5 Big Signs You Should Stop — Yes, STOP — Following Your Dreams

What are your dreams? 

There’s this expectation that any intelligent, self-aware young person should stroll into their mid-twenties with their dreams well-defined and be well on their way to achieving them.

Defining our dreams (and eventually reaching them) brings with it one of the greatest accolades our society offers. You’ll be deemed a fighter, a person of value, earning the approval of all those who’ve watched you closely over the years.

But what if your dreams change?

Little consideration seems to be given to this possibility. We’re conditioned to define ourselves so fully by our professional or artistic endeavors that changing direction a few years down the road, after we’ve just started to taste the manifestation of those dreams seems like giving up — that we couldn’t hack it, that we’re cowardly.

Why is so much weight put into assessing how far we’ve moved towards our dreams — the ones we identified as silly, sophomoric kids, picking our college majors?

It’s entirely possible that this dream was identified by a person who, although resembles your current self, is markedly different than who you are today. But when we account for this and decide to change course, we enlist disappointment and self-pity, all because we confuse giving up on our dreams with our dreams merely changing.

Here are some signals that it may be time to let go of your old dreams and embrace new ones:

1. You dread putting the work in.

You used to love the grit involved in working hard toward your dreams. The hours at the gym, the endless practice on the field — whatever regimen was required to be one of the best. Aside from the expected moments of burnout and self-doubt, you fondly remember the days where working yourself into the ground made you feel accomplished and worthy. Now, you’re losing sight of the goal, disillusioned by the distance of results. You start picturing all the things you’d rather be doing with your time than tirelessly pushing yourself. This may be a sign that you just don’t have it in you anymore.

2. You don’t admire the leaders in your field.

Yes, you just had your Anne Hathaway moment a la The Devil Wears Prada. You wanted to be the next editor, the next big designer, the next top surgeon. Then, as your transition to "mildly experienced mid-twenty-something" lead you to brush elbows with industry leaders, you began to get a peek at all they lost along the way to make room for all that they gained. In any industry, there are well-worn pathways to success — deemed admirable by onlookers — but if they don’t appeal to you, go ahead and blaze your own path! Define what the top is to you, and make your own way there.

3. You hate having to explain yourself.

Showing up to any catch-up dinner with a friend without a rehearsed response about how you’re just steps away from reaching your dreams is basically social suicide (well, maybe not as much as joining The Mathletes). If you find yourself giving roundabout answers about how "close" you are to achieving your dreams when you know deep down that new interests may be taking hold, give it up. Friends that seem like they are miles ahead at fulfilling their aspirations are questioning their dreams as well, at least half the time. Don’t get swept up in the need to impress.

4. Your dreams and your picture of the future are incompatible.

You started out with a grand image of being a performer, living like a gypsy going from gig to gig. Fast-forward to now — the “mid-twenties you” begins to crave some stability, some roots to be planted. You feel like you’re giving up, leaving the nomadic dream behind. Focus on your enthusiasm for the new experiences ahead instead of dwelling on what you’re letting go of. Releasing yourself of your old dreams, those that reflect any earlier version of you, will save you from reluctance. It’s all about stating your priorities at any given moment and adjusting your dreams to honor them.

5. You feel indifferent to your current state of being.

If you're already living your dream, shouldn’t you feel passionate, waking up every day with a strong sense of purpose? Sometimes the fear of leaving it all behind stops people from admitting that the dream they’ve built just doesn’t do it for them anymore. They’d rather resign themselves to what they know, completely stunting their personal growth. You’ll be fine if you start over. Think about how much you’ve learned while trying to meet one dream. It will translate into whatever new dream you come to find.

Your perception of yourself is the only one that matters. Ultimately, no one really cares what you do. As you move through your mid-twenties, redefine your dreams from your new, more mature perspective. You’ll be celebrating the newest you.


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This article was originally published at This Is Quarter Life. Reprinted with permission from the author.