…And What to Do Instead

 “Follow your dream!” We hear this well-meaning encouragement all the time. It’s meant to direct us to find that one passion that will help unfold a life of clear direction and occupational passion. I hear people stressing about it. “I don’t know what to do with myself because I don’t have a dream!” They might believe that without a dream, their life might be passionless. Often they lament that something is wrong with them; they feel rudderless and fear they won’t find a profession. 

I understand their stress. The message is everywhere we turn. “Follow your dreams!” “Don’t give up on your dreams!” Well, that might be fine if you have a “dream,” especially one we are diligently pursuing, but many of us don’t. That’s right. Many of us are dream deficient.

Now if you are one of the lucky people with a singular career dream, you may want to put your fingers in your ears and chant, “Nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you.” And, truth be told, following your dream might very well be the best approach for you. If you have a passion, go for it! For the rest of you, please hear me out. Follow-your-dream advice may be ill-advised for you.

Do you have a dream? I didn’t

By dream, we are referring to an overarching vocational vision that feels like it’s the real you, gives you meaning, and feels like the purpose in your life. I never had that dream of some impending “one thing” that I wanted to pursue. I didn’t have a burning passion to play out as the theme of my life. I am not alone. Try as we may, many of us don’t discover a clear and consuming vision.

We Can Become Stalled

Lacking that burning passion can stall us out. We might wait to take action because we haven’t had an epiphany of what we were meant to do. We might become stressed or depressed, which can certainly slow us down. Often, when we are in wait for a dream, we waste time, life, and energy. 

We Might Feel our Lives our Small

Sometimes people feel that, short of a dream, their lives are small. It might even translate to feelings of a less-than-meaningful life. This is simply not true. One of my favorite parables is the story of a man walking the beach when he witnesses a girl throwing starfish back into the ocean. On the shoreline are thousands upon thousands of starfish. Surprised the stroller questions the other’s actions, “What are you doing? You realize that you can’t possibly save enough of the starfish to make a difference? How could it matter?” The good Samaritan replies, “It matters to the one I am saving.” We don’t have to help everyone or impact many to be making a difference.

We Don’t Know Where To Start

While many of us do not have a dream per se, we have interests. We have strengths and we have unique ways that we find meaning in our lives. Let us tell you a bit more about what we mean, and then you can dig into our workbook, where we offer the following exercises:

  1. Interest Audit
  2. Understand Your Strengths
  3. Remembering You at Your Best
  4. Bonus Exercise (be sure to download our workbook to hear about this unusual exercise developed by Italian artist and Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.)

Audit Your Interests

An excellent place to start: audit your interests. Don’t underestimate the power of interests. These are clues. Often our interests are quite well aligned with where we might find meaning and passion. What sparks your interest? It might be a question that keeps surfacing or a problem you want to see solved. It might be a cause. Look at your interests through a few different lenses (including what you read and conversations you’ve had where you really felt engaged) to help you find flickers and flames of interests that you can then further fan.

Understand Your Strengths

Another path that can help you find a career path that excites and develops you is by understanding and utilizing your strengths. Studies show that those who identify and optimize the use of their strengths experience greater wellbeing. Living from our strengths can help us live more authentically and better tune into who we are.

There are many strengths assessments available. My two favorite strengths assessments are the VIA Character Survey and Strengthsfinder 2.0. These can each help you unearth your positive qualities. The VIA comes from the study of what is best about people and thus focuses on character strengths, or universal aspects of our personality. Check out this listing and you will understand more.  The Strengthsfinder focuses on talents and skills at work when we are at our peak performance. 

In our free workbook, we take you through the VIA (which is a free exercise) and some subsequent reflections to help you identify and then make a plan to use your strengths.

Remembering You at Your Best

The Remembering You at Your Best exercise has been shown in studies to increase happiness levels and boost optimism (source). By reflecting on a time when you were at your best, you can potentially learn more about a time that was both meaningful and illustrate your strengths. 

Science has shown that a life well lived includes meaning. Meaning in life is central to our wellbeing. A meaningful life is a life in which we feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Studies have shown that when we have more meaning in our work and in our lives, it positively influences our motivation, engagement, and job satisfaction (source).

Get Moving

As you start becoming clearer on both your strengths and interests, we say, “GO!” Don’t wait for 100% clarity. You don’t have to have all the answers to move your life forward. You will lose less time in motion than you will in wait – even if you move in a direction that you ultimately do not pursue. Remember, when we are pursuing goals, we are in motion. And out in the world, opportunities are going to be more plentiful.

So, what do you think? Ready to give it a whirl? Click here to receive our ebook Crafting Your Path for free!