There is a lot of talk these days about pursuing your passion or interest.
That is to say, there is a lot of talk about it, but there isn’t a whole lot of accompanying action. After all, dreams and fantasies are things many of us like to talk about, but at the end of the day, we know that they are just that – dreams and fantasies.
But are these dreams and fantasies really just that? Just why do we have dreams and fantasies – are they just time-wasters and a waste of brain cells?
If you have read other articles published on this site, you’ll note that I often use quotes to illustrate my points, and this time is no different:
What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.
– Abraham Maslow
If what Maslow (the creator of the famous Hierarchy of Needs) says is true, then dreams and fantasies are more than building castles in the sky – it is the brain telling us what we should be doing.
So why don’t we do them?
Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
– Frank Herbert, Dune
If there is one emotion that keeps us alive, it is the fear instinct. Fear is what tells us not to walk alone in bad neighborhoods at night, and it’s what keeps us from taking unnecessary risks in life, whether they be at the casino gaming table, driving a fast car, or having a heated conversation with your boss.
Let me be clear: Fear is a good instinct to have. Without it, we might end up causing great harm to ourselves and those around us. There’s a simple saying that encapsulates everything I’ve said to far: Look before you leap.
However, while fear is essential to a prudent life, excessive fear is not. Too many of us are looking, some more forlornly than others, but never making that leap. What are these fears that so frequently keep us in a bound state of inaction?
Reverse “Grass is Greener” Syndrome:
Everybody knows that our minds love to play tricks on us. It’s part and parcel of human nature. When we are feeling down, the slightest hint of something negative can trigger thoughts of a better place, a better job, a better life. We are rational enough to know that it is our negative state of mind that makes us that much more susceptible to such fantasies, and this is what makes us skeptical towards any underlying desire to change the status quo we are in.
Being part of a society means accepting its norms on some level. It means we don’t engage in behaviour that alienates the majority of people we associate with. This extends to the people we live and work with – our boss, our loved ones, and our family and friends. If we know these people aren’t likely to look kindly upon your dreams and secret plans, how likely are we to be able to go against the flow? Not very, right? Many people have a very deep-seated fear of conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid having any sort of confrontation or unpleasantness. Better to keep our head down and go with the flow. It’s certainly more efficient, if not more effective.
Not being able to pay the bills:
This is a big one. In fact, it’s probably the biggest fear of all. For those of us unfortunate enough to need to work for a living (that makes almost all of us), we think about Money every single day of our lives. Do we have enough to buy our groceries? Enough to buy this car? Go on this vacation? Pay for that surgical operation? The list is endless, and so is the amount of worry we feel about money.
Since we worry so much about money, it is only natural that we seek to salve this concern by trying to make the uncertain reality of our lives as certain as possible. We don’t know if a car will knock us down tomorrow, but we can definitely pay for a hefty health insurance plan to cover it. The assurance offered by a steady paycheck to pay for such necessities and perhaps a few luxuries is one that many crave for, and in time become dependent on. In this light, the idea of having an unstable income – not knowing when your next dollar might come – is anathema to most.
The Sum of All Fears:
If we were to ask anyone straight out if they are living in fear, the answer will most likely be an indignant no. And they are not wrong: most people will not even be aware that the above-mentioned fears govern every action they take. Do I have enough? Will this person get angry if I do that? Will things really be better over there? Since there is no way to control the uncertainty in our lives, the safest answer is always no, no and no.
But is the safest answer always the best answer? Let’s take a closer look at these fears and see if we can’t uncover some new insights.
Sometimes, the Grass really is Greener:
If we know there is an area or aspect of your life in which we are unhappy, we can therefore be 100% certain that we are unhappy in that part of our lives. This sounds redundant, but bear with me.
On the other hand, if we look at the change in our lives that we fantasize or dream about making, there is only uncertainty – which is not a bad thing. While there is a chance that things might get worse if we make the change, there is also a chance that things might improve. After all, that is why our brains are thinking of the change, right? Don’t let that brainpower go to waste: our brains are trying to tell us what needs to be done, not take us daydreaming before we come crashing back to cold, hard reality. And most importantly, is the chance that things might get worse 100%? If we are being fair and objective, we will realize that we cannot be certain of this chance – meaning it is not 100%.
So, linking the two points together, if staying in our present state of affairs will mean that the chance of unhappiness is 100%, and that the chance of unhappiness if we make the change is less than 100%, then isn’t it the logical path to make the change?
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
– Wayne Gretzky
Some Bridges are Meant to be Burnt:
Take a moment to consider the Top Five people you associate with. To determine your Top Five, it is not enough to list down whom you associate with the most, but also whom you associate with the deepest. After all, you may spend many hours of the day liaising and working with your boss, but unless your boss is exceptional in his ability to empathize, you are unlikely to confide our deepest thoughts and desires in him.
Take a good hard look at your Top Five. And realize that you are the average of these five people. It may sound hard to swallow, but there it is: We naturally gravitate towards those who speak like us, think like us, feel like us. Over a long period of time, this means that we surround ourselves with like-minded people. Would you share your innermost thoughts and feelings with someone who disagrees with you all the time? No.
Now that we know the extent to which these Top Five people have influenced us, it is important to think very carefully about whether that influence is a positive or negative one. Go beyond the verbal cues in their interaction – Listen to their tone of voice and manner of speech – do they speak in positive, encouraging terms? Or do they tend to speak in negative, discouraging ways?
Finally, we must look at ourselves. What traits have we inherited from our Top Five? Are there any traits we might want to get rid of? If so, we just may have to reconsider whom we want to associate with most in the future. It may be painful, things may get emotional and dramatic, but this is a case of biting the bullet – get it over with, and look forward to a life devoid of their negative influence.
How Much is Enough?
It is true that life is full of uncertainties. We cannot predict when we might need that extra bit of money to tide over unforeseen circumstances. But does it mean that we cannot prepare for them?
If you try asking someone who says that staying in a regular paycheck job is the way to go in order to be ‘fully prepared in case anything happens’ just how much is enough for him to feel prepared, chances are that you will not get a straight answer. There is always something worse that can happen, that will drain his finances that much further, which means that no change to the status quo can be considered prudent. This myth must be debunked, for the truth with these people is that it will never be enough. These people will work till the end of their days and never obtain the assurance that they have enough to stop working and to do what they really want to do.
In actual fact, it is perfectly possible to estimate the risk of something bad happening and to estimate the cost that it will entail. Companies do this all the time. It’s called Business Continuity Management. It involves theorizing about possible threats and risks that may lead to undesirable events happening, and what steps can be taken to mitigate against these unwanted events. In fact, some of us may have studied about this in school, or even better, learnt how to apply this to helping the company or organization we work for. So if this is something that is being done all the time, and something that we may even have knowledge of, why do most people still cling to the idea that continuing to work in as stable a job as possible indefinitely will somehow magically ward off rainy days?
The answer is plain laziness. As mentioned above, most people will go to great lengths to avoid confrontations, and the same is true of thinking unpleasant thoughts. Thinking about negative events, trying to plan around them and estimating the costs of doing so is emotionally difficult, and most would rather take the easy way out and comfort themselves with the thought that as long as they are working in a stable job, all their fears can be held at bay.
What if this is just a passing phase or fad?
This is one worry that most people have at the cusp of making a decision – the figurative equivalent of standing at the edge of the diving board overlooking the pool. They fear that they will become too caught up in the moment, and make a rash and impulsive decision. By the time they realize the error of their ways, it is too late: Their lives have been scarred irrevocably, without hope of repair.
Is this really true?
If following our dreams requires us to quit our jobs, and after fulfilling that dream we find that it’s difficult to get back a similar job, is that really the end of the world?
It will be: If we persist in seeing our lives as one-track linear paths. Life can be full of choices – a globalized world means that opportunities abound everywhere. There are probably loads of jobs we have not even heard of, that we might not be too adverse to working in if we care to be open to new experiences. Yes, it does require some legwork and effort to find out what opportunities are out there. But by no means does it mean that little steps can’t be taken to improve the situation.
The other key worry is: What if I move to a new dream job and find that I no longer have the passion for it? What if I find a new passion and want to try that instead? Doesn’t this fickleness mean that I should have just stayed where I was?
The answers to these questions depend on how we define meaning in our lives. If our sole objective in life is to live as stable and secure a life as possible, then of course staying is the best option. But if that is truly our sole objective in life, then why all these dreams and fantasies?
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
– Albert Einstein
These dreams and fantasies are there for a reason. They are there because deep down, we know that if we can somehow fulfill these dreams, they will form priceless memories and become important milestones in our lives. These dreams are here to show us that life is more than living from hand to mouth. Our society may not be tolerant of those who eschew the social norm of chasing security to chasing passions, but what matters is not what society thinks: what matters is what we ourselves think.
At the end of our lives, when we are old and ready to die, will we be glad with the choices we have made? The life we have led? Or will we have lingering regrets, wondering what could have been if we had only mastered our fear? The choice is ours to make.
Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
– Andre Gide
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