If you’re like most professionals, you go throughout your life facing a difficult dilemma. You are constantly juggling two imperatives: being true to yourself and being fair to others. You have dreams, goals, ambitions, and plans of your own. But, on the other hand, you have a family to support, parents to make proud, and a reputation to maintain.
Most of us cave. Most of us throw our dreams away in deference to meeting the expectations of others. We figure it’s the noble thing to do. Serve others. Put family first. It’s not about us; it’s about them. Eventually, we shrug our shoulders, flush our dreams down the toilet, and face facts: dreams are for children. Sooner or later, we’ve got to grow up.
But, it turns out we’re wrong. In the end, following our dreams and meeting the expectations of others are not as mutually exclusive as we might imagine. In fact, the consequences of defaulting on our dreams can be downright disastrous, not only to us, but also to the people around us. When we let our dreams die, our intentions may be pure, but we’re doing the wrong thing. Here’s why.
1. You lose your humanity
Business is art. Whatever profession you are in, your role in that field is about creating. It’s about bringing something new to the table and refining your industry. When you ditch the risk of following your dream for financial “security” and make money the end game, you lose your soul. Is it really worth it?
2. You miss out on great opportunities
When you follow your dreams, you are willing to take on more challenges and live through more experiences. There are events you will miss, places you’ll never see, and people you’ll never meet when you stay in your comfort zone. What opportunity are you missing out on?
3. You lose your effectiveness
When you engage in business with passion because you’re doing what you love, you produce much better results. When you do your job because it’s your job, you just don’t do it as well… because you don’t really care. How does your willingness to pursue your dreams mirror your effectiveness in your work?
4. You set a precedent of mediocrity
What do you want for your children? My guess is that it’s not becoming cogs in a soulless machine of conformity. My guess is that it fills your heart with joy when they put all of their heart into something they love. When you give up on your dreams, you’re teaching them that they should do the same. You want them to succeed with their dreams. Show them that it’s a good idea to try. And this goes not only for your children, but anyone who follows you. Your employees. Your colleagues. Your friends. Your audience. What kind of example are you setting?
5. You cheat the world out of great products
Imagine if Steve Jobs had killed his vision in favor of conformity. In fact, his philosophy was that people won’t know what they want until you show it to them. The world is waiting for your greatness. When you give up, you are denying the world of your contribution. We don’t know what we want. Will you show us?
6. You bore your customers
Customers are not enchanted by the status-quo. There’s nothing exciting about safe. Yes, it might flop. It might be a bad idea. But it’s almost always better than standing still. Go for it. Passion is contagious. Your customers will more than likely be inspired by the dream that you see through. Are you keeping your customers interested?
7. You make everyone around you miserable
You can “make the sacrifice” and give up on your dreams, but you’re human. Your resentment for having to make the decision will manifest itself in your relationships. You’ll feel cheated. You’ll be grumpier. You’ll blame others for your misfortunes. And you’ll always be droning on and on about what you could’ve done if you haven’t given it up for the good of those around you. Nobody wants to hear that drivel. Are you blaming others for your broken dreams?
8. You lose to competitors
While you’re making your noble sacrifice, there are others out there who are making a difference. You have competitors that are taking chances and making things happen. You will be beat by them, because they are willing to see their visions through. Are you losing out to those following their dreams?
9. You go broke
How’s this one for ironic? Many times, when you decide to kill the dream, your excuse is so that you will provide better financial security for your family. But guess what? Whether you are an accountant or a rap star, you make more money by being more engaged with your work. You will actually be less financially secure if you simply put your head down and your hands to the plow. Conformity is never rewarded like creativity. Are you sacrificing financial opportunity for financial “security?”
10. You withhold from your strategic partners
Okay, so I’m not saying that you want to pursue your dreams just so you can keep your suppliers in business. I’m simply saying that your decision to kill your dream is not made in a vacuum. When you are willing to take the risks necessary to make your dreams a reality, you open up the doors for your suppliers to take those same risks. You become an investor in their dreams. Are you denying others of their dreams?
11. You disappear from history
We all want a legacy, don’t we? What do you want to be remembered for? I always ask people, “In the end, do you want to be able to say that you lived comfortably or that you lived courageously?” And certainly I’m not saying that your legacy can’t be the relationships you have with your family and friends. By all means, make them a part of your dream. But just don’t go through life unnoticed. Are you leaving yourself a legacy?
12. You die without ever really having lived
There’s nothing quite as bitter as regret. You’ll make mistakes whether you take risks or not. Those regrets you’ll have no matter what you do. But, you do have a choice as to how many things you regret not having tried. At the end of your life, you don’t want to wish you had done this or that. Do it while you’ll still can. Life is meant to be lived, not maintained. Are you really living or just surviving?
Don’t you think it’s time to let go of the guilt and shame you’re feeling for pursuing your dreams? Don’t sacrifice what drives you. If you do, you’ll be sacrificing the value you can provide in the relationships you have with others and in the contributions you make to the world.
Go ahead, live your dream. Whether or not we say it, deep down inside, that’s what the rest of us really want from you.
This post was originally published July 30, 2012 on 12most.com. Be sure to check out the site, which has all kinds of great articles on marketing, leadership, and living a fuller life–written by some extraordinarily smart people.
Featured image courtesy of Doug 88888 licensed via Creative Commons.