Following Your Dreams

I am a full-time freelance writer. I knew I wanted to write from the time I was eleven, but I had no idea what freelancing was. I had no intention of ever working in journalism, or writing non-fiction. I wrote a “what I’ll be when I grow up” essay in seventh grade insisting I’d have a Caldecott by my mid-twenties, live in Japan, and ink comics when I wasn’t writing. Twelve-year-old me would be so disappointed. But the current version of me couldn’t be happier. I am working on a novel for submission to a publisher in the fall, I write for a handful of different outlets both online and in print, and I will even get to travel for my writing starting next month! I had no idea most of this was possible when I was twelve. It took a long time to get all the parts moving smoothly, and determine what I wanted my “dream” to look like.

With the emotional (and financial) support of my husband, the encouragement of my family and friends, and a determination to continuously keep growing within my craft, I am able to follow my dreams. But it wasn’t always that easy, and for some people, dreams always stay that way. What makes “dreaming” so difficult, and what can keep us from reaching our biggest goals?

The Dream Paradox

As children, we’re told we can be anything we want, that our dreams are only limited by our imaginations, etc. In America, especially, we’re told that the American Dream means we aren’t limited by anything but our work ethic. However, there is a huge divide between dreaming and being. First of all, we are surrounded by “success stories” that make it seem like fame or advancement in a field are much simpler than they ever truly are. Those success stories don’t factor in every person who tried out for the same role in a play or position in a band or interviewed and didn’t get through.

Once you admit that you have a big dream, alarm bells may go off in the minds of the people you love. Beyond financial failure, dreams could cost you your health or even your life: traveling into space, playing for the NHL, becoming a general in the army, even working towards a humanitarian goal can all be tremendously dangerous. We never want to watch someone we love fail, and so difficult discussions are often had about how few people succeed in a given field. This alone could make someone give up.

There are many stumbling blocks on the way to achieving a dream, and the bigger the goal, the harder the fall. So we may give up on a dream for any number of reasons: too much doubt, too many rejection letters, too many classes to take, etc. We can also be well on the way to a dream but then something massive gets in the way that cannot be avoided. At that point, we might have no choice but to give up, or readjust.

Dreamers can, however, succeed in spite of the odds. Risk-takers and trend-setters throw out many failed experiments before the one that finally works. Actors get more rejections than roles. And every writer (even J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King) becomes familiar with the dreaded slush pile long before their first book tour.

Wishing Only Gets You So Far

If you’ve put up with rejection and doubters and still want to reach for the stars, Princess Tiana from Disney’s Princess and the Frog has some good advice for you: “…fairytales can come true, but you gotta make ‘em happen, it all depends on you.”

It is a very rare case in which someone is handed their dream. Folks can help you along the path towards your dream, but only your own persistence will bring you all the way there. Since graduating from undergrad, I’ve led several different lives. I’ve worked in marketing, in retail, and in theatre. I did freelance for a while, but gave up after six months when I got frustrated things weren’t moving as quickly as I’d like. I’ve lived in four different states and nine different homes in five years. I’ve worked nights and weekends and holidays, doubled and tripled up on different jobs to pay bills, and adjusted my end game so many times I’ve lost count. Yes, these are extreme examples and no, you don’t need to live out of a duffel several times before you become “worthy” of earning your dream. This is just the path I had to follow to get to where I am today–comfortable with my long-term goals, and my plan for reaching them.

Some elements of working towards my dream have to do with privilege: I grew up outside of New York, so I could live at my parents house when offered a non-paying internship off Broadway. Now my husband is an engineer, and we’ve budgeted our lifestyle so that we can afford for my income to fluctuate wildly based on contracts and publications. But I’m also strict about my workday schedule starting at 9am every day. I keep my home office well-organized. If I don’t have resources that I need, I go to the local library or make sure they are in my budget before accepting a project. I subscribe to newsletters and social media feeds that share job and publishing information. I use my extended network to connect with important people in my field, and ask questions about opportunities I may not otherwise know about.

Any field will have caveats like this: resources you will need to find yourself or connections to make through industry events and training. The internet makes these connections infinitely easier than they were in the past. However, the endless opportunities online can also be overwhelming and make it difficult to know where to start. If you try to track too much at once, it will be almost impossible to keep track, which is where you may have to get creative. Personally, I keep deadlines in my google calendar so that reminders pop up on my phone and in my email. I also keep a bullet journal for easy access, and so that can unplug from potential distractions.

Some dreams require extra schooling or certifications, and that can be time-consuming and expensive. However, some jobs will pay for classes as part of a benefits package. Scholarships and fellowships may be available if you contact the school’s financial aid department, or the chair of the department you’re applying to. You can also ask friends or family to help you budget your time. You may be surprised by the positive response you get from those who want to support and help you succeed.

Ultimately, you will only get as close to your dream as you are willing to work for it. Use all the resources at your disposal, and call upon others who can help you succeed. Research your field and understand what to expect as far as training and opportunity. And don’t be afraid of unconventional paths towards your end-game.

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