Recently, a few popular YouTube videos have been circulating attending to a very complex question: If we have a career dream, should we go after it at all costs?
In his TED talk, economist Larry Smith emphatically tells members of the audience to not be afraid to go after their dreams and to set aside the “buts” that push us to make dream sacrifices for the sake of money, relationships, or parenthood. At one point he asks the audience what it would feel like if you decided to abandon your dream for the sake of raising a child, and later, when your child asks you about your career, you have to confess to him or her that he or she was the reason you didn’t do what you truly wanted to.
In another video, late philosopher Alan Watts encourages the audience members to think about what they would want to do if money weren’t an object and suggests that once they figure that out go ahead and do it. In the end, either you will master that passion and actually be able to make a living out of it or at the very least will be happy during the time you are doing it.
After watching these talks it is easy to leave with feelings of both inspiration and guilt. Of course, in an ideal world all of us who are aspiring musicians, jugglers, and artists could make the full plunge into these potential professions without the fear of becoming destitute. But, in the real world, that reality is a bit too real. You get the impression that Smith and Watts are speaking to young adults poised to graduate from college, a privilege known to about 7 percent of the world’s population. Indeed, for this group of individuals, trying for a few years to make it in Hollywood or as a dolphin trainer is risky. But being young, educated, and single balances these risks–if things don’t work out you could always move back home for a year and get back on the cubicle track if need be. For this group of people, it probably is best to go with the wise words of Will Smith and don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.
But for those without this type of privilege, namely the majority of the world’s population, a more tempered approach is warranted. Researchers have found that people who feel a calling to a certain career who aren’t living it can still be happy if they find ways to live that calling outside of paid employment. Instead of looking at dreams as a yes or no, maybe it’s best to look at dreams on a continuum, allowing enough time outside of work to quench that thirst and keep that passion alive. This can ensure that down the road, after working for twenty five years in that cubicle in order to give your child a better life, you can tell him or her (while juggling four balls as once) that you did pursue your dream, just part time