Your dream is not it. THIS is it.
We all have dreams that we aspire to. They give us hope for the future, and they help us try on ideas for size.
But dreams can be dangerous: Your distance from achieving that dream can serve as your own personal invitation to be unhappy.
Wouldn’t it be nice to travel around the world? Oh, but I have this kid to take care of. Wouldn’t it be nice to start a business? Oh, but I don’t have an investor.
Dreaming can lead to “scapegoat thinking:” The belief that because of one factor — your scapegoat — your entire dream is forever withheld from you. Your scapegoat makes it harder for you than it might be for your friend (though you’ll never really know), so you might as well just give up.
I once realized something unsettling: Feeling sorry for yourself feels kind of good. Not only do you get to believe that not getting what you want isn’t your fault, since you don’t have any control over it, you can give up. Now, you’ve given yourself permission to stop trying!
Go ahead, eat that whole carton of Häagen-Dazs; go ahead, binge on your favorite Netflix drama; go ahead, browse Reddit until 2am — there’s no point in doing otherwise. Besides, you’ve earned it.
The antidote for this thinking is scary and uncomfortable at first: You have to remind yourself that this is it.
The more you use your dreams to be unhappy, the more you distract yourself from this: the life that is happening to you right now, whether you accept it or not.
All that time you spend dreaming, and all that time you spend feeling bad for those dreams being out of reach, life is still happening. There will always be friends to compare yourself to, you’ll default to whatever habits you’ve developed, you’ll get older — and I don’t need to tell you what happens next.
The world around you is like a giant theme park for distracting you from thinking critically about your dreams. There will always be new shows to watch, new junk food will be invented, and Facebook will get even better at holding your attention.
After my unsettling realization, I developed two strategies for dealing with the danger of dreams: You can either scale your dream down to something you can realistically manage, or you can accept that you’re just using your dream to distract you from appreciating this.
So, instead of traveling around the world, you travel to one place at a time — or, you think differently about being in one place. Instead of getting an investor to start a business, you start something on the side — and maybe you learn to appreciate your day job.
Don’t stop dreaming — just use your dreams as tools. They can still be measuring sticks for this. You just have to accept that, for now, you have some smaller version of your dream, and that this isn’t as bad as you thought it was.
Every Thursday on my podcast, Love Your Work, I bring you new lessons on how to make your dream happen. Learn how Timehop’s Jonathan Wegener cut his teeth on a strangely popular NYC subway app.