Most Dreamers Don’t Succeed

October 11, 2017

First off, let me put your mind at ease. I’m not referring to the dreamers under discussion in the US political landscape, children brought into the country illegally. Nor am I going as far out as John Lennon’s idea of a dreamer, one who imagines a better world.

My concept of a dreamer is a true entrepreneur, a young person trying to make her mark on this world and earn a boatload of cash in the process. We hear success stories like these all the time: Nomadic Matt, a travel blogger earning 750K annually; Casey Neistat, who started with nothing but a camera and is now one of the top YouTubers in the world; Mark Zuckerberg, who turned Facebook into a multi-billion dollar business.

I’m sorry to disappoint 99% of you, but if you were hoping to be one of these people, you might as well buy a lottery ticket; the odds may be slightly worse, but there’s less effort involved. Many of us have grown up believing we will become something special, that our contributions will be recognized across the country or all over the world. Barring that, we’ll at least be able to get enough cash to join the elite. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most of us will never amount to this.

Not all of this is a matter of ability or even motivation. If you want to be the next Instagram star, why don’t you take a minute to look at some of the millions of profiles that boast some amazing photos, yet may only have a few thousand subscribers? The same can be said for artwork; the Mona Lisa wasn’t even appreciated until it was stolen from the Louvre.

The world has always been full of amazing writers, artisans, athletes, and leaders, but we don’t always hear about them. Before modern communications, this was simply a matter of money; if you had a rich benefactor or some way of reaching others, your work – whatever it was – could be spread. Today, with the massive network of people with smartphones permeating the globe, we suffer from an oversaturation in every aspect of life: why should one cute kitten picture have one billion likes, while another nearly identical one has three?

That’s not to say our lives will be worth “jack squat”. From from it. Despite the state of the economy, we’re capable of getting good jobs, living comfortable lives, raising families, and being happy. There’s nothing wrong with that – more and more, I think that’s what I want. However, very, very few of us will ever become exceptional: famous actors, world leaders, Olympic athletes. Everyone you have ever idolized in any profession – sports, motivational speakers, science, humanitarians – or will ever idolize will always amount to less than 1% of the world population (substantially less than that, really).

The point of declaring this fact we all know but choose to ignore for the sake of our sanity isn’t to depress those reaching for the stars or show off my cynicism, but simply to be happy with what you have.

When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way. And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. – Alan Watts

I mainly agree with Watts’ sentiment here, with the exception of how the last point could be interpreted. Many may think if you’re a master of something, no matter what it is, that would make you one of these exceptional people, one who would be famous in the present and remembered in the future.

I happen to think it’s healthier to do what you love and not hope for anything more. Maybe the money and success will come… but most likely it won’t. If it doesn’t, you’re still doing something you enjoy and appreciating the moment.

I say this as someone who is 35 – just realized Matt Foley said the same age… ouch – and doing something he enjoys without great expectations for the future. In Japan, with a job with stable hours, I’m able to coordinate a healthy diet and train for a marathon. I can afford to live on my own and buy what I like, for the most part.

Is everything perfect over here? Of course not. But for me to get it into my head that I’m going to be the next Hemingway once I finish my book or the next PewDiePie – minus the racist remarks – for making YouTube videos in Japan identical to the thousands of hundreds from other expats would be foolish.

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