Bad Idea to Pursue Your Dreams?

{via flickr photo by acaben}

Should You Follow Your Bliss?

There’s been a lot of talk about Steve Jobs’s talk at Stanford’s Commencement Address in 2005. If you want to watch it yourself, go here. I personally found his speech on living your dreams inspiring. But of course I would right? I love inspirational things.

Then, I read this blog by Psychology Today called, “Should You Follow Your Bliss”? And I wasn’t so sure. Freelance writer Sarah Estes Graham shared my enthusiasm for Jobs’s speech, but with some reservations on how it could apply to all people, not just Steve Jobs. It watered down my passion just a bit.

I clicked on over to this article from Atlantic Monthly that she mentions called, “Follow Your Bliss-Sort Of.” I was even more distraught.

Journalist and senior editor Megan McArdle said:

“The problem is, the people who give these sorts of speeches are the outliers: the folks who have made a name for themselves in some very challenging, competitive, and high-status field. No one ever brings in the regional sales manager for a medical supplies firm to say, ‘Yeah, I didn’t get to be CEO.  But I wake up happy most mornings, my kids are great, and my golf game gets better every year.'”

McArdle felt that Steve Jobs was talking about what he knew best and that was how to be Steve Jobs. But what does that mean for the rest of us?

She concluded her article with what she tells budding journalists:

“…there are a lot of people who want to be journalists, and a shrinking number of well-paid steady jobs. Usually, what I tell them next is that it’s not a tragedy if they don’t do what they thought they wanted to do at 22; that they have more time than they think to figure out ‘what they want to do with the rest of their lives’; and that the world outside of school and words is more interesting than they probably suspect. That they should be prepared to take the risks involved in pursuing this career, but also to cut their losses.”

I think it’s great advice, but here’s my 2 cents.

I think both McArdle and Graham have a point. There is a difference between reality and fantasy. And no one ever wants to encourage bright-eyed students to believe the impossible is possible right?

Hmmm…I’d beg to differ.

I agree that Steve Jobs was a rare visionary and that there will be less people like him and Oprah and the other guests who speak at schools like Stanford. Maybe we can’t all quit our day jobs and pursue our dreams. And yes the truth of the economy and the state of unemployment are less romantic than the ideal he speaks of. But what’s wrong with hearing his story, having hope that we can fulfill our dreams and allowing ourselves to be inspired by its possibility?

Watching Steve Jobs, I didn’t think he was giving us a how-to, but a what-if or a why no. On a day to day basis, with Debbie Downer news reminding us about how far we’re falling down the rabbit hole, why can’t we revel in the romanticism? If not, why even try? Taking away the hope that we’ll achieve something (maybe not Steve Jobs grand) important to us is not just depressing, but it’s inhuman. It’d be like telling your 6-year-old all the reasons why everything he ever wanted in life is not only impossible, but doesn’t exist.

I also understand that people who feel like their dreams are too out of reach or who don’t know what their dreams are can feel discouraged in the light of someone that successful. And I agree with what McArdle says to college students about being okay with not know what they want to do with their life. I truly believe that life is about growing and when we grow our dreams change. We’re not supposed to know what we want to do for the rest of our lives. We’re only to know what we want to do now.

In my opinion, Jobs and these two writers are talking about two separate things. Yes, we should be realistic about what we can or can’t do. We shouldn’t try to be a Steve Jobs or an Oprah Winfrey. We should be the best of ourselves. And that’s what I got from his speech. The hope, possibility and inspiration to pursue what’s right for us. Not to fight to be someone else. The former will help motivate us to keep persevering when our dreams feel to far away and the latter will mostly end in failure.

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