Following Your Dreams

I recently met an amazing lady who at the tender age of 71 had just completed her PhD.  Now, I don’t know the rest of her life story, but don’t you think 71 is too old to be gaining a Phd?

What about a friend of ours who is in her early 40’s and studying medicine?  Or worse still, the single mum with 4 kids I read about recently who is also doing medicine.  Are these people insanely stupid?  Isn’t there a point where you say, “Okay, I had these dreams, but it’s too late and it’s time to move on.”

It’s got me thinking.  Maybe if your dream is to become a circus acrobat and you’re pushing 50 and really unfit, it might not be such a good idea, but are there often dreams that we have, things that we’ve always wanted to do that maybe, just maybe, with enough hard work we might actually be able to achieve?

I guess the first thing is to consider why we don’t follow these dreams.  I think there’s a long and obvious list:

  1. Can’t do it financially
  2. I’m not good enough
  3. People will laugh and mock me (if not to my face then behind my back)
  4. It’ll be too hard
  5. What if I fail?
  6. I’m too old
  7. I’m not intelligent enough
  8. I’m not gifted enough
  9. I will feel silly
  10. I will feel out of place
  11. I can’t make that sacrifice
  12. I’m too scared
  13. I’m too anxious

And the list goes on.  And then, you’re 70 and thinking, “I’ve never pursued my dreams.”

Now, I know this all needs to be balanced with reality (paying the mortgage, feeding the kids, having a stable income etc) but putting those things aside, are we too afraid to really dream big?

I guess another thing we need to consider is happiness.  It’s at this point where I say to myself, “What about all those people starving in third world countries who are focussed on simply surviving. I should be happy with my lot in life.”  Well, you’re not living in a third world country and people living on the poverty line and struggling to survive don’t set the benchmark, but neither do excessively wealthy people.  Somewhere in the middle is an appropriate income that doesn’t involve over consuming and being greedy but also realising your dreams.

So what makes us happy, and let’s focus on our work or our vocation or our calling, whatever you want to call it.  What we do know is that doing something you hate is worse for your mental and emotional health than being on Centrelink benefits (there have been Western studies worldwide that replicate these results).

What makes us happy when it comes to work is finding a sense of meaning and purpose in it.  Now this doesn’t mean that everyone has to be doctor or a nurse, serving the poor and marginalised.  People from all walks of life find meaning and purpose; teachers, engineers, chefs, landscape gardeners, hospitality staff, cleaners, sales reps, just about any work can bring meaning and satisfaction to a person.

A good mate of mine was telling me recently that he’d been reading about what makes us happy in our work, and it was something like this:

  • Mastery, Meaning and Autonomy

When we feel like we are good at something, we can see there is meaning and purpose in it and we feel as though we have at least a small amount of autonomy, I can call some of the shots, is when we are most likely to feel happy.  I don’t know what author he was reading who said this, but I like it.  So my question for you is, “Do you feel like you have at least some mastery, meaning and autonomy in what you do?”

Imagine for a moment that there was nothing holding you back from achieving your dreams.  Money’s not an issue, you’re not scared, you really believe you can do it, no-one is going to mock you, in fact people will go out of their way to support you.  What is that dream?

My dream is……………< INSERT BIG DREAM HERE>

My challenge to you today is to think about doing it.  Think about taking a risk, throwing caution to the wind, and pursuing your dreams.

You have my personal guarantee that it will be scary and that you will second guess yourself and have sleepless nights of nagging doubts.  But try to imagine a future where you did it, you overcame every obstacle and proved to everyone, but more importantly yourself, that you could do it.


Here’s to great emotional and mental health

P.S.  I don’t think 70 is too old to get a PhD by the way.  In fact, this lady is one of the most inspiring people that I met in my travels last year 🙂


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