I went on a date recently with a guy whose opening line was, ‘so, you work in advertising? Do you even have a soul?’
I know, right. What a charmer.
We then started talking about what we do and how we make our living. He was a 28 year old aspiring director and screenwriter whiling away the years until his rise to stardom working in bars and doing bit parts in movies. I am a 24 year old aspiring writer who realised early on how difficult it is to make a living from words, so got a different job that guarantees to pay the bills and leaves enough for savings and a social life.
Apparently, this was Unacceptable. “But if you always wanted to be a novelist and you still want to be a novelist,” he said, a shade accusingly for someone who was theoretically hoping for a shag in the near future, “why are you doing anything else? Why aren’t you following your Dream?”
I didn’t say, “because I do actually like my job. Because I like my flat. Because I like having a guaranteed income every month with fixed, sociable hours. Because working until 4am in a bar every night of the week so I can spend the daytime working on a long shot which, statistically, probably won’t pay off, sounds like a shitty sort of life.” I didn’t say that because it would have been unforgivably rude, but it got me thinking.
We live in a society where ‘following your dream’ is considered a legit excuse for all sorts of short-sighted and irresponsible behaviour. Reality TV shows have done a lot to prop up this misconception. Ask a contestant on any show why they deserve to win The X Factor, or America’s Next Top Model, or any one of the other hundreds of programmes that play on people’s ‘dreams’ (coincidentally almost always things that come with sexy perks, like glamorous parties, millions in the bank and the opportunity to bang lots of very good-looking people), and they reply, “because it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Because it’s my dream.”
You dreamers, I’ve got news for you. The world doesn’t give a shit about what you want, and just because you’ve wanted it since childhood doesn’t make you any more deserving. (Side note: what you wanted as a child is probably the last thing you want to do. What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a vet, because I thought it meant cuddling puppies for money. Now I know that vetting is 90% administering lethal injections, ripping off bollocks, and shooting the occasional horse in the head. Very little cuddling at all, in fact.)
So there are dreams: wonderful, selfish fantasies that probably won’t happen, unless you win the same kind of jackpot as JK Rowling or Susan Boyle. Sure, they’re both very talented and hard-working, but they still got spunked over copiously by Lady Luck and her big gooey fountain of fortune. There are also life objectives, which are usually doable if you put in the graft, so long as you have a reasonable handle on the reality of your own talents. The difference between an objective and a dream is the difference between wanting to write to book and wanting to write an acclaimed bestseller that facilitates a lifetime of wild parties on a private yacht.
In contrast to my charming date, I have a friend who recently jacked in her job as a freelance artist. She had a steady stream of work, but it wasn’t earning her enough to do anything she really wanted, like get her own place or go on holiday. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” she told me, while she was grappling with the decision to quit. “I studied my arse off for years and years for it, been broke beyond words for it, and now it just feels I was wrong all along.”
It was heartbreaking. But a few months later and she has a job in a completely different field. She still misses her old job but likes the new one a lot, and has plans to move out in the summer. “Giving up freelancing and giving up chasing art for a living felt like an identity crisis,” she said recently. “But sometimes you just have to be honest with yourself and admit when you’re flogging a dead horse. Just because you’re really good at something, doesn’t mean you’re any good at networking or self promotion or marketing or finances or taxes. It doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to succeed.”
Although my artist friend is still struggling a bit with her new identity, I have so much more respect for her than the guy who was still trying to make it in movies after spending a decade getting precisely nowhere. There is all sorts of shit out there about perseverance and not letting people bring you down, but unfortunately tenacity does not necessarily equal success. Statistically, not every kid who wants to be a rock star is going to sell out the O2. They’re just not. It’s sad, it’s depressing, but I have statistics on my side. It’s not just raw ability, either. It’s hard work, persistence, contacts and – in many cases – blind luck that propels a lucky few to the dizzying heights of success everyone else can only – ha! – dream of. Wanting it is not enough, the world does not owe you anything. If your lifelong goals are not 100% guaranteed – and they probably won’t be – you need a Plan B. That’s not selling out, or giving up. That’s just being fucking sensible. Find something else you like, something that won’t mean sacrificing every other aspect of your life to chase a wraith.
And when all’s said and done, just because you’re not earning a living from art or writing or acting, nothing’s stopping you from pursuing it in your spare time. Hey, maybe that’ll turn into something one day and you won’t have starved half to death on the way.
So what’s your big dream? Are you following it? And if so, are you getting anywhere?
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