking that I don’t have the time/energy right now, so it’s not the time for it.

The same thing happened when I was working as a kindergarten teacher. That was waaaay more taxing, and I had to bring work home all the time, and there was barely any time to think of writing, let alone actually do it. I stole a few minutes a day, at break time, to jot down notes, but I could never fully commit to it.

Or I didn’t think I could. I didn’t even try, really. I just thought – well, I’ve got my teaching to focus on, so I’ll get back to the writing once this stage of my life is over.

And today, I realised, the same thing’s started happening with my new job.

  • It’s a really bad mindset to have – that:
    • things are too busy right now
    • I’m not settled enough
    • I don’t have time
    • I just want to relax after work

I’m not saying it’s bad to relax after work – burnout is real, and I have felt it. Oh, I’ve felt it. But, at some point, you have to stop and recognise that these are just excuses. Like me. I woke up to myself today. (I’ve been doing a lot of waking up recently apparently.) Because I can tell myself all of those things, and more, to not write, to not work on this dream I’ve had for twenty years. But these excuses will always be there to fall back on, cushioning every step of our lives. There will always be something else to focus on, something else to do, something distracting you, something exhausting you.

The only way to accomplish a dream is to work for it.

And you can’t work for it if the only effort you put in is coming up with excuses as to why you can’t pursue it.

That brings me to an interesting point, though.

When is a dream worth pursuing?

How do you know it’s something that is worth your precious time? How do you know it’s a good idea to finish your day-job and then keep working on your dream-job? How do you know when to keep pursuing it, and when to throw in the towel?

I watched a fascinating TedxYouthTalk with my favourite ex-Youtuber Charlie McDonnell. It was titled How To Unfollow Your Dreams. You should go watch it in its entirety.

But the gist of it is that:

  • it is okay to ‘give up on your dreams’
  • we can’t achieve everything we want and that’s not a bad thing
  • unfollowing your dreams actually makes sense because you’re not the same person you were yesterday, let alone fifteen years ago when the dream first took hold of you
  • it shouldn’t be a classed a failure, but progress instead

Charlie spoke a lot about his own creative journey, how he’d never imagined he would do half the things he’s done – write a book, direct/star in short films, gain millions of followers on an internet platform, release albums – and that it turned out he enjoyed the parts he wasn’t expecting more than the stuff he had been dreaming of since he was a kid.

So unfollowing your dreams can be a good thing. It can lead you to places you never thought about, give you experiences that change you for the better, in a way that the other paths you’d been thinking of could never.

But how do you know when it’s time to unfollow a dream?

That is a good question. And a hard question.

I suppose it’s different for everyone, but I’m going to attempt to give you my insight.

For me, a dream is something that fills you with unbridled joy whenever you think about accomplishing it, that you feel is what you’re meant to be pursuing, something that fulfils you, and excites you, and, even if it’s impossibly difficult sometimes, you still look forward to working on it each time it comes around.

I want to publish novels. Writing feels like what I’m supposed to be doing. It fills me with immense joy. And, even though it stresses me out to no end, and I’ve been driven nearly insane with plot holes, I still bubble with excitement whenever a new story grows in my mind, or the opportunity to reunite with my characters comes up. And when I don’t write – like that time I spent as a kindergarten teacher – I become irritable and antsy and my brain aches to create again.

Creative people are weird.

So, for me, unfollowing my dream doesn’t make sense. Because I can’t live without writing. It still brings me joy. Which means I must always make time for it, even when life is busy. And, let’s face it, life is always busy. I wrote my latest three drafts when I was off work, and had all day to write. But that isn’t possible all the time. Sometimes you need a day job (until the day I become a full-time writer, pray for me) and if you put your dream to the side every time life calls, you’ll never achieve it.

It’s just not possible.

What you need to do is really think about your dream. This sounds counterintuitive because a dream is often defined as something you aim for, that always feels out-of-reach, or something that’s almost a fantasy, a pretty version of the future that you hope to one day get to. It’s not something you sit down and think logically about. But thinking about it like this ensures it will always stay a dream.

You must sit down, with a pen and paper, or a keyboard, and write out what this dream is (or even just sit in a quiet room and think really hard about it), and figure out the steps you have to take to achieve it. And, once all is organised and documented, take a step back and decide if you have enough motivation, determination, if this dream gives you enough joy for you to actively pursue it.

And once you’ve made up your mind – either to start really going for it, or to unfollow it – then stick to that decision, and don’t waver.

Your life will be miles and miles better for it.

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