The Hardest Part of Realizing Your Dream

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
–Paul Valery

There’s a lot of talk of “dreaming” these days. Now more than ever, finding your “dream job” seems to be a God-given right for anyone with a brain and an Internet connection. But is that really the hard part?

Realizing Your Dream
Photo credit: Ben Grey (Creative Commons)

I belong to an entire generation of dreamers, a group of movers and shakers who refuse to exchange their passion for a paycheck. And yet, pursuing a dream is still difficult for most people. Why?

Because most struggle with the hardest part of realizing a dream: Knowing what it is.

I’m sure there are people who know exactly what their dream is. But I’ve not met them. Most people who have a dream struggle to articulate it. I’m one of them.

Do you know what your dream is?

When people ask me what my dream is, I stutter and trip over my words. My insecurity rears its ugly head. Words like “sort of” and “kind of” abound.

The other day, I was on a conference call with a young woman who was passionate about social work, but she didn’t know exactly what her dream was. She was hesitant to specifically name what she wanted to do. And why is that?

It’s an issue of experience. If you’re young or inexperienced with your dream, then you may be prone to not know. And that’s perfectly normal. How could you know?

Your dream is an accumulation of your life’s experiences, skills, and passions. It’s what you were ultimately put on this earth to do. It’s your calling.

So you should be a little cautious in naming it. There are some big implications to identifying your dream and chasing after it. Take your time in coming the realization of what you were made to do. A little hesitation is natural.

Beware the over-confident dreamer

I’m wary of people who can name their dream immediately without having had any real experience with it. Although you do encounter those rare cases of a person knowing what they were meant to do since the age of five, most people struggle with this.

If you tell me, “I want to be an author” but have never written a word, I’m skeptical.

If you say, “I was born to be a carpenter” but have never lifted a hammer, I’m dubious.

You may like the idea of being a writer or the image of being on a construction, but you haven’t done any actual work. You don’t understand the cost of your dream, of putting yourself out there, risking failure before you get your first “yes.”

The hardest part of realizing your dream is, indeed, naming it. And it should be. This is your life’s work we’re talking about. But this line of thinking, of questioning yourself and wondering what your dream is, can paralyze you. You can get stuck doing nothing.

And that’s not where you want to be.

I know a lot of people who do this, actually. Of course, they’re not really doing nothing. They’re working at Starbucks or corporate America. They’re living in their parents’ basement or a loft in the city. It doesn’t really matter; the bottom line is that they’re biding their time until their real life starts.

The problem is these people are procrastinating their dream. They may say they’re waiting or resting or whatever, but I don’t buy it. They’re wasting their life — at least part of it. You can always be doing something to further your calling.

An alternative to waiting

I propose an alternative, something in between doing nothing and picking the wrong dream.

Make a seasonal commitment.

Guess at something that strikes your fancy, based on the possibility that it could be your dream. In other words, experiment. Not in a flaky, non-committal way. Pick something, and commit to it for a season. Call it a seasonal dream, if you want.

This will give you experience, broaden your skill set, and teach you the value of commitment. Most likely, this is how you will find your dream. Not by waiting, but by doing.

Here’s one thing you can be sure of: I guarantee you won’t find your dream by standing still.

Dreaming is laborious. Finding your life’s work will not be easy. You will have to work at it. It will require your action and reflection.

But in the end, it will be worth it.

By the way, my upcoming book, The Art of Work, is all about this subject. I can’t wait to share it with you when it’s ready. Stay tuned for more!

What’s been the hardest part in pursuing (and possibly realizing) your dream? Share in the comments.