How to Stop Dreaming & Start Living
Get busy living, or get busy dying.
—Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
I was going to be speaking at an event for dreamers and I wanted his advice.
“What should I say?” I asked.
He had one simple piece of advice.
Stop asking, “What if?”
Jonathan used to be more of a dreamer but now was a doer. I wanted to know his secret.
At first, he was dismissive, wishing me luck and thanking God Almighty it wasn’t him speaking.
But I kept prodding and asking.
Finally, he explained when something shifted for him, what actually changed for him to start living his dream:
“It was when I stopped asking, ‘What if…?’ and started saying, ‘Let’s…'”
You have two choices
The way I see it, you have only two choices:
- You can spend your days dreaming of a better life.
- Or you can do the messy work of taking your dream to the world.
You can sit around, playing the what-if game, or you can start saying, “Let’s.”
Right now, your dream is perfect. Safe and comfortable, it’s untouched by your dirty, human hands. Stuffed in a box on a shelf, it’s tucked away — far from the world it’s supposed to change.
Here’s the truth: you’re squandering your passion. For sake of personal comfort and fear of messing up your calling, you’re robbing the world of a gift, which is your dream.
Is it worth the cost?
Start living in the tension
The next step is a messy one, so think carefully before taking it. It’s where you begin to get your hands dirty and do the hard work of living your dream.
This is where your story starts to matter, where you begin to make a difference. It’s where ideas and action meet, where we stop dreaming and start living. There is tension here. And risk is inevitable.
If we opt out, we may become bitter, disillusioned. We can grow to think that this whole dreaming process is a farce. Like Segismundo, we may get lost in our dreams, questioning when we are living and when we are merely dreaming.
For reasons that are already obvious, I want you to go for your dream. I want you to live.
And it begins with letting go.
Your ideals are useless (sorry)
Nobody gets changed by an ideal. Nothing gets shaken by a bunch of dreams.
Don’t get me wrong; I love dreams. I’m a fan of ideas. They are the fuel for change in the world.
But by themselves, they do absolutely no good.
No action = no change
As Bonhoeffer said, the ideal of a thing can kill the thing itself. In your case, your ideals are robbing you of your dream and the difference it could make.
Hanging out in coffee shops and talking about one day being a writer or missionary or entrepreneur is the worst thing you can do. It’s destructive and antagonistic to doing the work of becoming your dream.
So what do you do?
Stop talking, start doing:
- Don’t dream of being a writer. Begin writing.
- Don’t dream of being a missionary. Go.
- Don’t dream of being an entrepreneur. Launch something (even something small).
Anything less is a cheap imitation of the life you were meant to live. It’s stalling. It’s a waste. It’s Resistance. And it’s killing your dream more than you realize.
You have one and only choice. I hate to put it into such macabre terms, but there’s no other way: Begin living your life, or start planning your funeral. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
Life or death. There isn’t much else.
So what’s it gonna be? Share in the comments.