2 ways to find your dream amidst life's chaos

Finding a dream

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about my husband's and my choice to take some risks and follow our dreams. A couple of my commenters (both Kiwi's...coincidence?) were interested in my thoughts on identifying a dream, and I had too much to say to fit into the comments.

Childhood dreams

Some people (the lucky or unlucky few, depending on your perspective) just know what they are going to do with their time on earth. I doubt they're actually born with it, but it sure seems like it. These are the kids who know they want to be astronauts when they're 5, structure their high school experience so they have a good chance of getting into the Air Force Academy, get in, go through, get all the extra training they need, and eventually pilot a space shuttle to the moon. It's like something grabs ahold of them and never lets them go.

Most of us don't experience that. I know I didn't. I have done so much mucking around trying to figure out what I was actually good at and what I actually like doing. I've worked three "real jobs," all very different. I have a BA and an MA, in very different fields. If you ask me what I want to learn in life, I'll give you a list ranging from obscure and difficult languages (Euskera and Arabic) to sailing to learning to playing a stringed instrument (violin or cello top the list). Clearly, I am not a naturally focused person, at least as far as my vocation goes. However, now that I'm at least a little more focused, I've discovered that the two things I want to focus my life on are things that have been central to me since childhood: writing and relationships.

So the first word that I have for people looking for their dream is this: what have you loved since childhood? Even if you haven't done it in years, this can point you to your dream.

When we're young, we edit ourselves a lot less, so often the things we loved then are the things we still love but have forgotten about, or talked ourselves out of.

What saves you?

When I'm down, there are certain things that almost always lift me up. They don't always make the whole situation better, but they do make it all more manageable and help me know what I want or need to do next. These are things that I seem to do naturally. I don't have to sit around and think, "Wow, things are hard right now. What can I do that would make them better?" They are things I just do, because they're truly part of me.

One of these things is writing. Another is talking deeply with my close friends and family. Do you see the pattern? When I looked at my childhood, I saw that writing and relationships were the things I loved then. When I look at the things that help get me out of a hole, they're the same two things.

When we're down, particularly when we're really hurting or have suffered a serious loss, we tend to crawl to the things that mean the most to us, no matter what they are. Even if they are things that we haven't done since childhood, or things we aren't aware of loving, we go to them and do them when we hurt. Sometimes, this doesn't work. We've all seen people go into destructive spirals when bad things start to happen in life. Clearly, getting drunk and passing out are not dreams. But when we're aware of the pain and trying to care for ourselves in it, the things we do will often pinpoint where our dreams and desires really are, because they are the things that truly fulfill us.

What comes next?

In themselves, writing and relationships are not productive dreams. They are not going to be things that I can focus myself on unless I can find a way to make them productive (specifically, financially productive), or unless I can find other, easy ways to make money that will allow me to focus on my dreams. Pathetically practical? Maybe. But also realistic. Whether I like it or not, my rent must be paid.

Thus, my next article in this wandering series on dreams will cover how to take what you love to the this level.

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Andrea Karim's picture


Actually, this is a really interesting idea. Ever since I was a little, little kid, I was sure I would be an actress. I would perform in front of the mirror, put on elaborate plays for the neighbors, pose for headshots that my poor dad was forced to then shoot. It's a fantasy that I always return to, at least in my head, whenever I need a lift. I no longer take photos of my mug, though.

However, I spent some time doing theater when I was a teenager, and I came to the conclusion that I hate working with actors. Some of my friends are actors, but there's no way in hell that I can imagine working directly with them. The drama! Really. Lots of drama.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Or other sort of celebrity.  See Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, etc.  Though even they make their money outside of the drinking and passing out.  I think.

I have a friend who worked with actors for years and she can tell the best stories...lots of drama.  Andrea, I can't help but wonder if you use the things you love about acting in the work you do, or if you would be happier if you did.  Does that ring any bells for you? 

Andrea Karim's picture

The thing that I love about acting is the ability to completely transform into another character for a while, to do and say things that I wouldn't normally. I can't think of a way to apply that to technical writing, except perhaps to speak in am Irish accent while interviewing SMEs or faint dramatically during an investor presentation. Now, sleeping through investor presentations, I've got that down.

I actually remember the exact moment in which performing lost its joy for me. I was a senior in high shcool, doing the voice-over for Peter and the Wolf at the local children's museum, with our city's orchestra. In fact, it was just as I was introducing the musicians that I felt all the love of the work just leave my body, like a fever breaking. I barely made it through, and I'm embarrassed now to think of what a lousy job I must have done.

I mentioned it, not to disprove your point, but to mention that I had a dream of something that I still like to think about, but honestly don't want to pursue, yet I enjoy thinking about it, because fantasies like that are fun.

My other dreams (book deal, travel) are still in the works, so there's no worry that I'll never be happy in my work or anything. :)

Guest's picture

"Your job in life is to find what you love and then dedicate your life to it." .. or something like that. Basically, we have a purpose, it is individual, and once we find it we will find our greatest joy by dedicating our lives to it. Sadly I'm 44 and still looking ;-)

Guest's picture

I am 44 too, and still having a hard time finding myself and happiness in a job.I really need to take course and have a certificate behind me so I can become a Patient Care Tech in a hospital. That is what I really want to do. I am just having a hard time trying to take that first step to getting the education. It is a 5 week course. Not long at all. And I work full time during the day. I really HATE my job to the fullest. Can't say it enough. And I am one of those who rants a bout it at lunch break to my coworker, who really is sick of me telling her so.

This is a great website. Thank you for being there and letting me vent. My goal is to better myself, and I WILL do it sometime very soon!

Sarah Winfrey's picture

...his purpose in life seemed to just come to him.

Actually, Mike, I think that the "still-looking" is part of it.  I'm not sure that we're going to find the one thing that we are supposed to do on this earth.  I think we can get closer and closer and closer to it and live happy, satisfied lives in that place.  But it seems like there will always be more we can know about ourselves and therefore more that we can do or change that will make us happier.   

Andrea Karim's picture

Actually, this post really got me thinking, and I might have come up with a solution and a possible new career path. Thanks! I'll email you about it, because it's too early to delve into now.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Can't wait to hear from you!

Guest's picture

I was wondering if you ever considered combining your dreams of writing and relationships and write a book about relationships? To me it jumped out as an obvious answer. You can still live the life you are currently living and write this book in your spare time (if applicable). Minimal risk with this affecting your current and future financial situations, the big "risk" is putting yourself out there. But in light of your previous post in regards to following your dreams I would think that "putting yourself out there" shouldn't be an issue. Just a thought from a businessman that was and still is afraid to "put myself out there" in terms of pursueing my childhood dream of being a performing music artist. So maybe you should just take my suggestion with a grain of salt. :)