Never Feel Guilty for Following Your Dreams

A while back, A.J. O’Connell left a comment on a post (“The Way Things Are Isn’t The Way Things Have to Be”) that really got me thinking. She wrote:

“I still feel like since my comrades at the newspaper (and most people I know and love) are trudging along, meeting society’s expectations and suffering for it, so sometimes I feel like I’m not carrying my fair share.”

Her words struck me because this is something I’d secretly been feeling, too, but I didn’t fully realize it until she pointed it out.

When I tell people my plan to quit my job, the response I most dread hearing isn’t “You’re crazy” or “That’s impossible.” (I’m perfectly fine with those responses, because I know they’re entirely mistaken.) The response I dread hearing is “Well, wouldn’t that be nice?”

I hate, hate, HATE that phrase.

First and foremost, because it’s a form of the completely unattractive woe-is-me-ing I can’t stand hearing other people say. If you’re unhappy with something, change it. If it can’t be changed, learn to deal. Complaining and resenting do nothing but make you and everyone around you miserable. Rant concluded. Proceed with normal post.

I also hate that phrase because it makes me feel selfish for not trudging along with everyone else. It implies I’m trying to get away with something that isn’t fair, that I think I’m better than everyone else, or that I’m somehow harming other people by following my dreams. I’m not, I don’t, and I’m not, but that phrase still leaves me feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut.

It’s funny (or really, kind of sad) how thoroughly one person’s bitterness can undercut you.


Bad Vibes, Deconstructed

Guilt-trippers, like naysayers, are 100% worthless and to be ignored at all costs. But this particular guilt trip is tough for me to shake off because I’ve had similar guilty thoughts of my own since making my decision to escape the 9-to-5.

If you’re trying to do anything that’s a little out of the ordinary — or that other people secretly wish they could do too (but aren’t) — chances are you’ve felt some pangs of guilt yourself.

The good news is, you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about. The “wouldn’t that be nice” jab (like any other weapon in the guilt-tripper’s or naysayer’s arsenal) is faulty to the Nth. Let’s take a look at how well it really holds up:


Guilt Inducer #1: You’re trying to get away with something that isn’t fair

It’s unfair if you follow your dreams, and someone else follows their dreams, and you both put in the same amount of work and faith and passion… but in the end, you achieve your dream by some random fluke of luck and the other person fails by another, crappier fluke. (Not your fault, incidentally, but still universally unfair crappy.)

It’s unfair if you steal someone else’s dream away from them, cheat them out of their dream, or if your dream somehow infringes on the achievement of theirs. (Your fault, and also crappy.)

It’s unfair if you can only achieve your dream by hurting, lying to, stealing from, or taking advantage of someone else. (Your fault again. And shame on you!)

If someone else isn’t following their dream and you are following yours, that’s not unfair. That’s their fault for not following their dream.  (And don’t let them start telling you all the reasons why they’re not going after what they want. They’re not. End of argument.)


Guilt Inducer #2: You think you’re better than everyone else

The truth is, we’re all way too good for a subpar existence, and we all deserve better. But you can’t live anyone else’s life for them. You can try to motivate, or inspire, or give helpful pushes, but in the end, yours is the only dream you can bring into existence.

Downplaying your own dreams to make someone else feel better about not following theirs is stupid. (Tweet, tweet!) Sorry to be mean, but that’s the brutal truth.

You owe it to yourself and the world to live the best life you can. Period.


Guilt Inducer #3: You’re somehow harming other people by following your dreams

There’s nothing “take one for the team” about trudging along just because everyone else is.

We have to live our own lives the best way we can, and there’s nothing noble or self-sacrificing about resigning yourself to being miserable just because everyone else is doing it.  If anything, you owe it to those around you to go for your dreams just to prove it can be done.

Would I have locked step with the office drone lifestyle if I’d known, out of college, that it was completely feasible to live a minimalist, location-independent life and spend my days sitting in coffee shops writing things and being awesome? Hell to the Yes. But I didn’t even know such a lifestyle existed, let alone that it was possible. All I saw were people locking step, so I did the same, even though I felt kind of icky even as I was doing it. Had I found back then one fraction of the bloggers I currently follow, things could have been so very different.

There will always be people content to trudge along for a paycheck and live their lives quietly or desperately on the weekends. You’re not depriving the world of anything it won’t miss by being one rogue out of the horde of mindless drones. If anything, you owe it to people to show them there’s an alternative.


So, What Do You Say?

The next time someone throws the “wouldn’t that be nice” grenade your way — explicitly or implicitly — what do you do? How do you handle it?

I, for one, aim simply to nod, as Zen guru-like as possible, and say, “Yes, I think it would be.” And then I will go along and keep striving for what I am striving for.

Hopefully, the person will start to think I might be on to something.

*Cordelia postscript: Having made my impossible dream happen, I can tell you from experience that it is quite nice. 🙂

What guilt-trips have you been letting get you down, and how will you punch them squarely in the gut? Share your triumphs and tribulations in the comments!

Image: Flickr

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