Don’t Follow Your Dream, Gen Y!

Self-help books, TED talks and magazine articles seem to have been centered around one theme in particular over the last decade or so: Follow Your Dream

That’s a lot of pressure. What if, instead, we just let go of our dreams and suddenly feel great relief?


I have spent the last five years or so studying topics around “follow your passion”. Like many in their mid-twenties I also suffered from a little quarter life crisis, wondering what I was doing and if what I was doing was right for me and if I had wasted time following the wrong path and if I really wanted to spend the rest of my life doing xy and so forth (this can turn into an obsession and really mess with your mind). Guess that’s just part of growing up. And since we (us guys in the western world with all the huge opportunities) have relatively safe and secure lives, are independent with yet no families to look after, we have too much time thinking about these things (and really do mess up our minds).

The homogeneous media choir’s hooting “follow your dream, follow your dream” undoubtedly intends to motivate and inspire us to go after our passions, to realize what we most desire and live a fulfilled and happy life, be healthier and more content. Few would disagree that this is the right way forward, especially the Gen Y people (like myself), who never cease to be described as the work-life-balance generation – highly after their passion, which ideally also happens to make the world a better place.

Because the ideal Gen Y person lives in a hip city and has just launched their online start up, which encourages global community dialogue and makes the world a better place. So instead of just following our dream we also ideally need to make a difference in the world. And so, inevitably, the question thrown at us at any party “So what do you do?” becomes a real challenge, in which we hear critique, competition and judgment all at the same time.

By now, having read the above, you may already sense how ridiculously ridiculous this task is: Live your dream and make a difference. It may as well be “become a rock star and sell five number one albums”.

What is a dream?

There are dreams when we sleep, of course. So I only picked these 4 relevant definitions from the dictionary:

  • an involuntary vision occurring to a person when awake
  • a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie.
  • an aspiration; goal; aim: A trip to Europe is his dream.
  • a wild or vain fancy.

Why is following your dream, your aspiration, goal, aim, vision or fancy so hard?

1. Your dream isn’t your dream.

The classical one is that your parents influence your dreams – often subliminally – or your older siblings. You follow what they think suits you best or what they never achieved or what they achieved because it worked so well for them. You don’t question this path initially but eventually it bubbles up and it occurs to you that being a doctor, a teacher or a businessman wasn’t entirely your own aspiration.

Another, probably even more common, scenario is that we “steal” our dream from others. We take bits from our friends, other bits from people we admire and other bits from random people we met and that impressed us. And thus we have a dream, much like a quilting, made up of many – quite often too many. We cherry pick from other people’s lives, e.g.: Sara’s boat house, Ian’s career at a charity, Elisabeth’s work as an art therapist and curator, Jake’s hobby of surfing, which ultimately let him to open a surf school in a little town by the sea, Tina traveling the globe for a big fashion label, Janette raising her own chicken and veg in the country and Will, who has moved to the capital to establish his own business and a vivid social network.

Even if you just tried to follow only one or two of the above lifestyles, it doesn’t necessarily have to feel like what it’s ought to feel like. For instance, you like the idea of moving to the capital and work for a charity. You think this is it for you because you admire Ian or Will for having this kind of life. And while you are in it, you realize you are not flying, you lack drive. It’s not your dream, it’s Ian’s or Will’s to live in the city and have a stance in the charity sector or start up scene.

With technology and several foreign languages under our belt we now have access to more lifestyle samples and insights into the glamorous lives of others. So naturally we feel like we need to keep up with them, become the next superstar in our field of choice.

The greatest error is that we mistake other people’s dreams for our own. Often these sound great to mention at a party or to post on Facebook but aren’t half as great in real life.

2. We can’t have it all.

The imaginary lives above are the dreams of 7 very different people. It’s impossible to encompass all in one life just like it is impossible to have the best grades, excessive extra curriculum engagement, the perfect partner, save the planet, travel the world, grow your own veg, be a good friend, have completed two overseas assignments, be highly popular, master all the latest technology, complete a pottery course, make your own pickle and live strictly vegan all at the same time. And yet that’s what some think they need to do because it’s their goal – goalS, dreamS (plural!).

Don’t beat yourself up! There have never been more individual lifestyles and thus we are left very confused and overwhelmed when looking for role models and guidance.

3. You think something’s your dream because you are good at it.

You are a great marketer and salesperson. It pays your bills, it gives you a good dose of recognition and praise. But is it your passion, your fancy, too? Your dream has just turned into something to impress others. To pretend that “it’s all so perfect”.

4. You actually don’t know what your dream is.

How can you look for something if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

I say it’s okay not to know what you are looking for. Don’t get so stressed out about it. It may come to you eventually. Perhaps you are fifty by then. But until it comes to you just enjoy life and do what you feel like doing at the time. This way chances are high that you encounter something you love although you weren’t actively searching for it. The less stressed you are the freer your mind.

Another great error is to think we need to have realized our dreams by the age of 30 or 35 or even 40.

Don’t Follow Your Dream – just let it go, the whole dream ideology. ‘Cause where has this gotten you so far?

It took me a little while to understand this. I let go of dreams, mainly because I couldn’t fit all of them into my twenties. First I panicked. It was like losing helium balloons, one by one. (Like this: Ah, I am approaching thirty and it’s too late to become an actress!) But turns out that a lot of these dreams weren’t actually mine. They were glamorous lifestyles I admired in others. I just needed to sort the clutter. Other dreams I can leave for later. And others I just need to put less pressure on (like I could just play in a local drama group instead of thriving for a full on acting career).

In your early twenties everything seems possible. In your late twenties you get the picture. In between you go nuts.

So what is my dream? Absolutely no idea. I just live day by day and have left the hustle of pursuing goals, goals, goals… That in itself is actually a nice goal to have. Unsurprisingly, I have also been quite happy since I got my head around the new philosophy. And happiness was the actual reason for “follow your dreams” – remember?



This post has been written in a sudden flash of inspiration. If you feel like I am missing anything or would like to discuss, please leave a comment. Has this post inspired you? Then why not share it with your network so they can get inspired, too. Thanks for reading.

PS: Being an actress or starting an online business weren’t my dreams – they are just simpler examples.

Categories Gen Y, Lifestyle, Postcards, Trends

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