Incurably Curious

Should You Follow Your Dream?


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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53 comments on “Should You Follow Your Dream?

  1. T. D. Davis
    January 12, 2014

    Thank you! This a great post. I love the optimism and hope involved in believing that one should take their shot at what they want, but so few people talk about how to pay for the kids to go to college while they’re following their dreams. You’re a young person who gets it. Good for you.
    Btw, did you show that guy that door?

    • CuriousEmily
      January 13, 2014

      I’m so glad you liked it! Yes, exactly, I’m all for going after what you want but I think everyone needs to keep a real check on reality too, especially those with responsibilities and dependants!

      Haha, no, I didn’t go on a second date. ;)

  2. Adina
    January 12, 2014

    First of all, I really LOVE your blog, it makes me laugh and often I relate to your view of certain situations. Second, as an answer to your question, I have to say I am actually living my dream! I don’t often think about it but now that the subject has come up…. Actually I didn’t know it was my dream until it came true, as funny as that my sound :) I am an architect, I have my own firm and I’ve worked on my own, with a coleague that is (who also happens to be my boyfriend), since before I graduated from architecture school (7 years now) and we manage pretty well (much better than any of us hoped for our future). Our relationship it’s also part of living my dream because I have a great fear of commitment (I never plan to get married) but still we managed to get along really, really good and we have been togheter for 10 years. I’m pretty lucky! I think you CAN live your dream but you have to adjust it to reality (and always try to get to do what makes you happy). Sorry for the long post and also for any mistakes I made, my native language is not english. Again great job and keep them coming!

    • CuriousEmily
      January 13, 2014

      Hi Adina, thank you so much for your comment – I really appreciate you sharing your story. It’s always nice to hear of real people who have accomplished wonderful things – and you sound like you have it all. :) I think the idea of not knowing that something is a dream until it comes true is great. It shows that you’ve worked your way to a position gradually and each step of the journey has been properly considered, rather than just taken to blindly chase a fixed objective…if that makes sense! Many people don’t know what they want until they’ve got it (and don’t realise what they have until they lose it). Congratulations on your awesome life, I’m very jealous! :)

      • Adina
        January 13, 2014

        Well I think you totally nailed it, you may set yourself up for failure by blindly chasing a fixed objective (never thought about it till now). Maybe my post sounded like I’m bragging but I onestly don’t talk about my life very often, maybe it was easier to do it here anonimously and especially since you send out this vibe (I don’t know how to call it – chilled, ironic, funny). I just found myself feeling lucky :). Anyway I am jealous too :P, I really like your style! I could tell you what country I’m from then you would totally not be jealous anymore :))

  3. Sean Smithson
    January 12, 2014

    Back to your bloody brilliant, blogging best Emily. Though at the same time, reading this has confirmed that I should probably give up on my plans to write comedy whilst doing volunteer work. And instead I should just go back to figuring out how much tax rich people owe at the end of the year…

    Thanks for shattering my dreams, you bitch.

    PS – this line… “they still got spunked over copiously by Lady Luck and her big gooey fountain of fortune…” Not only very true but one of your best ever. Carry on.

    • CuriousEmily
      January 13, 2014

      Thanks Sean! You certainly shouldn’t give up on your writing, especially as it’s so fucking hilarious, but I don’t think anyone should ever keep all their eggs in one basket unless they know success is pretty much guaranteed. And writing is such a bastard industry – you can be the best writer in the world and you might never make it. Terrifying, isn’t it?

  4. TYTG
    January 12, 2014

    I feel like this is a personal letter to me

  5. neenasethi
    January 13, 2014

    Hi! Strange coincidence – my blog this week is also about following your dreams. I think that people should follow their dreams, unfortunately, most people don’t. It’s scary, it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I was someone who was settling for a job and a life that brought me no satisfaction. Taking that first step to pursue your dream is difficult, but it can be done!

    • CuriousEmily
      January 17, 2014

      I just went and read your post. I agree with every word. I think the difference is that you’re following a proven career path that is probably based more on hard word and dedication than some sort of innate talent (like singing, for example), so if you stick at it you have a much greater chance of success.

      That said, it still takes balls!

      Best of luck with your diplomatic career – I’ll follow your blog with interest. :)

      • neenasethi
        January 20, 2014

        Thanks so much! I understand what you are saying about following your dream of a career using an innate talent. I think artists face the most difficult climb of all. Dedication to your craft has implications for your life. The sacrfice is high.

        Thanks for your best wishes!


  6. farrahkelly
    January 13, 2014

    Great post!

    I think there’s a big difference between what people say is their ‘dream’ and what actually makes them happy. I personally never dreamt about working for a youth employability scheme, but I could not be happier right now. My ‘dream’ would have been columnist for snazzy newspaper/magazine, but given the decline of that industry and the massive amount of difficulty in getting into it, I know I would not have been happy. I bet being a rockstar/wild yacht party has it’s cons, too!

    • CuriousEmily
      January 17, 2014

      That is a really valid point. I think many people go after the glamorous dreams – working for a top magazine comes with lots of fun perks and bragging rights, but if that’s all someone’s dreams are based on I think they must be pretty sad and vapid.

  7. BrianGuilfoyle (@BrianDMI)
    January 13, 2014

    I did Journalism in college, with grand ideas of changing the world. Now I work in Digital Marketing, and I love it. Of my class, only one guy is in Journalism, and he’s broke and hates it!

    Suck it dreams!

    Also, I dreamt of being a fire engine, and that didn’t work out either.

    • CuriousEmily
      January 17, 2014

      Aha, the poor schmuck, hopefully he makes a career change soon!

      I’m glad you’ve found something you love but bad luck about the fire engine gig. I have heard they’re quite hard to get into.

  8. Aussa Lorens
    January 13, 2014

    I feel like I definitely learned that whole “follow your dream” lesson in mid-twenties and I’m glad I didn’t wait any later. Yes– I’m still pursuing what I want (the publishing deals, the writer-y success etc. etc.) but I also know that I need to have health insurance and the ability to pay for my life, stay independent, and have experiences worth writing about. I truly thought I would just magically find success and never need to have a “real” job– I went and got a tattoo on my hand just for the sake of “I won’t get hired, now I have no choice.” I didn’t realize that desperation would lead me to learn how to hide my left hand for the entirety of a job interview ;)
    So… all of that to say… I’m right there with ya. I have nothing against dreamers– secretly, I’m still one of them– but I’m much more a member of the camp of “I busted my ass for this.”

    PS Sean Smithson nudged me to come pay you a visit, he’s quite the fan!

  9. fordmaniac
    January 13, 2014

    Reading this, I am reminded of a writer who worked as a press officer for British nuclear fuels until he was 48. Terry pratchett spent the best part of his life putting food on the table, and was able to follow his dream when he had the life experience to have something worth saying. No harm in having a dream, but having a life is more important, for me anyway. Poverty is self indulgent if you can choose not to be there, and we don’t all have trust funds or the bank of mum and dad.

    • CuriousEmily
      January 17, 2014

      I absolutely love Terry Pratchett but I didn’t know this about him. This makes me love him even more!

  10. Charlotte ya sis
    January 13, 2014

    Or stop being an arrogant little shit and get a dream that isn’t being Beyoncé

    BINTS! That date guy sounds like a fucking tool.
    ‘Why aren’t you following your dream?’
    ‘Why aren’t you counting your blessings I don’t got my foot in your ass you pancy!’

    January 14, 2014

    ha! a good post.
    but I think that this “I’m following my dream”-thingy in the case of the pictured guy and ppl like him is a simple convenient excuse to DO precisely nothing but just WAIT for fame, fortune and prince charming while at that, to knock at their door.
    you can’t become a novelist, singer, star DREAMING it. you have to write. every. bloody. day. and not sit at Starbucks, pretending you’re Hemingway and Rowling rolled into one. it’s lame, and lets those who really work hard AND have to mix drinks at night look like idiots. but there it’s perseverance. AND luck. besides one can have a normal day job and write novels, paint pictures or whatever. no need to McJob.

    as for your friend, here I’m with you. great artists aren’t always great marketers. sad but true. sometimes poor to average artists are more determined and more bizz-savvy, and we get things like 50 shades of twilight out of that.

    it’s just perseverance and being who you really are. cognitio sui – and your problems are solved! well. and you’re right: luck never hurt ;)

    • CuriousEmily
      January 17, 2014

      Yes, I think to succeed as a ‘creative’ you have to be a bit of a pushy arsehole. Even the most talented people fly under the radar often, look at Van Gogh and Picasso who died penniless.

      To be fair to the screenwriter dude, he did seem to be trying quite hard, but he seemed to be under the misapprehension that trying hard would eventually equal great success. But then I have no idea how good he is, maybe I just missed out on the next Christopher Nolan. ;)

      Cognitio sui – is that what it means? I like that.

        January 17, 2014

        self-knowledge, yes. help a lot ;)

        most people are afraid to recognise who they really are (“I’m a great artist but I suck at selling”, “I’m a poor screenwriter but I’m fantastic at educating”…) – or too biased to understand themselves. poor decisions ensue.

  12. Anna Roberts
    January 14, 2014

    I’m going through this at the minute and really don’t want to listen to my ‘I’m realistic and will have to pay the bills’ boyfriend, but I know he’s right. Plus, it’s so materialistic, but whenever I go shopping, I realise I like spending money and doing/buying nice things, so I need to get over myself and get on with my day job. One day, slowly, the writing dream might become full time…

    • CuriousEmily
      January 17, 2014

      This is exactly the thing – you may love to write but it’s probably not your only dream. One day you may want to buy a house, or have kids. You might want a big wedding, or to travel the world. Maybe start a business. All these things cost money, and if your big dream doesn’t bring in enough to facilitate these other things then maybe it’s time to compromise.

      And of course, writing for fun is even easier in this day and age with the internet. We should keep at it! :) Best of luck!

      • Anna Roberts
        January 17, 2014

        Very true, I hadn’t thought about the other ‘life’ dreams – which I do want, need to earn money for and to be honest hadn’t ever considered them not coming true. Ahh man, why can’t we have it all!?

  13. william proctor
    January 15, 2014

    This is very good and has really got me thinking,,, some very wise words thank you

  14. Aleks
    February 18, 2014

    “Big gooey fountain of Fortune”

    Young lady ..Any time I win £10 on the lottery.that image is going to be seared into my brain for a long time.Thanks :)

    • CuriousEmily
      February 21, 2014

      Haha, excellent! Go forth and spread the good word of the goo. :)

  15. razorrahmon
    February 20, 2014

    Well written and with depth indeed! I am actually contemplating on making a career change into advertising from IT. I wonder why there is so much hate against advertising especially from Amercians..when in fact advertising itself could be described as an “american language”. Looks like we all have to be Don Draper to defend such critics. “So Stop buying things!” (don’s response)

    • CuriousEmily
      February 21, 2014

      I guess for you, established in a decent career and trying to wheedle your way into something different, it’s a case of making that jump as small as possible. Best of luck! (Although I work in advertising myself and it’s a far cry from Don Draper’s world, haha.)

      • razorrahmon
        February 22, 2014

        Thank you for your encouragement. Well i wouldnt expect to go into advertising thinking it would be like mad men. Different era and i dunt look like don draper to start with. Have a good weekend!

  16. wytherwytch
    February 22, 2014

    Thanks for the good hard laugh at the part on vets!

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  18. alishki
    March 1, 2014

    You hit the nail on the head. There’s no shame in acknowledging you need a plan B. I’ve long been hard (and still am) on rigid, cautious types who wouldn’t bother entertaining a romantic idea like escaping the 9-5 grind. It’s good to ‘have loved and lost’ if you will, rather than to have always been headstrong/unyielding about the rat race.

    • CuriousEmily
      March 5, 2014

      Well said. I think it’s embarrassing to NOT have a Plan B. There’s all this chat about being confident in your abilities and believing in yourself, but when all’s said and done, often there are variables outside your control. Or maybe you’re just not as shit-hot as you think you are. Either way, I always think it’s important to cover your arse. Fuck it, have a plan C and D as well.

      My friend Carla, who I mentioned in this post, actually recently wrote a full account of her giving up art on her own blog. You might find it interesting:

  19. inkonthebrink
    March 3, 2014

    This did make me giggle and think about how true it is. Find inner peace and tranquility and you won’t give a crap about what you do for a living. I’ll let you know when I find that elusiveness. Or isn’t that the point, we never do so we never stop searching and end up going down roads we never thought we ever would.

    • CuriousEmily
      March 5, 2014

      Yes, I don’t think many of us reach that Nirvana-place, and those that do aren’t the kind of people to stop pushing just because they’ve reached a goal! A curious mind leads to great things, I find, even if they’re unexpected. I’m glad it gave you a laugh. :)

  20. Daile
    March 5, 2014

    I’m with you, I like to think I can follow my dream whilst also paying my mortgage and keeping myself in the lifestyle I have become accustomed (read, shoes, booze and frocks) I quite like my job, although I do have aspirations to do other things. That said, I’m a bit older than you so might have to get my shit together and actually start making things happen…

  21. ByAnUknown
    March 5, 2014

    Reblogged this on Thoughts by an unknown and commented:
    The best farkin piece of advice I have heard…. perhaps… EVER!

  22. Lovely88
    March 10, 2014

    That is why i chose to become a nurse rather then pursuing a degree in fine art. in the end, an art degree is not going to guarantee a stable in come. In this day in age you have to have dream but dream smart.

    • CuriousEmily
      March 10, 2014

      “You have to dream, but dream smart.” What a fantastic turn of phrase. Thank you. :)

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  24. lifeofbree
    March 17, 2014

    I will remember this. I am about to take the biggest risk of my life (that is after moving country 4 times!) and study what I always wanted to, I don’t know that I will get in or if it will go anywhere but I’ve been out of fulltime work a long time and this is my last chance at a second act. I hear you on being sensible but I’d add if you’re able to go for your dream and it ends up failing anyway it’s still much better than wondering what could have been. I find that pretty scary.

    • CuriousEmily
      March 17, 2014

      If it’s your last chance, you have to go for it! I agree, a life wondering what might have been is no life at all. Very best of luck with whatever you’re going to do – let me know how you get on!

  25. CL Mannarino
    March 27, 2014

    This is an excellent post! Thank you so much for writing it!

    • CuriousEmily
      March 31, 2014

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. :) On 27 Mar 2014 14:48, “Incurably Curious” wrote:


  26. nlanders
    May 10, 2014

    I’m really enjoying your stuff Emily. You are a great writer with a brilliant sense of humour. As for following your dreams, you should always have hope you will get there in the end, but in todays world I think a backup plan is always a good bet. No one says you must stop following your dreams just because you achieved your backup ones ;)


  27. charlypriest
    June 18, 2014

    Hi there Emily, found you through Sean Smithson, been reading the guy for months and laughing my eyes out also, so now I pretty much read all his posts.

    Anyways, interesting blog you have here. Follow your dream. Had to comment on this post, in my opinion you should follow your dream but not live in a dream world. You should be smart enough to calibrate your life and see the pros and cons and determine what is best. So since my dream is writing and I know the chances of ever publishing is 000.1% I don´t stress out too much and keep on surviving through other means.

    Although I will take issue with what you said about working as a bartender. You kidding? That was some of the best years of my life. I got free drinks, I got paid for just pouring drinks, and girls swarming over me like bees over honey :) See? I´m still smiling remembering those days. It did pay the bills while I wrote some thing to send so it would be rejected latter on.

    Conclusion, follow your dream but be smart about it.

    • CuriousEmily
      July 7, 2014

      Hi Charly,

      Apologies for the inexcusably late reply – and thanks for your long, girthy comment! I especially like the phrase ‘calibrate your life’. You’re totally right, of course. Life is all about calculated risk, knowing that you can’t have it all but weighing up your wants and needs to see what the best (realistic) scenario is.

      I’m afraid I don’t share your happy memories of bartending though. Once when I worked at a Varsity bar (sort of like a Wetherspoons, if you’re not familiar with them), a gentleman asked me if I’d like to sit on his face.

      He was drinking a Carling, so obviously the answer was no.

      • charlypriest
        July 7, 2014

        I guess is different for a male bartender than for a female.

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This entry was posted on January 12, 2014 by in Big Thoughts, Lifestyle and tagged , , , , .


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