“When a dream comes true, you lose a dream” Dr. K.
The future provides an endless parade of fanciful alternatives. “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” – you say to yourself and suddenly that thought becomes, well, a possibility. We are immersed in figments of our imagination that add false trajectories, existences, and memories. Some imaginings like nostalgia and daydreaming sweeten the memories, and upgrade the present. Other, painful imaginings e.g. anticipatory anxiety, pessimism, bitterness, and vengeance mar our happiness.
Enduring fantasies can feel very real. So real, in fact, that we often experience them as an alternative to our actual life. That alternate “reality” is a cause of many bad decisions and wrong turns into second-rate life trajectories. We can assume therefore that decisions based on reality vs. fantasy are bound to produce choices more beneficial to your life.
Unfortunately, you are by definition totally subjective and biased about your own life. Moreover, the fantasy bias increases with the importance of the choice. In other words, the higher the stakes the more your imagination hinders your ability to be accurate. And so, ironically, the more trivial situations engender more accurate decisions. We make numerous small decisions every day and very few are truly regrettable. So choosing for example a blue shirt over a green one, even if it is the wrong choice, has negligible effect; hence the potential for serious error is minimal
Conversely fateful decisions made at major crossroads in your life, invoke various worries and doubts. Tying the knot on the route to irreversibility, be it professional, personal, or material, carries the possibility of a big mistake. Some just dive in and try to make the most of it. Others are paralyzed by the odds and drown in hesitation. Your imagination is rapidly fluctuating between the blissful and the catastrophic. This quickly devolves to a battle between hope and pessimism – a battle between rivaling imaginings. Indeed, the richer your imagination the greater your indecision would be. Your dreams so elusive, your fears so preposterous all suddenly become credible. Agonizing and ambivalent, we become susceptible to anything that would point at the right direction. Pessimism paralyzes, optimism liberates; so many crucial decisions are predisposed towards the fanciful, the fantastic, away from the real. The misguided person is left to a lifetime of growing awareness, the sinking feeling that it had all been a mistake. The decision was made based on a fanciful alternative, that misplaced beacon luring you to the barren rocky shores.
We are often encouraged to follow our dreams. We are encouraged to work hard, to sacrifice, to deny ourselves many pleasurable experiences. We are told it is the honorable way: hold tight and persevere, and what seemed a fantasy would become true. It is up to you. It is your choice, just follow your dreams!
But why should you?
Well, it really depends on the dream. The more modest the dream the more feasible. The greater the dream, the wider the gap from reality, the less control you exert over your life’s outcome. Similarly, fanciful goals that require great dependency on the others are tremendously risky.
But how would you know it? How can you determine or calculate the distance between your dream and the reality? Key future trajectories are formed at an early age, usually in early adulthood. The mind still smolders from the fires of adolescence; you are still discovering your newly formed sense of restraint. You are not a good judge of future realities. How can you make a wise decision?
I suggest you start from the reality. It makes sense: Being already present and measurable, it is a good frame of reference. Planning your life based on your dreams is a risky business. If you are wrong, and miscalculate the distance between the reality and your dream your leap of faith can potentially send you tumbling into the void, comprised by poorly fitting, misadjusted, and increasingly difficult life.
So you follow your dream at your personal risk.
I made up an example to illuminate this point: Say that you have always been fascinated by the charmed, nomadic life of a traveling circus. Here today, gone tomorrow, endlessly parading down main streets and touring far-off, wondrous countries. One day, the famous Mederano circus set its tent in your hometown. Holding our mother’s hand in the gathering crowd you were fascinated by the circus’ legendary “little people” show. In a flash everything made sense to you: I will be a little person at a circus. That is your dream, that is your future.
One day the moment had arrived: a small advert in the newspaper called for applications to the little people show. You applied, got the job and promptly appeared for your first rehearsal. The act itself was quite easy: all you had to do is roll round, feign fear of the monkeys etc. The problem lays elsewhere; you are over 5 feet tall whereas the other little people were less than 4’. You were simply way too tall for the job. In order to play a little person you had to spend hours contorting yourself, tying your legs with straps, walking on your knees. After each performance you had to spend agonizing hours, stretching your aching legs and getting the circulation working. Conversely, your short statured colleagues easily hopped into the role, performed with ease and subsequently transformed into their non-stage persona in a matter of minutes. You have achieved your dream, but you were a misfit in your chosen career: gone were the sweet reveries, your fervent young heart was dealt a painful blow; forever doomed to futile mediocrity. You surrendered the reality to your dream and hence, despite your honest efforts and your daily sacrifice, you condemned yourself to a second rate life.
I am not one to criticize. Since the age of five, I wanted to be a physician. That was my dream, my ambition, and my sole future plan. Fortunately, it worked out very well – many years after graduating, I love my profession with a passion that never subsided: I am lucky this way. But I am fully aware that I took a wild gamble, following the dream of the 5 year old me. I do not know what sparked that trajectory. Perhaps it was my amazing pediatrician Dr. Chlenov: I still can see her listening to my chest; a Lucky Strike cigarette (no filter!) dangling from her lips. My mother would fuss before the doctor’s arrival, changing my PJ’s combing my hair and giving me last instruction not to speak unless spoken to etc. Finally the doctor arrives, thin and Spartan, her salt and pepper hair closely cropped, her eyes deep and sad sparkling kindly above her reading glasses. My mother would rush to bring the doctor tea and cake with deep respect and gratitude for all the times the doctor came to our house. And she was there in rainy cold December nights or the intolerable afternoons of august, looking after my sister who suffered from asthma. Nothing seemed more exciting than being a physician, and it still does not fail to fascinate and delight me.
But most people spend inordinate amounts of time questioning themselves and their choices. Instead of exploring all possible choices and try to fit yourself into one of them, a preferable strategy would be to invest your time familiarizing yourself with yourself. Every revelation, every authentic piece of character is a solid investment in a life of thoughtful decisions, and flexible attitude towards the reality, and acceptance of the passage of time and how you spend it. But that requires discerning between a false beacon and a safe heaven. Following a far-fetched option -no matter how alluring – will almost always lead to a bad outcome. We are constantly offered accounts of those who dreamt big and made it against all odds. We find it inspirational, perhaps even a road map for turning an otherwise regular life into their fanciful possibilities. But another’s dream could be your nightmare. It so depends on your life, your luck, your personality, the people you choose to associate with, your abilities and inabilities: in short, it depends on the unique building blocks that make you an individual. Dreaming another’s dream is merely a competition with someone who has already won – and it makes the same amount of sense. Safer dreams, those based on your reality are not as exciting as the Fanciful alternatives: but they are yours.