Why You Shouldn’t Waste Your Time Being a Dreamer
Growing up, I always had high ambitions. Typically, my ambitions were so high that I had a hard time understanding them within the context of my small town reality. From the time I was a kid until well into my early twenties, I sought out opportunities to get a sense of escapism. For me, escaping was the easiest way to feel like I could pursue my dreams without being limited by my present situation.
It was a waste of time.
The Life I Wanted
My escapism took a few particular forms. The primary one was putting my walkman in the pocket of my cargo shorts, putting on some headphones, and jumping on my trampoline. In retrospect, I suppose in addition to being a form of escape, this was also a lesson in patience. Do you know how bad a CD would skip when being listened to while jumping on a trampoline? A lot.
Eventually, technology caught up to my preferred mode of daydreaming and my brother and I got an iPod to share. Without having to constantly steady myself to prevent my music from skipping, I was able to immerse myself in my daydreams more fully.
I’d bounce on the trampoline– somedays for hours at a time– and live out whatever fantasy came to mind to the beat of my music. Somedays I saw myself as a successful author or actor. Other days I envisioned that I was exploring the worlds of my favorite video games or movies.
As I got older and repeatedly wore out trampolines (my shins used to stay black and blue from springs getting strained and breaking while I was jumping), I began to find other methods of escaping. Immersive RPG video games became my go-to while I was in high school, and in college, it was running.
Whatever the form of escapism, the outcome was always the same. I was creating enough mental noise and projecting my emotions enough that I didn’t feel like I was trapped or stuck in a rut. As I escaped into these vivid daydreams, I didn’t have to worry about inadequacies or limitations. I was exactly who I wanted to be.
...until I had to go back to reality.
Waking Up from 20+ Years of Daydreams
It was around the middle of my undergraduate career that it finally clicked for me that daydreaming simply wasn't cutting it. Even if I could still put in my headphones, go for a run, and forget about real life for twenty to thirty minutes at a time, I always had to come back to reality– whether that was a deadline I had been dreading, a responsibility I didn’t feel I was ready for, or a growing sense of general anxiety.
Luckily, I was introspective enough to realize that this was my pattern. The more I reflected on and examined by behavior, the more I understood that rather than having a clear sense of direction, I wanted to excel at everything. As a result, I was spreading myself far too thin, and didn’t have the energy or emotional stamina to live up to all of the expectations that I had set for myself. Something had to give, and since the world doesn’t stop spinning just because one person is having a nervous breakdown… I was that something.
By my junior year of undergrad, I was getting ready to go abroad for the first time. Leaving to study in Finland for a semester was a convenient way to step down from both my jobs and the handful of student leadership roles that I held. More importantly, going abroad alone gave me plenty of time to think about what it is that I wanted and what my daydreams all had in common.
Indulging in quiet time and considering the reasons behind my nearly-constant dreaming, I realized that I aspired to:
Be able to support myself financially with my creativity and love of writing
Be strong and physically fit
Develop a strong sense of community, and find a tribe of similarly successful people
Though my day dreams usually concealed these aspirations behind fiction, hyperbole, and exaggeration, when reduced to their simplest sense, these three points were the building blocks of each of my recurring hopes.
While I initially expected that the life I desired was something far beyond what could be attained while living in non-fiction, reflection taught me that what I actually wanted were things that I in fact could reach.
Stop Dreaming, Start Doing
Realizing that the things I spent so much time distracting myself with were things I could acquire was a wakeup call.
Not knowing what to do with this knowledge, I dug in and started to seek out tools and resources to make sense of it. Eventually, I came across Pema Chödrön’s The Places that Scare You, and found her take on vulnerability and mindfulness to be the piece of the puzzle that I was missing.
In The Places that Scare You, she writes,
Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot– our innate ability to love and to care about things– is like a crack in these walls we erect. It’s a natural opening in the barriers were create when we’re afraid. With practice we learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment– love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy– to awaken bodhichitta.
For me, and, I suspect, for many of you reading this, daydreaming about my ambitions was easier than actually being open about them and working to pursue them because putting action behind them meant that there was a chance for me to fail. It meant that I would have to confess to what I saw as my own shortcomings or inadequacies. It meant that I would have to be vulnerable with my friends and family about who I wanted to become, and would thereby expose myself to potential judgement.
But, what the writings of people like Chödrön, Liz Gilbert, and Brené Brown consistently taught me was that if I was ever going to feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement, I had to lean into that discomfort.
In essence, I had to stop dreaming about what I wanted my life to be like and actually start taking the steps to make that happen.
As a part of this, I:
quit my job to invest more time in my business and writing skills. That LLC flopped.
moved out to Los Angeles to try my hand at life in a major city. That was an even bigger flop.
ended a three year relationship and decided to go my own way, entirely alone.
What I’ve realized through these experiences is that opening myself up to the possibility of being disappointed or judged– of actually putting action and visibility to my ambitions rather than merely dreaming about them– is that even if the worst possible thing happens, you live, you move on, and you get stronger.
When my LLC made a grand total of $1,015 (with a net profit of… $45), it sucked. But I learned a lot more about what kind of skills and resources are needed to successfully operate as a business. Plus, it exposed me to inbound marketing, which ultimately led me to my career at HubSpot.
When I had to leave California after less than a full six months, it felt like I was disappointing everyone who believed in me and who had supported me in moving out there. But, everyone welcomed me back with open arms and smiles on their faces, and I discovered within myself a newfound appreciation for life in rural Kentucky. It also gave me the spark of inspiration to buy my own house and move to a new city here in central Kentucky.
Starting BlakeWrites has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me to-date. I love the writing that I do here, and am passionately devoted to our message of inclusiveness and brotherhood.
None of these learning experiences would have occurred if I would have merely continued to dream about my ambitions. Nothing was going to magically fall in my lap that would make these dreams come true. For them to come to fruition, I had to roll up my sleeves and start working toward them.
Dreaming is one of the ways that we distract ourselves and convince ourselves that we’re spending our time in a meaningful way.
Doing is how we actually spend our time in a meaningful way.
Written by Blake Reichenbach
He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.