Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

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.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Fear. 

    Darrell Vesterfelt wrote a great post about fear yesterday at thisismethinking.com

    We allow culture to tell us that certain things are to dictate our lives, in most cases money. I know this is not natural because I serve another God. But still we struggle with fear because there are so many tangible forces convincing us that giving up that paycheck will make our lives less abundant when ironically the exact opposite is true.

  • The hardest part about living my dream has been figuring out my own path. The publishing industry (indeed every industry) has been sort of turned on it’s head. I am an aspiring author. I love to write, but now I am faced with a world where it is not enough to be passionate or good at my craft. Learning all the experiences of everyone else in the industry, I now have to step back and decide what I am going to do. Choosing to take the road less traveled is one thing, but when there are fifty different roads, what do you do? Me? I do research, pro and con charts, worry, worry, worry and then close my eyes and go for it! Everyone wants to make money, but I am more interested in writing and being known. I just want enough money to support my family!

    • Thanks, Heidi. I’m trying to figure this out myself.

  • This is good Jeff.  I had a guy ask me last month what my dream was.  It threw me into a spin.  I couldn’t answer him.  He didn’t care that I couldn’t answer him, but I was a little scared that I couldn’t.

    I really like some of the practicals you have in here, like seasonal commitment.  Thats good.

    “I guarantee you won’t find your dream by standing still.” — good stuff man.

    • I couldn’t either… six months ago. That’s a problem. You’d like the book, btw.

  • I actually think naming it isn’t the hardest part. I think seeing it is the hardest part.

    I wrote a piece awhile back distinguishing between mission and vision of a dream. Mission is the what and why. Vision is the how.

    It’s easy to talk about a dream but seeing what it looks like practically and how it will be accomplished is the hard part.

    Here’s a link if you (or anyone) is interested: https://www.tonyjalicea.com/2011/04/the-anatomy-of-a-dream/

    • I agree, Tony. Well said. That’s what I was TRYING to say. You should’ve written this post! 😉

  • About 6 months ago I had a strong call to get out from behind my computer where I’d comfortably atrophied ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’.  That call came in the form of a simple vision that people who have Christ in their heart should be given the opportunity to document their stories on video and share it on the internet.  The call turned into a non-profit ministry known as The 3:15 Project.  This call has yanked me from behind the computer and back out in front of people where I can better use my natural gifts and talents and be in a better position to bless others.

    The most challenging thing about pursuing this dream is that I must surrender ‘success’ and ‘outcomes’ to God each day, and many times per day!  No matter how excited I may be about seeing the vision come to fruition, rushing it (much like actual fruit) could destroy it, or at the very least produce a bitter fruit.  A God inspired dream according to His plan, in His timing is what MY dream is.  Left to my own power and resources, I know nothing will happen.  This new found dependency is one of the most peaceful and freeing feelings I’ve ever known.  I see many things differently in terms of raising my kids, giving up control, seeking wisdom daily and surrounding myself with people who have been where I’m wanting to go.

    Before the dream, life felt like a commuter train.  Now, it feels like a roller coaster.  It’s thrilling, scary and sometimes times uncomfortable, but I know in my heart at the end of the ride, I’ll find myself safe and sound.

    Thanks Jeff as always for inspiring me to think, and think of others.

    Todd

  • Finding one’s dream is easy. Funding it is a different story. 

    • What’s your dream?

      • To achieve genuine solitude without having to move to the woods, i.e., to have my own place where I can live and work without witnesses, where I have no social obligations and need not dance to anyone’s drum. Where I can close the door and no one can see me and no one can hear me for as long as I choose. (Especially sound privacy is expensive as hell, for you need to either live in a house by yourself or in an apartment with really thick walls and no roommates.)

  • Hi Jeff, I’ll take a shot. I’ve read many ebooks on finding your passion and the like, but I believe I’ve yet to read one that starts from this perspective, which I do believe in. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Thanks, Esther! I hope you read the eBook and it helps.

  • I believe I have always known very specifically what my dream is, and have found ways to pursue it while remaining healthy and happy (none of that obsessing over things for me, thank you very much).  I don’t believe there’s a formula for it, but merely digging deep enough within ourselves to recognize the antics we use to sabotage our own efforts, or to realize that we’re on the right path for us.  The first lesson I had to learn was: No one else can “tell” me what my dream is.  Only I can determine that.  Once I’d reached that quiet oasis of knowledge within, the rest followed. 

    • Thanks, Marcus. I like what one person said: “If you want to know what your dream is, look back at what you were doing as a child.” Dreaming, in effect, isn’t looking forward. It’s looking backward; it’s remembering.

  • Since high school I’ve been pursuing (some times with more fervency than others) pastoring in a church.  Graduated from college five years ago with a degree in pastoral leadership studies and still haven’t landed a pastor position.  But ever since I was 17 I’ve known that to be the trajectory I’m on.

    That said, I’m not convinced that one’s dream and God’s call on one’s life are the same.  I don’t think God put anyone on this earth to find that particular niche job they should be doing anymore than I think God has one person in mind for each of us to marry.  

    That’s not to say I don’t think he has a plan – even individually – for our lives.  It’s just that I think that plan has more to do with who we are becoming than what we are doing.  I could just as well become like Christ as a barista at Starbucks as I could working at the nonprofit where I am now.  That doesn’t mean I would enjoy both jobs equally.  But it does mean that God’s goodness to us allows for our lives to produce fruit even without our dreams coming true.

    Maybe, just maybe, our dreams don’t come true because of God’s mercy.  Maybe, were our dreams to come true, we would destroy our own souls and hurt others in the process.  

    Maybe the hardest part about being a dreamer is dying to ourself – and our dreams – and serving God through every mundane and glorious task, being thankful for the life he gives.

    • Maybe sometimes we have false dreams.

  • Thank you for writing exactly what I need to read.  You are a true inspiration to me.  I am following my dream. Today is my last day at my perfect “city” job.  I am walking into a very unfamiliar direction with every hesitation you could imagine, but everything in me is telling me, that I am on the road towards discovering my true calling and it keeps me up at night.  Call me a dreamer. 😉

  • Mbetters

    For me, the hardest part has been to focus on doing it, and on dealing with distracting whims.  Every time I sit down to write or try to accomplish anything, I’m harassed by extraneous wants, etc. that I should be ignoring.  And so, my pursuits often turn into blind rabbit trails that lead nowhere.

    • I struggle with the distractions too. 

    • I struggle with this, as well. Yesterday, I planned every minute of my day — at the end of the day, I accomplished everything I wanted to do. It was a glorious feeling.

  • I make a list of my dreams. Pray over them. Visualize them. I think it’s important to see them happening in your mind as you work toward pursuing them. 

    • Which ones do you pick to pursue and how?

      • I don’t just pick one. Most of the small dreams lead to the big dream. I want to have a book published. That’s one dream. What small dream can I pursue to reach that? Writing a blog. Guest posting. Networking with authors. Taking small steps to get to the big step. Visualizing these conversations happening. Visualizing the people God will put in my path. 

        • Interestingly, Jon says that most people don’t have one dream; they have five. The problem is that they’re not doing any of them. That was convicting.

  • When you name your dream, you commit yourself to it. It’s easier to be committed to a vague, foggy dream because it doesn’t require as much commitment as a specific, pinned-down idea.

    Once you get past naming your dream (specifically), I think the hardest part in pursuing it is letting it evolve. Rarely does it turn out exactly the way it was named, and if you can’t let it morph and change you probably won’t see it realized.

    That’s what I’m trying to learn.

    • I like that, Jacob. I’m finding what you said to be true.

  • Thank you for articulating so well what I have been struggling with for a long time – that only when we name our dreams do they become real.  There is immense pressure not only to name your dream clearly, but to get it RIGHT.  Your idea to pursue a dream for a season is brilliant.  Thank you again.

  • Pingback: How (and why) to give your dream a name | Adam R. Pearson()

  • I think you’re dead-on in this article.  I’ve been going through the same thing for many years (trying to identify–and articulate my dream).  

    This past week I read “Refuse to Choose”.  It was a great book that really gave me permission to do what you recommend in this post…make a seasonal commitment.

    I have found that my passion and dreams are expressed and exposed when I am “in the flow” of momentum created by taking action.  

    Great insight, Jeff.

  • Anonymous

    At 18 Jesus came and physically visited me. I was in my bed and the room was suddenly filled with him. Light, gentleness, favour, all rested upon me. 

    The next morning I knew something had happened. I had purpose, a presence that has never left me. I knew I was destined for something. A dream was taking shape out of the fog. 

    The hardest part of having a dream is those people on the sideline who seem to think its their mission in life to chip away at your dream. Spirit sings in a whisper to me ‘Though none go with me, still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back’

    Thanks for this Jeff. Thanks for the E-book too. What program/s would you recommend for writing/ formatting E-books in. I have read a few E-books, most seem pretty boring and unattractive. Your dreaming E-book was wonderful!

    I am writing a book about Pastoral Care and need some guidance for my project

    Also can I swap my street address for yours? Wellspring Trail sounds more inviting than Lonely Track Rd. 

  • Caitlin Hennessy

    I like this blog a lot. Although the hardest part of my dream isn’t discovering my passion its continuing to live in it despite what anybody says and just stick with it.  so maybe the hardest part is admitting I have dreams and admitting I can’t get there on my own. Seems it always comes back to step 1. 

  • I think a couple of things are difficult. First is discovering or, in your words, naming your dream. I like Jon Acuff’s thoughts on this in “Quitter.” Finding your “dream” job isn’t so much about discovering as recovering. You get glimpses of it as you experience life so you reflect on your past joys in order to determine your future direction.

    The second thing is the Lewis & Clark effect. You’re heading into uncharted territory. It’d be nice to have a map and a timeline but neither exist for your particular dream. Yes, some have ventured out in the direction you want to go, but no one has lived your dream.

    Good post, Jeff.–Tom

  • I think the second hardest part is patience. I agree that the hardest part is figuring out your dream, but once you figure it out is waiting on that dream to become a reality. I’m seeing this in my life with a website and book I’m trying to get out to the world https://talesofwork.com/blog/. The book is doing pretty good but I keep wanting to wake up one day and see I sold 1000 copies! I want it to take off so I can quit the job I have now (I hate it).

    As a Christian I look to the verse that says “those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strentgh”. However that doesn’t mean “Lord show me” and then we sit around and do nothing, the Lord calls us to action!I think it’s important that we put a step by step plan to start your dream. Dan Miller said: “A goal is a dream with a timetable attached to it, with no timetable it’s just a pipe dream”. So true

  • “Now more than ever, finding your “dream job” seems to be a God-given right for anyone with a brain and an Internet connection.” – hilarious. 

    This article is me, man. I’m realizing I’m not sure what on EARTH I’m even doing online (don’t tell anyone). I shall think on this.

    Incidentally, who’s the “we” in this eBook, and where is my email going if I sign up?

    • My colleagues at Adventures in Missions. It’s a weekly newsletter list for dreamers. We help people connect to their callings.

  • Haha! I swear you wrote this to me and instead of just sending an email you decided to get a blog post out of it. 🙂

    Thank you for the encouragement to keep showing up and chasing the dream, even if I’m not sure exactly what it is yet. I feel like I’m really close to naming it and the adrenaline rush gets me jazzed.

    I posted about not waiting to be picked over on Some Wise Guy this afternoon.

    And thank you for another ebook. Got it downloaded to read tomorrow.

    • I think you’ll like it, KC, but let me know your thoughts!

  • I’m totally with you on what you said about realizing our dreams Jeff. At this point, I’m still very far from being certain about what I want to achieve. I have visions and ideas but definitely not the full picture.

    One thing I particularly liked was how you described the over-confident dreamer. It is one thing to see what someone else is doing and say “That’s great! I want to do it!” but it is whole lot different when you actually get serious about something, try it and see for yourself whether it really is your life’s mission.

    Cheers!

    • Exactly. Bottom line: I don’t believe in your dream because you say you have it; I believe it when you start living it.

  • I really like this, Jeff.  Having been around quite a bit longer, I have some experience with dreams.  You have made the right points.  A key for me has been to keep an open hand with my dreams so God can lead me on the discovery journey.  Sometimes He takes me to totally unexpected places.  Other times He drops in some nuances.  I need to remember that He created me for the dream, so He must be a part of the unfolding/unveiling.

  • Anonymous

    This is great, Jeff. And encouraging when I need it. It reminds me of “The Dream Giver” — a book I was given a few years ago.  It wrecked me. And rebuilt me. Sadly, I think I’m running out of steam on my dream. I’m realizing that it’s as much about talent as connections. And, even though connections are easier to make today than ever before, they’re still very very difficult to come by. About three times a year, something amazing will happen that will feel like “The Chance” but then it’ll fade into nothing. I’ve actually had a lot of chances fade into nothing recently. Maybe that’s why I feel myself slowing down a bit. Maybe.

  • Anonymous

    (Notice I didn’t name my dream in that comment. It wasn’t intentional. But telling.)

  • Katie McClain

    Hi Jeff- LOVE your blog. Very inspiring. I’m living my dream right now, but I didn’t know it for sure until I got here. 🙂 I’m a coach and when I think back I’ve been coaching for many years, but until I found the work I do now, I didn’t know for sure it was my dream. This post really resonated. I hope its ok for me to link back to this on my blog. I’m currently writing one that’s titled “What’s Your Dream?” but it goes in a bit different direction. I’d love for my people to read what you have to say.  Thank you!

    • thanks, Katie! what’s the link?

      • Katie McClain

        Hi Jeff- Here is the link. https://katiemcclain.com/

        By the way, several people have shared your blog with me in the last week. Its great to be in such good company with like-minded people.

        Thank you!

  • Mjou812

    Awesome! I definitely know what my dream is…

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  • Ferial Abdelghany

    Jeff, I guess it’s not a coincidence to find out about ur blog and read ur posts…especially for someone who has been delaying her dream for the past 2 years, and opting for half decisions..I almost relate to every word u keep posting..and it’s terrible realizing the truth about my stagnation. And u know wat? I will do something! Thx..cheers from Egypt

  • Lisa

    recently, i have been frustrated in not dashing my dream, which is travelling with myself. I know what is my dream, and i have to change my situations, but, i do not have courage. i know that’s my part nobody can’t deal with it as well. i have a lot of things around me i can’t make my decision such as young boy need to take care of myself and losing my job and partnership and so on….Traveling is all things think about big exit to my new thinking of my worries and hatred?

  • Margaret

    Thanks for the reminder that pursuing and realizing my dream is work. The hardest part for me has been articulating it — or really pinning it down from the handful of vague ideas I have.

    I love the idea of a seasonal commitment! It’s not such a huge thing to say I’m going to do this for the next few months… at least compared to saying I’m going to do this for the rest of my life! Well timed post for me — thank you!

  • Christopher

    this blog really amaze me! ,i feel like my eyes are getting open in reality! ,thanks to you ,there is something i want. To become a graphic designer ,instead of doing something, i always find myself going back to procrastinating. — thank you from Philippines

  • I have read your post-Jeff Goins and it’s really helpful to protect from becoming over-confident dreamer because We all see a lot of dreams, Sometimes we can understand the meaning of our dream but sometimes we can’t realize our dream. Even this indistinctness of our dream leaves us with a question that what’s the meaning of our dream. Here at limnosophy we experiencing a new way of dreaming we can learn How to Realize Your Dream . Even help others to realize and understanding their dreams.