Dreams are a wonderful thing. They’re filled with optimism, and it is the main drive that keeps us feeling joy when we wake up every day; it fulfills us with hope and purpose.
If you’ve read and watched all the self-help books and videos out there, they all relay the same underlying message — telling you to never give up and to keep working hard. These authors proclaim that if we work hard enough and push through, there will be results. Although this paints lots of motivational thoughts and rosy pictures, it can be very misleading. Despite how those motivational speeches motivate us to pursue our dreams, there is always a chance that we keep pursuing our dreams our entire lives without reaching them.
How do you know if you need to stop dreaming and start being realistic?
According to the article in Chron, there are 135,600 total actors in the US and about 56 of them are famous. That is 0.04 percent chance of being successful. Perhaps you want to become a famous actor, but you might end up spending the rest of life taking on small theatre and working at a restaurant to pay the bill. Perhaps you want to start a business, but 99% of the business failed within the first 4 years. There is a chance that the business might not even take off. A lot of people get upset when their dreams cannot come to reality.
What do you do when you no longer feel that passion to pursue that dream? It is hard to turn around when most of the self-help books and motivation videos tell you to “pursue your dream no matter what”.
It is okay to give up. When you don’t see that dream is working, it is okay to stop pursuing and open doors for something else. Life is not about all or nothing. We don’t have to persist on the dreams no matter what. There are times when you think giving up on this dream is the best route to go, because it is not working. Then, you will ask:
But how can you possibly decide how to run your life?
The answer is simply to change your thought process, by shifting and focusing on the experience and process, instead of the outcome.
There is an assumption when you are pursuing your dream. That assumption is that reaching the result is the most valuable part of the process. It implied that reaching that outcome will make you happy. This fact is driven by lots of stories from famous actors, billion-dollar company CEO, or the books with best-selling novels says that dreams are what matter the most.
“If it doesn’t scare you, then you are not dreaming enough”, Tory Burch
However, there is one problem with results-based thinking. It doesn’t work! Because once you reach that level of success in your life, you will no longer feel the same happiness as you wanted initially when you pursue that dream. You will quickly adjust to a new reality, and constantly creating “new normal”. You will want more. If you ask a successful CEO what their most valuable time is in establishing their success, they will tell you those times when they are optimistic and struggling. Achieving the goal itself doesn’t make you happy. It is the fulfillment of pursuing things, the things that you learn along that way that can make you grow. The process is what makes it fulfill, not the outcome.
Experience Based Thinking
Instead of thinking about the outcome, think about the process. Think about each dream as an experience that you want to have. If one doesn’t work out, that experience is a valuable skill that helps you pursue the next one. By this way of thinking, suddenly, quitting is not a matter of not being successful. You don’t feel guilty about yourself to quit something, because you are looking at the journey of pursuing your dreams as an experience. The reason for quitting doesn’t rely on the outcome, but an awareness if this dream still gives fulfillment, passion, and enthusiasm? Do you feel alive while pursuing this dream?
We need to change our thoughts from “I need to do [blank] to become a [blank] to whether the process of pursuing [blank] can help me grow.” By thinking this way, fulfilling your dreams is just a tiny portion of life journey.
Sometimes quitting is the best option when you know that the goals you are currently pursuing don’t give you the same fulfillment that you once had dreamed of. By quitting, you could prevent repeated failure, and open more doors for other dreams and goals to pursue. The process is key when you are working towards your dreams. Focusing on the process alter your mindset to focus on the present. You will start viewing on pursuing your dream as a game. You will start to discover ways to make your dream works. You will start to fall in love with the hustle. Suddenly, the result is just an experimental result that the process that you apply for works.
When should you quit?
Now, once you think through the process instead of the result, how do you know if you should stop pursuing? There are two factors:
Understand and realize that you don’t like the process of pursuing that dream.
How do you know if you want to become a manager or to start a business? By simply observing those people who are managers and entrepreneurs around you and see if you want your life to be like that. Notice I said, “observe those people around you” instead of looking at YouTube channel about “a day in a life of a (manager, entrepreneurs, software engineer)”. YouTube and other social media platform is not a good indication of what you want to do because most people will show you the positive side of their life. For instance, the most software engineer that captures “a day in a life of software engineer” shows you about how their life was a lot of playing ping-pong and enjoying free food. However, many of them didn’t capture the other side of software engineer where they need to learn new technology, working all night to finish up a deadline, and practice algorithm and system design daily to become keep their ability fresh in the market. You will need to experience it to realize if you want the process. Also besides, talking to those people who are pursuing the goals that you want to pursue, and see if you want to have the lifestyle because you will be doing it for a while and the rest of your life. For instance, understand that the road of becoming an actor might mean to months on submitting tons of projects, on all casting websites, and simply aren’t called in to show how good you are. You will need to involve in a lot of unpaid work and hard hours, leaving your survival jobs at the drop of a hat, and have very little return on investment. If you do not want to have that kind of lifestyle, you will need to re-evaluate if this experience is worth pursuing. Understanding eliminates things you don’t want to pursue can open up other dreams that you want to explore.
Determine if your goal is unattainable
Put simply, it is hard to know if it is unattainable. Sometimes you know that either the process needs to change, or the vision does not work out. Tim Ferris once asks Seth Godin in one of his interviews, “How do I discern between the idea that I keep persisting with, despite many rejections, vs a bad idea that I should abandon that is getting the same type of rejection, but I am equally enthusiastic about.” Seth said the First Ten of marketing. You share 10 people who already trusted you. If they don’t tell anybody else, that means the idea is not good enough, and you probably need to think of some other problem to solve. Once you are in the process of pursuing and realize that you didn’t get the result that is expected, it is either the idea doesn’t work out, or the strategy that you choose in the process of pursuing doesn’t work. You need to re-evaluate if the goals that you pursue is worth it. Making decisions on incremental steps, instead of a linear sequential phase, where each phase depends on deliverable on the previous phase, will make you adapt to changes in circumstances and not feel guilty in putting so much effort in the goal that doesn’t work. Thinking in small iteration and not as a waterfall process makes you more open-minded in pursuing different method and knowing if that goal is unattainable.
Once you decided to stop pursuing that dream, you can understand and learn from those failures. Do not think that all the process that you did was wasted. Those process can better equip you physically and emotionally to develop your next project or goals.
Avoid any rumination. Bury the dreams, mourn it and move on.
Acknowledge those mistakes and understand why it did not work out. Be grateful that you have learned those experience because you will know what NOT to do when you pursue your next goal. All the decisions that you made in life shaped who you are as a person, and those failures will open up another new opportunity. Just like what Steve Jobs said, “You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” Every experience will lead to something better.
Reframe everything as a positive mindset will sometimes make you think of that many situations that happen in your life as an opportunity instead of a loss. The most powerful thing a human being can change is their thoughts because once you have the right attitude, everything will follow. For instance, people told me that leaving Silicon Valley in my early twenties as a software engineer is not a good choice to make, because being in Silicon Valley can help me network and speed up 10x times than another part of the city. One of the Triple Byte articles has mentioned that the Bay Area to technology is like how the 1930s was to automobiles or 14th century Venice was to the European spice trade, except these and other historic analogies are unable to capture the magnitude and speed of local tech growth. Hence, leaving Silicon Valley seemed like a bad choice to make. However, after moving to NYC, I can see many diverse professionals from all around the world. Being in New York City helps me see the opportunity of working in tech and be grateful that I am in the most in-demand professions in the world.
If you know that you are not going to make it while you are pursuing your dream, quitting should not depend on the chance of succeeding. It should depend on the process of fulfillment, passion, and enthusiasm. You will never be satisfied by the goal that is already achieved and will keep looking for something more. Therefore, enjoy the process and the present. Think objectively through the process, if you want that dream and determine if the vision is attainable. Once you decided to quit, learn from the failures and move on to the next goal. Nothing is embarrassing about leaving the path that no longer works. You will be glad that you have failed first and failed fast because it will help equip a smoother process for the same mistakes on your next goal. Lastly, enjoy the process and start experiencing your dream now.
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Originally published at https://edward-huang.com.